Friday, 27 September 2013

Could decisive action by Britain and France in 1936 have prevented WW2?

This isn't directly relevant to the Dawlish Chronicles period but to that which followed and it's worth noting nonetheless.

Inspired by the excellent The Alternative History Discussion Group on Facebook I was thinking yesterday while driving about what was the single moment in the 20th Century when a single action which was not taken had the power to change the course of history to the greatest extent.

My conclusion was that this was if Britain and France has reacted differently to Hitler’s re-occupation if the Rhineland in March 1936, contrary to the terms of the Treaties of Versailles and Locarno. This represented Hitler’s first flexing of muscles on the international stage but it occurred when German re-armament, and expansion of the armed forces, was still at a very preliminary stage. Hitler was almost alone in Germany in believing that the trick could be pulled off.

The German high command, including the Chief of the General Staff, Ludwig Beck, was opposed to any such move, regarding it as a reckless blunder which would precipitate a war which Germany was not prepared for. In the event the “remilitarisation” was only token, with just three battalions crossing the Rhine into the demilitarised territory. Had Hitler’s bluff been called by Britain and France then Germany would have had no option but to retreat. The historian Alan Bullock quoted Hitler as saying “The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs, for the military resources at our disposal would have been wholly inadequate for even a moderate resistance.”

There also appears that had Germany been pushed into a humiliating retreat senior officers in the Army high command would have been prepared to stage a coup to remove Hitler – and to do so in circumstances much more likely to offer success than at the time of the 20th July plot in 1944.
In the event the British and French governments lost their nerve and accepted the remilitarisation. The Nazi Party’s popularity soared to unprecedented levels as wild celebrations spread across the country. When German troops marched into Cologne, a vast cheering crowd formed spontaneously threw flowers before them and Cardinal Karl Joseph Schulte of Cologne held a Mass at Cologne Cathedral to celebrate and thank Hitler for "sending back our army.

Hitler’s bluff had succeeded and he was encouraged to embark on new adventures, on the outright repudiation of treaty terms, on the Anchluss with Austria, on the intimidation of Czechoslovakia and its subsequent seizure of the Sudetenland, on the inexorable march to war. A failure of nerve by Britain and France in 1936 made all that followed inevitable.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Wooden Derelicts – a Menace of the Age of Sail

When thinking oneself back into the Age of Mercantile Sail – which lasted up to WW2 – it is hard to imagine just what a menace was represented by derelicts – ships abandoned by their crews but still afloat. The most serious class of derelict consisted of wooden-hulled ships carrying cargos of wood. Large numbers of such ships were employed on the North Atlantic, carrying timber from Canada to Europe, and another big lumber trade involved carrying hardwoods from South America to the Eastern USA through the hurricane-prone West Indies.

Steel hulls, with their associated heavy machinery are likely to sink if badly damaged but a wooden hull packed with timber might border on the unsinkable. In the case of crews abandoning such ships they were expected to set fire to them. This was however not necessarily done, and if it was, it might not be effective. An example is the barque Lysglint, abandoned and set on fire in May 1921, but which only sank two months later. The photograph shows her as a charred hulk, but still capable of floating and a massive danger to any ship that might encounter her in darkness or fog – this being before the days of radar.

Lysglint barque as a derelict in 1921

Such derelicts could drift for very long distances. In 1888 the schooner W.L.White was abandoned off Delaware Bay. She drifted for eleven months and her movements were carefully plotted by the U.S. Hydrographic Department which was studying derelict movements. She travelled over 5000 miles, driven hither and thither by wind and current.  Reported no less than 45 times by passing ships, she was finally driven ashore at the island of Lewis, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.

Another long-lived derelict was the Alma Cummings which drifted for 587 days in the North Atlantic after she had been dismasted and her crew taken off by a passing steamer.  Other vessels sent boarding parties no less than five times but efforts to burn her reduced her upper hull almost to the water’s edge, making her all but invisible and an even greater hazard. After covering at least 5000 miles she finally grounded off Panama, her cargo of wood and her metal fittings being highly prized by those who found her.

