Saturday, 31 March 2018

Action at Ballynascarty, 1798

In 1798 an organisation called the United Irishmen incited a revolt in Ireland, with the aim of expelling the British. While it was clear what they were against, not so much what they were for, but given that they were keen supporters of the French Revolution and the Terror, nothing very good. And given the anti-Catholic nature of the French revolution, it is doubtful if the Catholic population of Ireland would have been very enthusiastic about the Ireland they would have found themselves in. Hundreds of Catholic priests had been murdered in France, and many more imprisoned, whilst the Pope had been imprisoned just a few months before.

The aim was to revolt over all Ireland simultaneously, but in many cases, especially Dublin, the revolutionaries were discovered and dispersed before that could happen. Although later portrayed by Republican propaganda as British vs. Irish, in fact it is more accurate to say Crown vs Revolutionary, as many of those fighting on the Crown side were Irish, volunteers and regular soldiers. Also, lack of support amongst the general population gave excellent intelligence to the Crown forces, and, of course, most of the victims of the revolutionaries were Irish.

Fortunately, Crown forces in the west of County Cork were under the command of Sir John Moore, later to be famous for establishing light infantry regiments in the army, and as the victor of Corunna in the Napoleonic wars. After offering an amnesty for weapons, he organised raids all over area, collecting 3,400 firearms and 800 pikes, and arresting many revolutionaries. Consequently, when the insurgency started in June in the rest of Ireland, Cork was relatively safe and unaffected. Relatively, there was still one battle to fight.

The Westmeath militia had been raised a few years before, one of several militia regiments formed to counter an expected French invasion. Note that, contrary to the Irish vs British narrative, they were an Irish militia. The Lieutenant Colonel of the Westmeath Regiment of Militia, Sir Hugh O’Reilly, came from an interesting military family, his younger brother Andrew O'Reilly becoming a General der Kavallerie in the Austrian Army, and a Count of the Austrian Empire.

 In June 1798 the Westmeath militia were stationed in the village of Clonikilty, a small town at the head of Clonikilty Bay. They were then transferred to the town of Bandon, where John Moore was the Governor, to be relieved by the Caithness Legion, a militia regiment raised in Scotland. It was during these movements that the following events took place. Incidentally, note that insurgent numbers are unknown, but estimated at about 400 in total. Without the disarmament campaign mentioned above, the consequences could have been much worse. What happens next is described in a report from Sir Hugh O’Reilly, as recorded in the London Gazette.

Copy of a letter from Sir Hugh O’Reilly, Lieutenant Colonel of the Westmeath Regiment of Militia to Lieutenant General Sir James Stewart, at Cork

Bandon, June 20, 1798
I have the honor to inform you, that a part of the Westmeath regiment, consisting of two hundred and twenty men, rank and file, with two six-pounders (under my command) were attacked on our march from Clonikilty to Bandon, near a village called Ballynascarty, by the rebels, who took up the best position on the whole march.
The attack was made from a height on the left of our column of march, with very great rapidity, and without the least previous notice, by between three and four hundred men, as nearly as I can judge, armed mostly with pikes, and very few fire arms.  We had hardly time to form, but very soon repulsed them with considerable loss, when they retreated precipitately, but not in great confusion; and when they regained the height, I could perceive they were joined by a very considerable force.  I, with the greatest difficulty and risk to the officers, restrained the men, halted and formed the greater part of them, when I saw that the enemy were filing off a high flank, with an intent to take possession of our guns.
A detachment of one hundred men of the Caithness legion, under the command of Major Innes, was on its march to replace us at Clonikilty, and hearing our fire, pressed forward, and very critically fired upon them whilst we were forming, and made them fly in every direction with great precipitation.  At the same moment, a very considerable force shewed itself on the heights in our rear.  A vast number of pikes appeared some with hats upon them, and other signals, I suppose in order to collect their forces.  I ordered the guns to prepare for action, and very fortunately brought them to bear upon the enemy with good effect; as they dispersed in a short time, and must have left a considerable number dead.  Some were killed in attempting to carry away the dead bodies.  It is impossible to ascertain the loss of the enemy, but a dragoon, who came this morning from Clonikilty to Bandon, reports that their loss is one hundred and thirty.
I feel most highly gratified by the conduct and spirit of the officers and men of the Westmeath regiment; and had only to complain of the too great ardour of the latter, which it was almost impossible to restrain.  I cannot give too much praise to Major Innes, Captain Innes, and all the officers, non commissioned officers and privates of the Caithness legion for their cool, steady conduct, and the very efficient support I received from them.  Our loss was one serjeant and one private.
I have the honor to be, &c
Hu. O’Reilly
Lieut Col. Westmeath regiment.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Rome and the Mediterranean - in the 1750s (2)

