The Age of the Ship of the Line: The British and French Navies, 1650-1815
Jonathan R. Dull. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2009. 250 pp. Maps. Notes. Index. $29.95.
Sir Samuel Hood and the Battle of the Chesapeake
Colin Pengelly. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2009. 251 pp. Illus. Notes. Bib. Index. $69.95.
Reviewed by Charles E. Brodine Jr.
Age of Sail enthusiasts should be cheered by the publication of two new books on the history of ships-of-the-line and the men who commanded them. The first of these, by historian Jonathan Dull, aims to illuminate the naval dimension of the seven wars fought between France and Britain between 1689 and 1815.
The causes of these wars were several and varied over time. Sometimes they involved issues of dynastic succession; at others the seizure or denial of colonial possessions in Africa, the Americas, and the East Indies; while still others were rooted in old religious, ethnic, and cultural fears. In each case, writes Dull, sea power played a decisive role in determining which nation prevailed. The ultimate expression of sea power during this period of Anglo-French warfare, he argues, was the ship-of-the-line. Large, costly, and technologically sophisticated, it was the ultimate expression of national power and financial might in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Dull, a former senior associate editor of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin, is well-qualified to write on the topic, having previously published books on the French Navy in the Seven Years' War and the American Revolution, and on the diplomacy of the American Revolution. This is the work of a mature scholar who is steeped in the sources on which this study is based.
He has organized his narrative into eight chapters. The first provides the context for the remainder of the book, with a discussion of the ship-of-the-line's development, its incorporation into European battle fleets, the tactics by which it was fought (in line of battle), the administrative machinery established to build and maintain these warships, and the nature of service in these vessels. The next six chapters treat in sequence the Anglo-French conflicts in which these nation's ships fought. A final chapter summarizes the factors that combined to enable Great Britain to achieve naval supremacy over France.
The reasons Dull posits for Great Britain's ultimate naval triumph will hardly surprise specialists of this period. First he notes that Britain enjoyed a number of quantitative advantages over its French rival, such as healthier, better-trained crews; more competent and skillful officers; a greater willingness to incorporate new technologies (carronades and coppered hulls) into the fleet; and most important, superior financial institutions and machinery. The British government's ability to finance its naval establishment (ships, men, and bureaucracy) through loans and low-cost credit guaranteed that it would always be able to outspend and outstrip its economically weaker French adversaries. And except for the American Revolution, that is what happened in each of the wars under consideration.
Among the great strengths of this book are its clear, vivid prose and the quality of its scholarship. Dull writes with flair and is capable of condensing large amounts of information on events, ideas, and personalities, into a lucid, well-organized narrative. While Dull has crafted his account largely from secondary sources, he has drawn on some of today's best scholarship in military, naval, diplomatic, political, and economic history published in several languages, including English, French, and Spanish. The endnotes often read like an annotated bibliography with suggestions for further reading. Dull has also sensibly included maps of Europe and the West Indies, in addition to diagrams of a number of the decisive naval engagements described in his text, for example, the Saintes (12 April 1782), the Glorious First of June (1 June 1794), and Trafalgar (21 October 1805).
This is a thoughtful, well-written account of how naval power played a critical role in shaping the outcomes of more than a hundred years of warfare between Great Britain and France. While specialists will be familiar with the main lines of his argument, it may be read for profit by scholars and general audiences alike.
The second book under consideration, written by Colin Pengelly, examines one of the great British admirals to serve in the age of the ship-of-the-line-Sir Samuel Hood. He is best remembered for the controversial role he played as Admiral Sir Thomas Graves' second in command at the Battle of the Chesapeake on 5 September 1781, the outcome of which sealed the fate of General Charles Cornwallis' army at Yorktown, Virginia. Hood's career also included his noteworthy service as commanding officer of the North American Station and of the Mediterranean Squadron following the 1792 outbreak of the War of the First Coalition. In addition, Hood mentored a number of young navy captains who went on to achieve national fame in the wars against Napoleonic France, including William Cornwallis, James Saumarez, and Horatio Nelson.
Given Hood's significance as a figure in the history of the Royal Navy and the availability in print of his most important correspondence, it is curious that scholars have not written more extensively on the service of this influential officer. The publication of Pengelly's biography of Hood, the product of the author's 40-year study of the officer's career, is welcome news, as it provides the first authoritative, in-depth treatment of the man's life.