The derelict barque Edward L. Maybury, photographed in the North Atlantic in 1905

The most spectacular derelict voyage was probably that of the Fannie E. Wolsten, an American schooner that was estimated to have covered over 10,000 miles in four years, following her abandonment on the edge of the Gulf Stream in 1891. She was reported scores of times in the North Atlantic but finally sank off the coast of New Jersey, not far from where she was originally abandoned.

The scale of the derelict menace was immense. C.D. Sigsbee (1845-1923) of the US Navy, who was later a Rear Admiral and is perhaps best remembered as captain of the USS Maine when she blew up in the harbour of Havana, spent much of his career as a hydrographer. In 1894 he published a report on "Wrecks and Derelicts of the North Atlantic 1887 through 1893" which indicated that in this period there were 1,628 derelict vessels adrift (or lost) in the Atlantic alone.

On both sides of the Atlantic it was agreed that “Something must be done” and naval vessels were enlisted to tackle the problem. The solution was not however easy. A timber-filled wooden hull, especially if almost awash, was not easily sunk by gunfire and torpedoes were considered too expensive. The only really effective way was to place gun-cotton charges in such a position as to break the vessel’s back, but gaining access to do so was always dangerous and often all but impossible. Ships employed by the U.S. Navy for this purpose included the aged USS Kearsage, which had sunk the Confederate raider Alabama during the Civil War but which was now relegated to more humble duties.

Ramming was considered as an option, but this required sturdily built ships. Though this had fallen out of favour as a battle-tactic by the 1890s, most naval vessels were constructed with ram-shaped bows. In practice however derelicts proved tough opponents, capable of giving perhaps more than they got. The American cruiser USS Atlanta was damaged during such a manoeuvre in 1895, as was Royal Navy’s protected cruiser HMS Melampus in 1899, both needing to limp home for dockyard repairs.

HMS Melampus, 2nd-class cruiser, in happier circumstances, 
at Kingstown (now Dun Laoighre) in Ireland

An 1896 bureaucratic measure by Britain was to impose a fine of £5 for failure to report a derelict at the first opportunity. Even allowing for inflation since then, the sum involved was derisory and the means of enforcing were limited.

The most effective measure was finally taken by the Americans who, in 1908, launched the 1445 tons Coast Guard cutter USCGC Seneca, specifically intended for of locating and destroying abandoned vessels. Heavily armed for her size and with excellent sea-keeping and towing capabilities she embarked on a varied 40-year career that also included wartime, ice-patrol, and rum-runner seizure duties.  The photograph below shows her in action.

 USCGC Seneca with a derelict in tow

The solution to the derelict menace was not however recovery or sinking – it was time itself. The disappearance of the wooden-hulled merchant ship, especially those involved in the timber trade, made such hazards rare, though isolated cases still occur, usually involving much smaller vessels. 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Coast Defence Ships - Big Bang in a Small Parcel

In “Britannia’s Wolf”, first book in my “Dawlish Chronicles” series, a key role is played by the heavily-armed Ottoman Turkish coast defence ship Mesrutiyet, which had been constructed in Britain and whose two sisters were taken into Royal Navy service in 1878 as HMS Belleisle and HMS Orion.  These were some of the last coast defence ships equipped with masts and yards, though in practice they do not appear to have operated under sail.
Mesrutiyet – designed for defence of the Turkish Straits and Black Sea coast

Coast defence ships represented major components – in some cases the backbone – of minor navies in the period 1870 to 1920, and in some cases beyond. Some few such ships could also be found in larger navies.  They were specifically designed for operations close to the home nation’s coast and were intended to act in cooperation with light forces and to make maximum use of the shelter of fortified harbours and coastal batteries. They carried a heavy armament for their size and were slow and usually – with the exception of Netherlands ships – with limited range capability. They were frequently designed with specific local conditions in mind – e.g. shallow draughts to permit inshore manoeuvring. Shipboard accommodation and storage requirements were limited as they could fall back on the resources of shore bases. They varied in size from around 1,500 tons to 8,000 tons.

Navies with coastal defence ships serving as their main capital ships tended to be those which by size or location were focussed on defence of its own territory rather than projection of force elsewhere. These included the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands (including its East Indian Empire) and Thailand. Germany also built such ships in the years prior to Kaiser Wilhelm II and Admiral Tirpitz embarking on construction of a navy to match that of Great Britain.

