Once again, I am flogging an unpopular horse: not only am I about to launch forth (yes, pun intended) about matters nautical, but also about tactics and doctrine in late Seventeenth Century naval affairs. As someone once said to me ‘Can’t you just put the toys on the table?’
Maybe, but painting has stalled a
bit at the moment. Don’t be too hard on me, I have managed over 500 little men
since October or thereabout. While that is small fry compared to some who knock
out 3000 figures a year, or even 80 Red Indians in an afternoon, it is good
going by my standards. I have got a bit bogged down with the last two regiments
of ECW foot, however.
I have also been reading, and I
would like to quote part of a paper that I found (don’t worry, I will give the
reference afterwards. I teach far too much research ethics (and these days,
research integrity) to want to stand accused of plagiarism).
To illustrate this point, imagine a
typical late-seventeenth-century engagement fought ashore. To the usual
complications of battle, add the following: restrict the movement of units from
either army within 35 [degrees] of the direction of the wind; only allow units,
be they infantry, cavalry, or artillery, to discharge their fire weapons to the
flanks, but not to their front or rear; forbid the movement of mounted staff
officers between the commander-in-chief and his subordinates; and then fight
the battle during a prolonged earthquake, forcing soldiers to operate their
weapons as the ground heaves to and fro, with hard-pressed artillerymen timing
their shots to coincide with the roll of the ground beneath their feet. This
was the face of battle at sea!
Palmer, M. A. J. (1997). The
'Military Revolution' Afloat: The Era of the Anglo-Dutch Wars and the
Transition to Modern Warfare. War in History, 4(2), 123-149, p. 124.
This is Dr
Palmer’s description, obviously enough, of a late Seventeenth Century naval
battle. Perhaps the first thing to do is to wonder at how, exactly, two navies
managed to clash at sea, even more so than we might wonder at land battles.
paper sits in the tradition of military revolutions, although I am not sure
that it has been particularly picked up upon in more recent historiography. There
have been, of course, over naval military revolutions suggested, perhaps the
most influential has been the evolution of the race-built galleon in the
English navy of the late Sixteenth Century (and hence the defeat of the Spanish
Armada). Nevertheless, Palmer has identified, it seems to me, a particular
point in history when things did change, albeit not completely and, perhaps,
not a decisively as we might like to think.
occurred in March 1653 when the Generals-at-Sea of the English fleet issues
fighting instructions. Up to that point ships had a general requirement to stay
near and support the admiral of the squadron they had been assigned to, but not
much more than that. This led to rather messy, indecisive engagements where
ships could be heavily damaged (particularly the squadron flagship) if the
others in the squadron were not in support, either deliberately or by accident.
group tactics had, Palmer observes, another impact, in that only the ships at
the outer edges of the group had a clear field of fire. The rest of the
squadron had to wait its turn or possibly could never bring its guns to bear
without the risk of hitting a friendly ship. This was reasonably inefficient,
of course, but then the tactics were suited to boarding, where an enemy ship
could be overwhelmed by a gaggle of vessels, boarded and captured. Failing
that, it could simply be pounded to bits by fire from all directions.
Generals-at-Sea, as the British Admirals were known (I am not sure if they
count as English or British at this point – the Commonwealth had conquered
Scotland, after all), were, Palmer notes, practical men and used to battles, if
not sea battles. They noted this and clearly were pondering how to win sea
battles more effectively. The Breakthrough seems to have come at the Battle of
Portland in February 1653. The notable point for the purpose here, Palmer
argues, is the initial assault by Tromp on 20-24 English men-of-war from the
rather disordered fleet. The Dutch were upwind (to windward) of the English and
need not have fought, but the English squadron was a bit isolated and Tromp had
have expected an easy Dutch win, but this was not the case. The English ships
seem to have formed a line and subjected the Dutch to fierce gunfire, according
to one account of five or six ships at a time. It seems likely that the defensive
fire of the English ships forced the Dutch to give way and hence they did not
manage to isolate and board anyone, from somewhere around 9 AM to 4 in the afternoon,
when the rest of the English fleet appeared.
implication of the number of ships firing at the Dutch vessels, Palmer notes, is
that they had clear fields of fire. Thus, they were deployed in line. This was
not the first time linear tactics had been employed. The Dutch had done so in a
defensive action at Dunkirk in 1639, although their attack on the Spanish fleet
at the Downs a bit later that year was in the ‘pell-mell’ style.
So, this was
hardly an innovation (indeed, I seem to recall the English fleet attacking the
Armada had done so in lines) but the point is what happened next. The doctrine
of the English fleet became to sail in line (hence ‘ship of the line’) and they
won the rest of the battles in the war. In order to control a line of ships,
rather than a closer group, new doctrines had to be developed, which eventually
became the flag signalling system of the Eighteenth Century.
cannot really say that naval wargaming is not interest and does not have much
potential, can you?