An idea of the response of the Papal States, and other countries, to Barbary piracy, can be seen from reports in the London Gazette over the period (available online).
Civita Vecchia - a free port and main port of the Papal States at this time. On the west coast of Italy.
Ancona - another Papal port, on the east coast. Expanded from 1730s onwards.
Corsica - part of Republic of Genoa, but effectively independent from 1755 to 1769 when annexed by the French. The Papal states had the Corsican Regiment of two battalions, but dispersed throughout the country and mainly used for policing.
Leghorne (Livorno now) - a thriving international port on the east coast above Civita Vecchia, part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
Tartane - a small ship with a single mast on which was a large lateen sail. Used for both fishing and trading in the Mediterranean.
Fellucca - a felucca was a sailing boat with one or two lateen sails, used in the eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea. Usually with a crew of two or three and up to ten passengers.
Galiot/ half galley - a ship with both oars and sails. Those used by the Barbary pirates usually had two masts and sixteen pairs of oars, with between two and ten small cannon and between 50 and 150 men.
A Spanish Galiot fighting Barbary pirates in 1738 (Wkipedia)
Xebec – a fast type of sailing ship with a distinctive hull and long over hanging bowsprit. Favoured by pirates because of their speed, those used by the Barbary pirates could carry up to 400 men and 40 guns.

When a set of alter and plate were sent for the chapel of the King of Portugal from Rome via Civita Vecchia it was accompanied by a Maltese ship of war. As detailed in my previous post, there were very close links, militarily and in other ways, between the Order of Malta and the Papacy. Meanwhile the Kingdom of Naples, which seems to have borne the brunt of much of the fighting against Barbary pirates and slavers, was fitting out two frigates, four half galleys and some converted merchantmen to cruise against them.
In January storms wrecked 5 of a squadron of 11 Algiers xebecs on the Neapolitan coast. In April, the Pope’s galleys at Civita Vecchia were ordered to put to sea to cruise against Barbary corsairs which had appeared off the coast, supplemented with 200 soldiers. By May, the Genoese also had a galliot, two felluccas and four galleys at sea to protect against Barbary corsairs in addition to the Neapolitan fleet.
It wasn’t just the Mediterranean powers who were at risk. In May, the Dey of Algiers sent a letter to the commander of the English Mediterranean fleet apologising for the rough treatment of a captured English captain (actually almost strangling) and saying the person responsible had been dismissed and assuring him that it would never happen again, presumably a reflection of the size and power of the English fleet at the time rather than any particular sense of contrition.
By June, the numbers of Barbary corsairs infesting the Papal coast raised worries that they might actually attack sites on land, leading to reinforcements of 100 foot and 100 horse being sent to the coast. Naples was still doing most of the heavy lifting, with both Royal ships and ships outfitted by merchants patrolling the coast
In June the Grand Master of Malta, at the request of the Pope, sent two frigates to patrol the Roman coast against Barbary corsairs, “who greatly infest those seas”, in conjunction with the Pope’s galleys. In August a Portuguese squadron of two frigates of 30 guns each and two armed vessels was despatched to protect the Portuguese coast. By October the Neapolitans were already outfitting ships for the next year, and the Pope’s galleys were dispatched to Corsica to rendezvous with some Genoese armed vessels to cruise against Barbary corsairs off the coast. A French vessel reported that in Tunis four large galliots and two tartanes were fitting out to cruise in Spanish waters next month.