Larger navies did however also employ some such ships to meet satisfy specific local requirements.  Russia, for example, built several such ships for inshore operations in the Baltic. France did so to provide additional and flexible support to fortified naval bases such as Brest and Toulon.  British colonies in India and Australia built several such ships for defence of key harbours.

Some examples of coast defence ships from their birth in the1870s to their final demise in the WW2 period are provided below.

Great Britain

HMS Glatton (1871)

HMS Glatton in her Victorian glory - black hull, white superstructure 
The Glatton was designed for "the defence of our own harbours and roadsteads, and for attacking those of the enemy". In reality, her lack of freeboard would appear to have precluded any operations whatsoever except those in calm weather and smooth water. She carried her main armament of two 12” muzzle-loaders in a single turret and there was in theory be no point on the horizon to which at least one gun could not point, whatever the ship’s orientation. To achieve this the superstructure was very narrow, so that at least one of the guns in the turret could fire on targets to the after aspect of the ship. Blast effects on the superstructure from firing abaft the beam were not taken into account – or probably even understood at the time. The Glatton was the best protected ship of her day, with some 35% of her 4900 tons displacement devoted to armour.

Generally similar low freeboard ships, though with two turrets, were built for harbour protection in India (HMS Abyssinia and HMS Magdala) and for Australia (HMS Cerebus). Thereafter the coast-defence ship fell out of favour in the Royal Navy, as its raison d’etre was not just local protection of British possessions but its ability to operate on a global scale. Cost defence vessels were not to figure again in the Royal Navy until World War 1. The jump in capability since the 1870s was a large one.

HMS Glatton and HMS Gorgon (1918)

HMS Glatton in 1918

Britain’s need to deliver heavy naval fire on German positions on the Belgian Coast during World War 1 led not only to development of the modern monitor but to a search for vessels from elsewhere which were suited to shallow-water operations. Two apparently ideal coast defence ships had been under construction in Britain for the Norwegian Navy and they were acquired in 1914, although they did not enter service until 1918 due to the need for modifications in the light of war experience. Now called Glatton and Gorgon, and of 5746 tons, these ships carried two 9.4” and four 6” guns, plus smaller weapons. They were slow (12 knots maximum) but heavily armoured and “bulged”, as shown below, to provide protection against torpedo attack.

HMS Glatton in drydock, 1918. Note the anti-torpedo bulges.

In practice neither ship lived up to its promise, Glatton being destroyed by an accidental internal explosion in Dover Harbour in 1918 and Gorgon saw only limited action before the war ended, She was later expended as a target ship.


Tonnerre (1877)

Tonnerre at sea – her turning circle was smaller than that of any other in the French Navy
With the success of British blockades of French naval bases in previous wars in mind, France in the 1870s and 1880s made significant investment in slow, heavily armoured and well-armed coast defence ships which  capable of deterring or breaking future blockades. The Tonnerre, laid down in 1873 but not completed until 1879, represented a model for a number of such vessels. With her displacement of 5765 tons and armament of two 10.8” turret-mounted guns the similarity to the HMS Glatton of the same period is striking.
Jemappes Class(1890)
Even larger coast-defence ships were built by France in the 1890s, typical of these being the Jemappes and Valmy of 1890.
The Jemmapes: Note the 13.4” weapons fore and aft and the curiously curves bow and stern profiles so typical of French cost-defence ships of the period
These were large ships – 6476 tons and their main armament of two 13.4” guns would have made them very dangerous opponents in the waters close to the well-defended French bases.


Admiral Ushakov Class (1893) 

Admiral Seniavin of the Ushakov class
Though it became fashionable in the Soviet period to ridicule the voyage of the Russian Baltic Fleet to the Far East in 1904-05, and its subsequent massacre at the Battle of Tsu-Shima, the achievement of getting such a large fleet half-way across the world, without possessing naval bases on the way, was a very impressive one. This was especially so in the case of the three Ushakov coast defence ships – Admirals Ushakov, Seniavin and Apraksin – which had been designed for short-range Baltic operations, primarily for operations against the Swedes should the circumstances demand. These three vessels were essentially “pocket battleships” long before the term was invented. On 4971 tons these vessels carried four (Aprakzin carried three) 10” and four 4.7” guns. Seniavin and Apraksin surrendered to the Japanese after Tsu-Shima, though they were returned to Russia when both countries became uneasy allies in WW1 but Ushakov was sunk in the action.

