Trafalgar Day – Historical Irony

Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1758 1805

Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson (Image via Wikipedia)

How about this for historical irony? Only two days after the biggest defence cuts since 1945, and the day after a spending review that will change the face of Britain as we know it, Royal Navy warships in harbour are dressed overall in honour of Britain’s greatest ever naval victory.

21 October 1805

On 21 October 1805 off Cape Trafalgar in Spain Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson‘s fleet closed with the combined French and Spanish fleet, commanded by Admiral Villeneuve. Nelson proposed a revolutionary tactic, sailing two Squadrons into the enemy line at right angles, in order to split the French and Spanish into three and engage and defeat them piecemeal. Previous convention had been for fleets to sail in line parallel to each other, pounding away but making a decisive result difficult. But the ‘Nelson touch’, as outlined to his Captains by Nelson prior to the battle, brought about a pell-mell battle where the British crews superior gunnery almost always won out against the French who had been bottled up in port for long periods.

The victory at Trafalgar was the high water mark of British sea power, building on a fighting ethos and reputation that went back to Drake, and other lesser-known figures such as Vernon, Hood, Hawke and Howe. The daring and spirit shown by Nelson on that day in 1805 became a byword for British naval action, and men such as Fisher, Jellicoe, Beatty and Cunningham expanded upon this example.

Modern historians and politicians may like to ignore Trafalgar and its significance (mainly given that we decimated the French and Spanish fleets), but it did mark the beginning of the end for Napoleon, a dictator who waged war across Europe and caused the deaths of millions. Trafalgar limited Napoleon’s ambitions, to the point where he was eventually defeated for good at Waterloo in 1815. 50 years peace in Europe was the result.

Whilst the British Empire had its origins far earlier than 1805 – the fleets of Henry VII and Henry VIII, the defeat of the Armada, anti-piracy operations in the West Indies and the growth of British India – Trafalgar heralded a prolonged period of British control of the worlds seas, that lasted arguably until the Second World War. Control of the seas allowed Britain to extend a commerical empire across all four corners of the globe, in North America, the Carribean, Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific.

21 October 2010

Only two days ago it was announced that the Royal Navy would be losing one aircraft carrier immediately and one soon after, one major landing ship, one destroyer, four frigates, and an auxilliary landing ship. This will leave the Royal Navy without air cover of its own, paper-thin amphibious capability (which is pointless anyway without air cover to protect it) and woefully short of escort hulls. Essentially, a whole task group is being mothballed.

Ever since 1805 British officers – and indeed sailors – have been brought up and trained that they are the ancestors of Nelson, Collingwood, Hardy and their men, and that even though weapons, ships and uniforms may change, the spirit remains the same. During the First World War Admirals and the public longed for a ‘second Trafalgar’ that would cripple the German fleet. And even though large fleet actions are a thing of the past, the sprirt has still been there – witness the service of officers such as Gerard Roope, William Hussey and David Wanklyn in the Second World War, and David-Hart Dyke, Chris Craig and John Coward in the Falklands. History matters.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the days of the British Empire and Britannia ruling waves are a distant memory, but even so since 1945 Britain has been riding the tail end of the global influence wave, thanks to the manner in which Britain and the Royal Navy are respected around the world. That respect will be a distant memory.

Not only are we talking about global influence and defence. Since time immaterial the Royal Navy has been a central part of British culture – Trafalgar Square, Nelsons Column, Rule Britannia, Hearts of Oak, Portsmouth, Greenwich… people who go to see have always been romanticised, whereas soldiers are frequently seen as the scum of the earth.

It’s probably too early to tell, but 19 October 2010 may well be the day on which British Sea Power really did sail into the sunset. There is not much, after all, that you can do with a clapped out Helicopter Carrier, one main landing ship, three auxilliary landing ships and 19 Destroyers and Frigates of varying quality.

About these ads

46 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

46 responses to “Trafalgar Day – Historical Irony

  1. What was Kipling’s quote about soldiers? “It’s Tommy this, and Tommy that, and chuck him out, the brute. But it’s Saviour Of His Country when the guns begin to shoot.”? Then again, this whole uproar with the HIGHLY questionable decisions reminds me of another old rhyme – “Remember, remember, the 5th of November”. Hmm – 5 November’s coming up soon, no? Now, I’m not suggesting any kind of re-enactment or anything, but…….