Ships of the Order of Malta fighting Algerian pirates in 1719
In May an engagement was reported between some Neapolitan vessels and five Algerine off Messina, in which one Neapolitan vessel was severely damaged and two Algerine sunk and the other three severely damaged. At the same time 200 soldiers were sent from Rome to Civita Vecchia to board galleys sent to attack Barbary corsairs.
Two frigates and four armed xebecs were sent from Naples to patrol the coast. In May, two Portuguese frigates were sent out against Barbary corsairs that had appeared there, whilst in June a squadron of Spanish ships was sent out to find and destroy Barbary pirates there. Also in June, a Venetian vessel captured a vessel from Tripoli off Sicily and released 30 Christian slaves.
An engagement was reported in the Catalonian sea between seven Algerine Xebecs and a Spanish force of two frigates and four xebecs, in which two Algerines were sunk, two captured and the rest escaped.
By this time Pope Benedict XIV clearly considered that his naval forces needed beefing up, with the purchase of two 30 gun frigates from England, the St Peter (formerly Lowestoft) and St Paul. The two frigates were based in Civita Vecchia, though one had been fitted out in Genoa and the other in Leghorne. They were sent out against Barbary pirates off the coast.
1755 saw an escalation with a formal declaration of war by the Bey of Algiers against Tuscany, and many Algerian vessels off the Tuscan coast, even taking a large Florentine ship in the mouth of the Arno. A squadron off Leghorne consisting of two ships, three barques and two xebecs was reported to taken two Neapolitan and two Genoese vessels. In response the Pope offered to send his two frigates in support, as well as reinforcing the towers and small forts along the Papal coast. Detachments of horse were sent to Civita Vecchia, Fiumicino and other sites to prevent landings.
By late May the Pope’s two frigates had cruised in the Channel of Piombino and the island of Giglio and driven away Barbary pirates from the Roman coast, after which they returned to Civita Vecchio. Nonetheless, the Pope ordered a new palisade to be constructed at Fiumicino to protect the vessels there. A Neapolitan half galley, also in the Channel of Piombino, reportedly captured a Tunisian corsair, with 60 “Moors” who were put in irons, whilst forts on the Tuscan coast had been reinforced and a unit of 80 cuirassiers were patrolling the coast.
Attention now seems to have shifted to the Iberian peninsula, with Portugal sending a man of war of 60 guns, three frigates and two xebecs to protect shipping against the expected arrival of Algerine pirates, and the Spanish navy, using xebecs, taking six Barbary corsairs with nearly 400 men on board, who are put into slavery.
In November the St Paul, under Chevalier Pollastron, took an Algerian corsair of 10 guns and 200 men after a three hour fight, with 20 Algerians killed and 2 of his crew. The corsair was taken to Civita Vecchia, although the captain of the ship and his father were later released after paying a ransom. Following this the St Paul and St Peter were sent to Malta for refitting and then ordered back to cruise the coast, the Papal galleys being laid up for the winter.
Valetta harbour, Malta, in 1750
The aggressive activities of Algiers of the previous year continued, not only harassing the Christian European coast but also conquering their fellow pirates in Tunis.
In February, Chevallier Caros of the St Peter was in Malta where the ship was refitted, before joining the St Paul to cruise against Barbary pirates. The St Peter was refitting again in May, in Leghorne, before returning to Civita Vecchia where she and the St Paul were laid up for the summer and replaced by galleys “as vessels more proper for the season”. At the same time, a detachment of 50 soldiers from the Corsican Regiment in Rome were despatched to Ancona to make the port “more commodius”.
Later in the year both frigates were again fitting out in Civita Vecchia, to cruise against Barbary pirates instead of galleys which to be laid up “on account of the season of the year”. The frigates were to proceed immediately to Toulon to get “the anchors and other necessary stores” for the winter season.
In January the two frigates sailed to Corsica and Sardinia, before patrolling the Roman coast, refitting at Civita Vecchia in March and sortieing out in April following news that Algerian and Tunisian pirates had been sighted off the coast.
At the end of May the frigates were laid up in Civita Vecchia and replaced by patrols of galleys, which in June drove ashore a Barbary galley with 160 “Moors”. These then took refuge in the woods of Porcegliano, pursued by soldiers from the galleys and local soldiers, though their eventual fate is not recorded in the London Gazette.
In October, a squadron of Maltese galleys left Civita Vecchia for Malta, the Papal frigates were prepared for sea and the galleys laid up for the season.
Of course, there were other problems beyond the Barbary pirates, though these were the worst. The Seven Years War was raging in northern Europe at this time, and this too had an impact. For example, in May 1758 the English privateer Enterprize captured three tartanes of timber from the Roman state destined for ship building in France. And to add to these problems, in June a plague in the rest of Italy led to imposition of 40 days quarantine on all ships coming in “Eccliastical ports”.
In November, the two frigates St Peter and St Paul, were sent out again from Civita Vecchia to patrol against Barbary pirates.
Again in January 1759, after careening and refitting at Civita Vecchia, the two frigates were sent out on patrol, before being laid up for the summer, and patrolling again in December, after taking on supplies in Marseilles.
And so ends the 1750s. At this point Franco-Roman relations appear to be good, but tensions over the Jesuits were to change that, as can be seen from a report in 1763.....
It was reported in the London Chronicle that two frigates belonging to the Pope were berthed at Marseilles, apparently for sale, but in fact taking on board valuables belonging to the Society of Jesuits. Creditors of the Society objected and applied for the frigates to be detained, but on learning this the Commander refused permission fo anyone to visit the ships, which he oppose by force. At the time this was unresolved, but the frigates “were watched very closely”.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Rome and the Mediterranean – in the 1750s (1)