The Netherlands

The Royal Netherlands Navy employed their "armoured ships" to defend their overseas empire, especially the country's vast  colonial possessions in the East Indies (modern Indonesia). Though essentially cost-defence vessels they had to be capable of long-range cruising in view of the enormous distances involved when operating offshore of what is now Indonesia, of provision of artillery support during amphibious operations, and with capacity for carrying the troops and equipment needed in such operations. They also had to be armed and armoured well enough to face contemporary armoured cruisers of the Japanese Navy (the Netherlands' most likely enemy in the Pacific). As such they were expected to act as mini-battleships rather than strictly as coastal defence vessels. Meeting this combination of requirements was an almost impossible one.

Jacob van Heemskerck(1906)

Some nine such ships were built in the 1890s and early 1900s and the last of these, the Jacob van Heemskerck reflected the lessons learned from earlier ships.

Jacob van Heemskerk with what may be the coast defence ship Piet Hein (1894) moored astern
Though constructed at the same time as HMS Dreadnought, and with the Japanese navy about to build its own dreadnoughts, the Heemskerk, with her main armament of two 9.2” weapons on 4920 tons displacement, and her maximum speed of 16.5 knots, looked like a throwback to an earlier age.  It is difficult to envisage  circumstances in which she could have offered any meaningful opposition to the Japanese and she seems at this remove to be a sad example of money badly spent. She ended her days as a German floating anti-aircraft battery in WW2.


Äran Class (1902)

Coast defence ships represented the core of the Swedish Navy up to 1947. Between 1890 and 1905 some 11 vessels of considerable sophistication, and of careful reflection of local needs, joined the fleet. It was such vessels that Russia’s Admiral Ushakov class were designed to combat in Swedish coastal waters. The Swedish ships were relatively small, with limited speed, shallow draft, and very heavy guns relative to the displacement. They were designed for close in-shore work along the shores of Sweden and, if necessary, Finland. The aim was to outgun any ocean-going warship of the same draft by a significant margin, making it a very dangerous opponent for a cruiser, and deadly to anything smaller. The limitations in speed and seaworthiness were a trade-off for the heavy armament carried. Vessels similar to the Swedish ships were also built and operated by Denmark and Norway, which had comparable requirements.

Äran (1902) – photographer unknown, source 
A typical Swedish coast defence vessel of 1902 was the Äran, one of a class of four vessels. As initially constructed these 3592-ton vessels carried two 8.3” and six 6” weapons as well as two 18” torpedo tubes. Three of this class, including Äran, were extensively upgraded and saw service until 1947.

Sverige Class (1912 – 1922)

Sverige during WW2 - Source photograph No. Fo200277 from Swedish National Maritime Museum
The three ships of this class can be argued to be the most effective coast defence vessels ever built. Though designed before WW1, their completion was delayed, even though Sweden was neutral, and at 7775 tons they were the largest ships taken into Swedish service. Capable of some 23 knots and turbine powered, these vessels packed a very potent punch of four 11.1” and eight 6” guns, plus, later, numerous anti-aircraft armament. All three vessels were extensively modernised in the 1930s and helped preserve Sweden’s neutrality in WW2. Though well-armed they would have been too small, too cramped, too slow and without enough range to engage enemy heavy ships in open water but if handled properly in defence in their home shores  they would probably have presented a major challenge for any aggressor.


Eidsvold Class (1900)

Launched in 1900 the two vessels of Norway’s Eidsvold-class were very similar to Sweden’s Äran class. The most remarkable aspect of the Eidsvold’s and Norge’s careers was that they met their ends together when the Germans invaded Norway in April 1940. German destroyers trapped both ships in the fjord at Narvik on April 9th and demanded surrender from the senior officer present, Captain Odd Isaachsen Willoch of the Eidsvold. A German officer boarded and tried to talk Willoch into surrender, but was turned down. As he left the deck of Eidsvold, the German fired a red flare, indicating that the Norwegians wished to fight. The battle-ready German destroyers torpedoed Eidsvold before she could fire her guns. Eidsvold was blown in two and sunk in seconds, propellers still turning. Only six of the crew were rescued, while 175 died in the freezing water. It was hardly a victory that the German Navy could be proud of.