The son of a village vicar, Samuel Hood entered the Royal Navy in 1741 at age 16. Lacking the wealth and social standing that enabled more privileged officers to attain their professional ambitions, Hood worked his way up the ladder by impressing his superiors with his seamanship and devotion to duty. He was also fortunate in attaching himself to officers whose influence and patronage secured his advancement. By July 1756 Hood was promoted to post captain, though he would have to wait another 23 years before he received the coveted promotion to flag rank.
The core of Pengelly's book, comprising nearly half the text, relates to Hood's role in the Battle of the Chesapeake. Here, the author provides a careful analysis of the circumstances leading to the battle, the factors that affected its outcome, and the controversy that followed. Hood's conduct during the battle was afterward called into question because he failed to bring his division of the British fleet into close action with the French opponent. Hood blamed the contradictory signals flown from the flagship of his superior, Thomas Graves, as the reason for his inaction.
Because the failure of Graves' squadron to destroy or drive off the French fleet had such momentous consequences (the abandonment of the British war effort in America) contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic immediately sought a scapegoat. Hood engaged in an active letter-writing campaign to apprise his supporters at home that Graves was completely at fault for the Chesapeake fiasco. Present-day historians continue to debate whether Graves or Hood most deserves censure for the battle's outcome. Though his portrait of Hood is largely sympathetic, Pengelly finds the admiral's inaction on the day of the battle inexcusable, calling it "the blackest moment" of Hood's career.
It should be noted that this otherwise fine biography lacks detailed maps and diagrams to orient the reader to the theaters and engagements in which Hood fought. Thus, keeping track of myriad ship movements and fleet engagements may prove confusing for some. Nevertheless, Pengelly has produced a solid study of one of the major naval figures of the Revolutionary era. It will prove valuable both to students of the Royal Navy and of the American Revolution.
The Sea King: The Life of James Iredell Waddell
Gary McKay. Edinburgh, UK: Birlinn Ltd., 2009. 279 pp. Illus. Maps. Index. Bib. 9.99
Available directly from the publisher: http://birlinn.birlinn.co.uk
Reviewed by James M. McPherson
The name of James Iredell Waddell is far from commonly known, even among Civil War buffs. Commander of the Confederate commerce raider Shenandoah, his exploits are rarely mentioned in the same breath with those of Raphael Semmes of the CSS Alabama or John Newland Maffitt of the CSS Florida. Yet according to biographer Gary McKay, Waddell's "campaign of destruction" did enormous "damage [to] the economy of the United States of America in the long term" and "would ultimately cause America's merchant marine to lose its global pre-eminence until World War II, at a nearly incalculable cost to the economy."
This claim is absurdly inflated. It is true that the Shenandoah accounted for 38 of the 257 American merchant vessels destroyed or captured by Confederate privateers and commerce raiders-as many as the Florida and more than any other except the Alabama. All but six of the Shenandoah's victims were whalers, however, and whaling was already in economic decline by the 1860s. McKay's assertion that damage to the whaling fleet "would have a tremendous effect on the economy" of New England and "render a strong blow to the Union" is also misleading-especially since those 32 whalers were destroyed or captured in June 1865, after the war was over but before definite news of its conclusion could reach Waddell in the far northern Pacific Ocean.While the Confederate commerce raiders did indeed cripple the American merchant marine, their actions had little impact on the overall Union war effort, and the Shenandoah was a marginal player in that enterprise.
Waddell is a hero to McKay, who as a Scot seems to feel a particular kinship with this Rebel from a minority region against his own government. Born and raised in North Carolina, Waddell joined the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in 1841 at the age of 17. Subsequently promoted to lieutenant, he proved an outstanding navigator. During intervals between his years at sea, Waddell made his home in Annapolis, where he married a local woman. He was on a cruise in 1861 when he learned of the Civil War's outbreak. Upon his ship's return to the United States he resigned from the Navy and requested his back pay. U.S. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, bitter toward officers who had gone into the Confederate Navy, required Waddell to swear that he would not join the enemy as a condition of receiving his pay. McKay considers this requirement, which seems reasonable to the modern reader, to have been an "outrageous insult." So did Waddell, who refused the condition and went south to join the Confederate Navy.
For more than two years Waddell awaited orders to command a ship. His only combat during that period was service with a gun crew at Drewry's Bluff on the James River, where Confederates repulsed a Union naval attack on 15 May 1862. A year later he was in Liverpool to take command of one of the two ironclad "Laird rams" being built there for the Confederacy. The British government seized these vessels, however, and Waddell and his wife spent another year in Europe, essentially as tourists.