The military focus in northern Europe and North America in the 1750s was the Seven Years War, but around the Mediterranean coast of Europe the focus was where it had been for centuries, defence against Barbary slavers. The slave states of the north African coast had been a bane on the Mediterranean for centuries, taking an estimated million slaves from the European coast and countless numbers from the African interior. The French were to do the civilised world a favour in the 1830s and destroy the slave trade focussed on Algiers, but in the 1750s that was many years ahead. On the positive side, it was perhaps the only area of agreement and cooperation amongst the Christian states in Italy.

Italy at this time was not one country, but several. The southern half was dominated by the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples, whilst the north was split between the Venetian Republic to the east, and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Republic of Genoa and the Kingdom of Sardinia to the north, as well as various smaller polities. In the middle, based of course on Rome, were the Papal States.

Benedict XIV
The Papal States were ruled spiritually, and practically, by the Pope. From 1740 to 1758 this was Benedict XIV, who had improved state finances after decades of maladministration, but cut the military budget. In 1758 he was succeeded by Clemens XIII. The main preoccupation during his reign was the fate of the Jesuits, following a lot of pressure, especially from France, or at least the French Parliament if not the king, to suppress them, which Clemens XIII resisted.
Clemens XIII
 The main port of the Papal States at this time was Civita Vecchia on the west coast, the base of the Papal fleet. There was also Fiumicino, and Ancona on the eastern seaboard. All of these were dwarfed by Leghorne, a thriving international port and part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, on the coast above Civita Vecchia. In addition, the Pope had a very close relationship with the Knights Hospitaller on Malta, and could request military help from them if needed. The head of the Marine Commissary, Pasquale Acquaviva d’Aragona, a Neapolitan with a career in the Church, was a member of the Order of Malta.
 Civita Vecchia in 1750
The Papal fleet at this time consisted mainly of galleys, and convicts were still sent to row them in the 1750s. In April 1754 these were supplemented by two 30 gun sailing frigates, built in London and named the San Paolo (St Paul) and San Pietro (St Peter). The San Paolo was commanded by Chevalier di Pollastron, and the San Pietro by Chevalier di Caros. Di Pollastron was actually a member of the Order of Malta, and many of the ships officers were supplied from Malta. When di Pollastron was promoted within that Order in 1757, the Pope requested the Grand Master, Manuel Pinto da Fonseca, from Portugal, to recommend a replacement.
The 1750s were a busy time for the Papal Navy, as described in my next post.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Queen of the Drones

We tend to think of drones as the ultimate early 21st century technology, but they go back much further than that - the picture at the top of this post is from a set of late 1930s cigarette cards and shows the Queen Bee remote controlled plane.
In fact the Queen Bee was designed as a target, not as a weapon itself. After all, how do you train the crews of AA guns and fighters without a target? And how many volunteers are you going to get for that, even for towing a target? The plan was to shoot NEAR the drone, not AT it, but accidents happen.
So, the Queen Bee actually first flew in 1935. It could be flown manually, and this was the case for the first trials, but an unmanned version was flown at the 1935 Farnborough Airshow.
The basic design was based on the hugely successful two seater trainer, the Tiger Moth, with the same engine, wings and undercarriage, but with a wooden rather than metal fuselage. The radio control machinery sat in the rear “pilot” cockpit. Over 412 were built between 1935 and 1943, many for the Fleet Air Arm and supplied as float planes with catapulting points so that they could be launched from ships (the Queen Bee based on HMS Australia had a dummy pilot, named “Fearless Fred”!). One advantage of the wooden construction, apart from being much cheaper, was that they were more buoyant when it came to recovery at sea.
The Queen Bees were surprisingly capable, with a top speed of 104 mph and a range of 300 miles. Controllers could be in another aircraft, on a ship, or just on land. One consequence of the introduction of remote controlled drones, and therefore “realistic” targets, was to show how awful contempory AA defences really were. Reportedly, Queen Bees could be flown up and down in front of the Fleet without getting a scratch, and during a demonstration in front of the King the drone had to be, allegedly, deliberately crashed to spare the Navy’s blushes. Nonetheless, intensive training with Queen Bees in the Mediterranean fleet in 1936 reportedly improved confidence against the expected threat, Italian Savoia Marchetti 81 bombers conducting a “Pearl harbour” style pre-emptive attack on Alexandria. Queen Bees were also sent to Singapore, crated and by ship. Tragically, although they were used from at least 1939 onwards for target training, the Pacific Royal Navy was woefully under prepared for Japanese air attacks. Perhaps the relatively slow and steady Queen Bees generated a sense of over confidence.
Although never intended as weapons of war as such, it is tempting to imagine how they could have been used if Operation Banquet had been activated, the plan to throw everything that could fly, including Tiger Moth trainers, against a German invasion of Britain. A Queen Bee loaded with explosive would make an awfully big bang.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Austrian Rocket Men, Part 1