  2. x

    This anniversary seems to have bypassed the rest of the UK’s defence blogging community. ThinkDefence is doing a post-mortem. And GrandLogisitics is picking apart the one carrier scenario.

    I can’t say I am past caring because I feel genuinely upset by this week developments. The RAF have gotten away with murder yet again. And I have started to have very sour thoughts towards our brown brethren; especially their performance in the last two “wars.” By 2016 the RN will be a frigate force with a sprinkling of SSNs to protect the deterrent. The key thing will be whether an 8th Astute will be order to keep Barrow going in the gap. If not well……

  3. It just bewilders me that both the US and UK are building their militaries towards the current Iraq/Afghanistan conflict. The US wants to cut the new USMC Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle because they see the Marines as a quick response force. What about amphibious invasion, the Marines’ reason for being? Our Navy is trying to justify the new Littoral Combat Ship, that so far has either failed, or just barely managed, to do the job three other ships do better and for less money (for 1 copy of all 3) than for one LCS! And the USAF is about to lose most of the F-22s it wanted to order, leaving us to rely on the F-15 (complete with its’ cracking wing) and F-16 dating back to the 1970s. Even the Army can’t figure out what to drive, even as our “secret” research group DARPA reports on a diesel-driven flying Humvee. Seriously. Here’s the story:

    http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/10/darpas-flying-humvee-goes-diesel/

    As I’ve said before, it’s gotta be something in the water!

    • x

      TBH I wasn’t a fan of EFV for a while. It is too expensive by 15million. And then I started having doubts about helicopters. I know the Taliban aren’t knocking them out of the air. And Communist Vietnamese didn’t really have that much luck outside LZ’s. For a while now helicopters have seemed to me to be expensive, fragile, and not much of a load carrier. I think it all depends on how far you expect your “marines” to go ashore.

      Further off topic this has also caused me to question the design of current LPD and LSD. “We” should being looking at vessels like the MV Blue Marlin with sides, superstructure, etc

      • I understand the “tumblehome” look of new ships giving them “low observable” radar qualities. (I hate the term Stealth. I’ve had to explain to too many people that the Stealth bomber CAN be seen by the human eye – that Stealth is NOT invisibility!) I’d feel better about their well decks being covered if it was armour, even Kevlar/carbon fibre, and not just thin skin.
        As to helos, the Taliban have managed to take a few down, and I doubt if we’re always going to be lucky enough to face foes whose AAA capability consists of five guys pointing AKs skyward! Besides, helos have to go back for fuel and weapons eventually – the EFV not only gets you to the beach, but it hangs around and shoots back as long as you can get more ammo. You can even have EFVs fill their holds with their own ammo for many hours of noisy fun! ;)

        • x

          Yes but the Taliban aren’t taking them down left, right and centre.

          What you say about the EFV sticking around is one of the pluses I am think about. This is actually a step shift as the AAV was more designed, supposed to be, a tracked landing craft. Go to shore, drop off, go back to ship for more stuff. Again the AAV’s less than sparkling performance (but not that bad) in the sandbox was due to it being pushed beyond its designed role.

          • My friend, if you can watch footage of the USMC riding the highways of Iraq in those huge amphibious beasts, and not laugh, you aren’t humourless, you’re DEAD! One of the silliest things I’ve ever seen. Not that the EFVs would look all that good, but those amtraks are UGLY!

  4. Sorry, it took a moment to remember what the Blue Marlin was. The biggest problem I see with these beasts is their fairly deep draft – not too good for going into the shallows for “over the beach” situations (though GREAT for getting all those fun Marine toys to the brown water’s edge). That’s one of the LCS’ few good points, delivering landing craft close into shore. The problem is their module system, which is supposed to give them multiple function warfare capability like ASW, anti-surface, and (in the future) AA, but so far have worked rather poorly when they’ve worked at all. But that’s another thread – literally!

  5. It seems odd that people talk about not fighting the last war, then assume that the next one will be the same as the current one.

    Anyway, why was out joker of a Prime Minister certain that carrier aviation etc will not be needed for ten years, when the SDSR paper was called “Delivering Security In An Uncertain World”?