The Confederates finally managed to purchase the fast Glasgow-built merchant screw steamer Sea King in September 1864 and armed her as a commerce raider. Waddell took command and sailed the renamed Shenandoah around the Cape of Good Hope and through the Indian Ocean to Australia, where she refitted and headed toward her rendezvous with whalers in June 1865. During these months, according to McKay's breathless hyperbole, Waddell's "exceptional achievements" proved him to be "one of the greatest fighting sailors America ever produced." In fact, Waddell and the Shenandoah saw no combat except a few shots across the bows of unarmed merchant ships and whalers.
On 2 August 1865 Waddell finally learned from a British freighter that the war had been over for more than three months. He decided to return to Liverpool and turn the ship over to the British government. In a remarkable feat of seamanship and navigation, he took the now stateless Shenandoah around Cape Horn and back to Liverpool without being sighted by any of the American and British warships that were looking for him. In a year at sea, the Shenandoah circumnavigated the globe, having not touched land for 23,000 miles after leaving Australia in February 1865. With only slight exaggeration this time, McKay describes the Shenandoah's voyage as "one of the most incredible feats of navigation in the history of sailing."
Waddell returned to the United States under a grant of amnesty in 1867. In the postwar years he captained merchant steamers, wrote his memoirs, and for four years until his death in 1886 commanded Maryland's "Oyster Navy," defending the state's oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay against poachers from Virginia and Delaware. If the one-time Rebel raider ever reflected on the irony of this command, we do not know it from McKay's biography.
Phoenix Squadron: HMS Ark Royal, Britain's Last Top Guns and the Untold Story of Their Most Dramatic Mission
Rowland White. London, UK: Bantam Press, 2009. 407 pp. Appen. Bib. Maps. Index. Glossary. 18.99.Available directly from the publisher:http://www.booksattransworld.co.uk
Reviewed by Andrew G. Wilson
In January 1972 a potential crisis was brewing in one of Britain's last post-war colonial outposts, British Honduras, better known today as Belize. Whitehall had received intelligence indicating that Guatemala was planning to invade British Honduras should the colony secure its independence from Britain. To complicate matters, British Honduras had only a small garrison of Grenadier Guards to secure its borders and no air-defense system of any kind. Facing this small defensive force was an experienced and well-trained Guatemalan Air Force and Guatemalan Army paratroops trained specifically for the invasion. What Britain needed was time and a message of resolve-and that message would soon be delivered by the long arm of the HMS Ark Royal and her complement of Fleet Air Arm Blackburn (Hawker Siddeley) Buccaneer S.2B strike aircraft.
In Phoenix Squadron, author Rowland White draws on extensive interviews with operational and diplomatic participants, personal memoirs, official records, and secondary literature to provide the reader with an up-close, cockpit-based demonstration of Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm crisis response and professionalism in action. White also illuminates the wider context to include the intensive training, camaraderie, and good-natured competition that develops among naval aviators and their squadrons. Supplementing these are descriptions of various Cold War naval exercises and training iterations with U.S. and other NATO naval forces. Impressively, White presents this overview of British Fleet Air Arm operational history without losing sight of his primary story-the perceived threat to British Honduras.
To ensure that the Guatemalans did not launch an attack against the colony, the Admiralty assigned the aging and proud HMS Ark Royal to surge forward from the North Atlantic into a position at the extreme range of her force of Buccaneers and McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs. Could the old vessel, laid down in 1943, make the high-speed run into position before the Guatemalans could act? In the end, the psychological impact of the Ark Royal's mission proved decisive, for as the governor of British Honduras stated at the time, the "sorties were both satisfactory and sufficient." During the Honduran crisis, as they would in the Falklands War ten years later, the power and reach of a Royal Navy aircraft carrier such as the Ark would prove an invaluable tool for both diplomacy and kinetic action when called upon.
As the cost-versus-benefit debate surrounding new aircraft-carrier construction continues unabated, especially in Great Britain, Phoenix Squadron may serve as a compelling reminder to both senior naval planners and lobbyists alike of the reach, power, and impact of the modern strike carrier during a crisis. While carriers remain expensive to maintain and operate, in most cases their overwhelming capability to forestall or calm potential crises remains formidable, and their capacity to deliver truly devastating aerial firepower on scene once a crisis does ignite is nearly without parallel.
However, in the end, it is White's portrayal of the human element of naval aviation operations, combined with his novelistic style and pace, that makes Phoenix Squadron such a pleasurable and informative story.