Norge in happier times
Meanwhile, deeper inside the fjord, Norge’s crew heard explosions but nothing could be seen until two German destroyers suddenly appeared out of the darkness. Norge’s captain, Per Askim, gave orders to open fire at a range of about 800 yards. Due to the difficult weather condition, it was hard to use the optical sights for the guns, which resulted in the first salvo falling short of the target and the others going over. The German destroyers returned fire and launched three salvoes of two torpedoes each. The first two salvoes missed, but the last struck Norge amidships, and she sank in less than one minute, her propellers still turning. 90 of the crew were rescued from the freezing water, but 101 perished in the battle which had lasted less than 20 minutes.


Väinämöinen Class (1931)

Other than Thailand, Finland was the last country to build new coast defence ships. The design of the Väinämöinen and the Ilmarinen was optimised for operations in the Baltic archipelagos and their open sea performance was de-emphasized in order to give the vessels shallow draft and super-compact design. On 3900 tons these 300 ft. long, diesel-electric powered ships carried an armament of four 10” and eight 42 guns, plus lighter anti-aircraft weapons. Draught was just under 15ft. 

Väinämöinen in 1938
During the “Winter War” of 1939-40 against the Soviet Union the ships’ freedom of action was hampered by ice. Moored at the port of Turku, their anti-aircraft artillery aided defence. During the “Continuation War” when Finland allied itself with Germany after the latter’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, both ships shelled Soviet land targets and cooperated with German surface forces to lure out Soviet ships to battle. Ilmarinen was sunk by a mine on September 13th and went down in just seven minutes. From the crew of 403 on board only 132 survived. Thereafter the Väinämöinen saw little action and was handed over to the Soviet Baltic Fleet in 1947 as a war reparation. The Soviets named her Vyborg and kept her in service for a further 6 years.


Sri Ayudhya Class (1938)

The last coast defence ships to be built, the Sri Ayudhya and her sister Thonburi were considerably smaller, at 2350 tons, than the Finnish ships. On this displacement the 250 ft. long vessels managed to carry four 8” and four 3” guns, plus anti-aircraft armament.

Thonburi and other Thai ships were engaged by Vichy French naval forces in the Battle of Ko Chang on January 17th 1941 and suffered damage. She was beached to avoid sinking. Her sister did not arrive in time to participate.
Drawing of Thonburi by Dr. Dan Saranga
Downloaded with thanks from
Sri Ayudhya met her end during a military coup in 1951 when a group of junior naval officers took the Thai Prime Minister aboard at gunpoint. Though the ship attempted to escape from Bangkok a critical opening-bridge was kept closed against her. Shelling from land disabled her and she lay dead in the water in front of the Wichaiprasit Fort, from where she was bombarded by artillery. AT-6 (Texan) training aircraft also bombed her. Now burning, “Abandon Ship” was ordered and the Prime Minister had to swim ashore along with the crew, but was uninjured. The fires continued throughout the night and into the next day, leading to the heavily damaged Sri Ayudhya finally sinking on the night of July 1st 1951.

Sri Ayudhya’s loss brought the 80-year era of the coast defence ship to an end.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Mutiny on De Zeven Provinciën (1933)

The Kingdom of the Netherlands was at peace in Europe from 1830 until 1940, and faced little external threat for much of this time. Until the first decade of the 20th Century a coast-defence navy was considered adequate for homeland protection but high standards of efficiency were demanded, as befitted the proud naval traditions exemplified by Admirals de Ruyter and Tromp in earlier times. During this period however the defence – and expansion – of the nation’s vast colonies in the East Indies, essentially what is now Indonesia, posed a more difficult challenge. In the late 19th Century the major conflicts in the area were typical of the colonial wars of the time, the bloody and protracted (1873 – 1914) Atjeh (Aceh) Wars in Sumatra being the most important. Netherlands ships deployed to the area accordingly needed long-range cruising capability, ability to provide artillery support during amphibious operations, and capacity for transporting troops and supplies needed in such operations. No great level of sophistication was required of such vessels (Click here to see separate blog entry on Coast Defence Ships).