  6. x

    I am past caring. I am trying to get over a week where my favourite armed service has been shafted, Trafalgar Day ignored by the media at large, and the brand new SSN is sitting aground off Skye.

    • X- If it helps, I’m getting over a week where, almost a year to the day I found out on the Internet my mother died (my father mailed me a brief note about getting some money which made me anxious, since he doesn’t EVER write letters), I just found out last night he’s selling the family home, again over the Internet, and I’m 800 miles away, unable to get there and rescue my childhood memorabilia and his tools (which have great sentimental value for me) before my sister sells everything to make money to stick dad in a retirement home. Wish you and I were in the same country, I’d take you out and get both of us roaring drunk!

      • x

        Everybody wants to get me drunk today. It wouldn’t take much as I am completely tea total.

        I am sorry to hear of your family troubles. Without wishing to black cat I know how you feel. My gran had a mini-stroke about 2 weeks ago. She is up and down. Taking grandad back and forth proved too much and he collapsed in the hospital. My father is getting over cancer and has a heart condition. And the shock of grandad being ill nearly sent him under too. Grandad is now safely in a home for rest. My uncle has come home from Australia. And between my uncle, aunt, and dad they are sending me bat sh*t trying to run everything and decide what to do……

        What amazes me though is that none of them seem too concerned about HMS Astute. Some people are just self, self, self…… ;) :)

        • You know, my neighbor (and pastor, and a former military wife – there’s a combo for you) had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned the defence cuts? You’d think all these bad events were happening in a country OUTSIDE the United States. Oh. Wait. Um…..er…. (When we would travel to Canada, friends would ask how it was, and we’d say “It was like another country!” A good reason smart-alecks shouldn’t marry.) ;)

  7. I’ll post the full link over at the Ark Royal thread, but per the US site Military.Com, comes this headline. Quote:

    “Sun About to Set at GMT for British ‘Empire’”

    “In the face of domestic economic pressures, our main ally (and perhaps the last one of any consequence unless you count Russia) has started stepping away from having a military that can exert power worldwide.”

  8. I figure this is the best place for a good laugh at the politicians’ expense. From the US website Military.com:

    http://www.military.com/news/article/gen-clinton-lost-launch-codes-for-mos.html?ESRC=eb.nl

    Yes, “Slick Willie” lost the card with the nuclear launch codes for MONTHS at a time. Now do you feel a little better about your UK leadership? They may have lost their minds, or at least their sensibilities, but I’ll bet THEY know where their launch codes are….

  9. x

    Now it appears that Portsmouth FC will close down.

    What a week……..

    ……..all we need now is a Kraken to eat Guzz and for Faslane to see some “instant sunshine” thanks to a clanky dropping a hitting stick.

  10. UK readers might like to send a letter to their MP. Key points I would suggest:

    -Getting rid of the carriers (and Harriers) and amohibious assets – but retaininhg 60% of heavy armour etc suggests a total lack of balance

    -The skills need to run a fixed wing flying at sea (not just the aircrew but flight deck crews and the rest of the ship) will be lost after a ten year gap

    -Retaining ILLUSTRIOUS instead of OCEAN will allow us to embark US, Italian, and Spanish Harriers and maintain some of those skills. She is also the faster and more robustly built of the two ships, doesn’t need a refit and has done the LPH role before

    -The Harrier is more flexible than Tornado, doesn’t need a long runway, needs less maintenance and logistics and recently had a support contract awarded to keep it flying this decade. It is better than Tornado GR4 for close air support

    -Retaining a small number of Harriers will kep our options ope in the event of unexpected events (the ones that dominate history)

    • James Daly

      I would like to endorse writing to your local MP, I will be doing so (especially as my MP is apparently a naval reservist…). I also agree wholeheartedly with the points expressed above.

  11. Try to get the spelling right, though…

    I think the Government have been badly advised, particularly with respect to the skill set needed for carrier ops (yes, I have seen it for myself). I think the report was written by retired Generals, and it shows.