 De Zeven Provinciën heading off to the East Indies as a new ship in 1910
Note white hull and ocher-yellow upperworks for tropical service
During the first decade of the 20th Century the situation changed significantly. Political tensions were rising in Europe – to the extent to which the Netherlands Government initiated studies for acquisition of a small Dreadnought fleet – and Japan was emerging as a major power in the aftermath of its victory over Russia in 1905. HMS Dreadnought had been launched in 1905, making all other capital ships afloat obsolete and a confident Japan was moving rapidly to build its own fleet of similar ships. The only likely enemy the Netherlands would be likely to encounter in the East Indies was Japan and the cost of meeting the potential challenge was a daunting one. While proposals for building a Dreadnought fleet for the Netherlands were endlessly debated, a stop-gap measure was adopted which would provide one new coast-defence ship, eight destroyers, at least one submarine and several other vessels for service in the East Indies.
 De Zeven Provinciën in service
The coast defence ship which was launched in 1909 was De Zeven Provinciën. Constructed at a time when modern Dreadnoughts of vastly greater power were sliding off the slipways in Europe, the United States and Japan, De Zeven Provinciën, though new, already looked like an antiquated survivor from an earlier epoch. Though the largest vessel (6,530 tons) in the Netherlands Navy, her armament consisted of two 11.1 inch and four 6 inch guns, plus many smaller weapons. To support this she had a crew of 448 in a hull 333 feet long.
Given that Japan’s navy represented her most likely adversary it is interesting to compare De Zeven Provinciën her with the Japanese 21,000 ton Kawachi, laid down that same year and armed with twelve 12” and ten 6” guns. Since no decision was ever reached to build a modern battleship fleet for the Netherlands Navy, then in the event of a Japanese attempt to seize the East Indies De Zeven Provinciën, was going to have to face alone not just the Kawachi but the even more powerful vessels that followed her.
Manned by a mixed European and Indonesian crew, De Zeven Provinciën was to serve most of her career in the Netherlands East Indies, from 1911–1918 and from 1921 onwards. It was in these waters that the mutiny for which she became notorious occurred in 1934.
The 1930s were difficult for the Netherlands. Caught up in the global Great Depression, the country suffered high unemployment and social unrest at home while in the East Indies, which the Dutch contemporary political establishment was absolutely determined to retain, an independence movement was already active. Unrest and strikes in the 1932-1934 period were supressed with force by the colonial authorities.
The underlying causes of the mutiny that broke out on De Zeven Provinciën in 1933 are still debated, with some arguing that an active Communist cell might have been the instigator. Whether or not this was the case it is obvious that there was already widespread discontent about pay cuts and bad working conditions. Morale was already poor at the time and the example of the Invergordon Mutiny in the Royal Navy, just over a year previously, may have provided inspiration. In the latter case British personnel had won amelioration of pay cuts and the mutiny had ended peacefully. 
De Zeven Provinciën with a (friendly) aircraft in the Straits of Malacca
Attribution: Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) Amsterdam
The immediate trigger of the mutiny was the arrival of a signal of January 26th 1933, indicating that pay was to be cut by 7%. The news was not welcome and a similar announcement at the naval base in Soerabaja provoked protests by service personnel there, resulting in several being arrested and locked up. On becoming aware of this Indonesian crew-members on De Zeven Provinciën discussed taking the ship to Soerabaja to free their arrested comrades.
On February 5th De Zeven Provinciën was moored off the northwest tip of Sumatra. On board were 16 European officers, 34 European NCOs and ratings and some 140 Indonesian crew-members. In the early morning hours Indonesian ratings seized small arms and took control of the ship. Though there appears to have been no violence against officers all signals received ordering the mutineers to surrender were ignored. European ratings seemed to have tried to keep aloof but some, either willingly or unwillingly, cooperated with the mutineers. The vessel now moved down the coast of Sumatra, apparently headed for Soerabaja at the eastern end of Java. The Netherlands colonial government decided however that the vessel must be recaptured before then, and ideally before it passed the Sunda Strait separating Sumatra and Java. A squadron consisting of the modern cruiser Java, two destroyers Evertsen and Piet Hein, the submarines KVII and KIX and several aircraft was despatched for the purpose.
On the morning of February 10th the squadron sighted De Zeven Provinciën. An ultimatum was signalled – force would be used if a white flag was not hoisted in the next ten minutes. The reply from the mutineers was “We desire not to be delayed and we’re heading for Soerabaja.” It can only be assumed that the mutineers were convinced that they would be fired on. In this they were badly mistaken as the government had decided that there would be no capitulation to their demands, the more so in view of the signal of weakness this would send to Indonesian nationalists.
Aircraft now attacked, several bombs being dropped and one landing on the forecastle. The results were spectacular – 19 dead (including 3 Europeans), 11 seriously injured (of which four died later) and seven lightly wounded. Among the dead was Parada, the leader of the mutiny. A fire was ignited which was extinguished quickly and the mutineers, shocked into surrender, were taken across to the other ships. The vulnerability of warships to aerial bombing was very clearly demonstrated. Many of the leading mutineers were subsequently sentenced to jail-sentences as long as 18 years.
The incident triggered recriminations and controversy in both the Netherlands and in the East Indies, with predictable pro and anti-judgments of government action from right and left-wing political groups. It was credited with shifting popular support towards right-wing parties during an election later in the year. More than 20 years later, in 1957, a TV programme about the mutiny, as well as about other aspects of rule in the East Indies, provoked such a furor that the journalist responsible was banned from further broadcast work for two years.
De Zeven Provinciën’s subsequent career was tragic. Renamed HNLMS Soerabaja in 1936, she was sunk in February 1942 by Japanese bombers. Used as a floating battery by the Japanese after being raised, she was sunk again by Allied aircraft in 1943.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Welcome to the Adventure!

My name is Antoine Vanner and I write naval fiction set in the period 1859 to 1918. As such I'm dealing with a period of very rapid technological and political development, one in which "The Age of Fighting Sail" evolved somewhat painfully into "The Age of Fighting Steam".

The hero of my fiction is an ambitious Royal Navy officer, Nicholas Dawlish (1845-1918). For me he's a real person whose life I am continuing to research in ever greater detail and you can find a sort summary of his life on the following link: A Life of Service and Adventure

The overall title of the series is "The Dawlish Chronicles" and the first of the novels in the sequence is "Britannia's Wolf", published in April 2013, and which covers Dawlish's secondment to the Ottoman Navy during the brutal final stages of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. This conflict had the potential to expand into a war that could involve all the European powers. It could indeed have brought the outbreak of World War 1 forward by almost four decades. British strategic interests were at stake but there was reluctance to commit military forces until it would be absolutely unavoidable. There was however no hesitation by the British Government to committing British advisers and secondees - like Nicholas Dawlish.

In "Britannia's Wolf", in the depths of a savage winter, and as Ottoman-Turkish forces face defeat on all fronts, Dawlish must ravage Russian supply lines in the Black Sea and must face enemy ironclads, Cossack lances and merciless Kurdish irregulars. But he also finds himself a pawn in the rivalry between the Sultan's half-brothers for control of a collapsing empire. And in the midst of chaos, unwillingly and unexpectedly, Dawlish finds himself drawn to a woman he believes he cannot allow himself to love, not for is sake, and not for hers.

"Britannia's Wolf" is available in paperback and in Kindle: click here for details.

The second of the Dawlish Chronicles will be published later in 2013 - it is currently at the proofreading stage and cover-design is now also about to start. It follows the first novel chronologically and though also founded on historical fact it will surprise readers as regards location.

A final point: you may like to know more about me. If so you can read an interview with me, or hear me being interviewed by novelist Seymour Hamilton if you click here.

This is my first blog entry and I hope you'll find this, and subsequent articles, of interest. You may also find my website or interest, as it addresses many other issues surrounding the period in which the novels are set. 

You are also cordially requested to "like" the Dawlish Chronicles page on Facebook, which contains sorter posts relevant to the period, its politics and its technology