  12. Also – don’t forget that the Harrier Out of Service date was meant to be 2018, according to: http://www.iiss.org/publications/strategic-comments/past-issues/volume-16-2010/september/uk-air-force-may-have-its-wings-clipped/

    And LUSTY has been refitted to keep her going for a good few years…

  13. I’ve sent my letter. I wonder if anyone else will?

    • I’d love to, but somehow, I don’t think the British government would be too pleased with commentary from an American citizen. However, if you can get me an address, especially an Email address, I’d be happy to embarrass myself and irk ANY number of politicians to do a favour for the British people!

    • James Daly

      I’ve sent an email to my MP, Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North). Apparently she is also a naval reservists. I’m still awaiting a reply, but as soon s I get it you will all know about it ;)

    • I have signed the petition, WEBF, and will write a note through the Number 10 website as soon as I finish my morning Inbox cleanup. As I said, I’m more than willing to embarrass myself and annoy any number of politicians for a good cause. I’ll also look over the MOD website and see if I can find a likely address or two for a well-aimed broadside. I will also have to review my Email records – I think I have the direct Email address for the Minister of Defence, though it might be from before the recent elections. If I find any good addresses, I’ll pass them on here. At least we know who the enemy is – some North Carolina state representative doesn’t know modern US soldiers from American WW2 re-enactors in German uniforms! :) Here’s the BBC story:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11640129

      Some days, I am SO proud to be an American. This ain’t one of those days….. :(

  14. James Daly

    Well I’ve had an interesting reply from Penny Mordaunt MP (Portsmouth North) regarding my thoughts on the SDSR. I think it warrants a post of its own, which I will make later.

  15. Pingback: comforters

  16. Another odd trackback….

    See how the RN website has been redone and cleanse almost all mention of the Harrier or the INVINCIBLE class… http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk

  17. Otherwise, you will appreciate and notice how much of your
    top home improvement in jacksonville time. Take the example
    of switching out all of your home.

  18. Admiring the commitment you put into your website and detailed information you present.

    It’s good tto come across a blog every onche in a while that isn’t
    the same outdated rehashed material. Fantastic read!
    I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS
    feeds to my Google account.

  19. Hi, I do think this is a great site. I stumbledupon it ;) I will revisit yet again since i have
    bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change,
    may you be rich and continue to help other people.

  20. They will have better-quality, and you will have more programs to select from.
    They fall in-love at the same time as Rose is defined to be engaged to Cal.
    The movie runs around 1-hour and 40 minutes and is rated PG.

  21. It has been thus reasonable that every other common person
    are able to get a Nokia handset. That’s exactly what the 1984 video Nightmare on Elm Street is all about.

  22. Merely improve the iOS using the stock ipsw from iTunes
    before Jailbreaking. Right here is a take on benefits of a mobile pleasant website.
    You can actually appear for this plan on the web.

  23. Google Now generally gives you all the information you need without actually
    asking. First things first, you should ready your devices.
    I want to know in the comment section about your jailbreaking activities.

  24. This software is free and supports several languages.
    This is a critical condition to pick which one should be stored in iPhone and which SMS
    could be deleted. Aside from this, fresh iOS 7 will begin to talk about equipment
    settings.

  25. Detectamet have a state of the art laser ready to minimize, etch, mark or engrave lots of materials.

    The method is simple.

  26. You can even use it to unlock the iPad and the iPod Touch.
    You can plug it into your telly, computer or digital digital camera
    and it’s also a potent digital recording device.

    Thin wallets are in need for both males and women.

  27. When you see the message” prepare to jailbreak (DFU)”, then plug your device to a Pc.
    If you have your iPad jailbreak, you do not want your gadget to go again. Don’t
    be concerned, the normal Application Shop still functions.

  28. Good day! Do you know if they make any plugins to help with SEO?

    I’m trying to get my blog to rak for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good gains.
    If you know of any please share. Cheers!

  29. I read this paragraph completely regarding the comparison of most up-to-date and
    preceding technologies, it’s awesome article.

  30. Greetings from Carolina! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to browse your site on my iphone
    during lunch break. I love the information you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.
    I’m amazed at how quick your blog loaded on my mobile
    .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, awesome
    blog!

  31. Hearing someone and studying what they typed is not the exact same.
    SOUNDHOUND (Paid out: $4.ninety nine)Identify songs by holding your phone in the path of a speaker or artist.
    Uninstall whatsapp from your Android telephone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s