Early days
The armies of the early 19th century had infantry, cavalry and cannon, like their Napoleonic predecessors. But some had another arm entirely, rockets. And few had more than the Austrians. 
The British were the first of the Napoleonic powers to really incorporate rockets into their forces, following their experiences in India. It took a little tinkering, but by the time of the siege of Copenhagen over 300 rockets were ready to fire into the city, setting about 2/3 of the city alight. This obviously made a huge impression on the Danes, who started their own rocket research, but also on the Austrians.

By the next year, the Austrian army had rockets, of a sort, but apparently they were not very good, and the army commander, Archduke Charles, suggested that they ask their allies, the British for help. The British though were reluctant to give up the secrets of their new wonder-weapon, and in fact the Austrians went to the Danes, sending an engineer, Vincenz Augustin, with an offer of political support at the upcoming Congress of Vienna in return for technical help. How much this helped Denmark is debateable as they lost formerly Swedish Pomerania to Prussia at the conference, but the Austrians had enough to set up a rocket factory at the Austrian army arsenal in Wiener Neustadt, and within 2 months they had assembled 2,400 rockets, and even set up a special Corps with dark green uniforms. The Corps was sufficiently advanced to serve in the Hundred Days campaign, present at the siege of the fortress city of Hunigue, though not actually used.

 Vincenz Augustin (in 1850)
Augustin seems to have been quite a strong character, and his rocket corps expanded after the war, with improved designs. Signal rockets developed could be seen over 40 leagues away, and by November 1820 there were two artillery batteries, one of heavy “12 pdr” rockets and one of “light” 2 inch types. Each battery had 6 firing frames, and an additional 6 in reserve. At this time the corps was based at “Raketendorf”, 6 miles from Vienna.

Despite being desperately inaccurate compared to cannons, rockets did have some advantages. For one thing they were cheaper, a contemporary comparison was 8 guilders per shot from a 12pdr howitzer vs 4 guilders per shot from an equivalent rocket. They were also much lighter, an important consideration given the roads of the time, and packed quite a powerful punch, and when the target was large, such as during a siege, they could be very effective as shown by the siege of Copenhagen above. Last, but not least, they looked awfully impressive, and against poorly trained troops they could be much more frightening than their actual battlefield effect would suggest.

On active service 1820-1829
The rocket corps had their first taste of active service in 1821, when they formed part of the Austrian army which marched the length of Italy at the request of the Neapolitan king Ferdinand to “restore order”. Apparently the rocket troops were still not completely trained and had to practice on the journey down. The batteries played major roles in the battles of Androdocco and Aquilo, and the storming of the monastery of Monte Casino, but were too late for the decisive battle at Rieti. A report in the Monthly Magazine of June 1826 suggests the effect was mainly psychological, causing the rebels to run away, but it also stresses the importance the Austrians gave to their rockets, and the care they took that the designs were kept secret, and how the public were kept away from the factories and stores at Raketendorf. In the years after the Neapolitan expedition the corps was expanded to 4 batteries, 2 light and 2 heavy, each of 12 launchers.
It was not just the army who were interested in rockets, the Austrian navy were too. Historically the Austrians hadn’t bothered much with a navy, but that changed after they inherited the Venetian navy after the Congress of Vienna. A separate depot for rockets was established in Venice and almost all the vessels in the, admittedly not large, fleet were equipped with rockets. According to the Monthly Magazine, the rockets could be attached to pre-existing cannon, but again the details were kept quite secret.
Increased maritime trade bought the Austrian Empire into conflict with the almost continuous piracy and slave raiding from the Muslim North African States. Almost all the European States, and even the USA, were forced into retaliatory attacks on the Barbary Coast during the early years of the 19th Century, and Austria’s turn came in 1829. An Austrian vessel was seized by Moroccan pirates/privateers and vessels were dispatched to bombard Moroccan towns on the Atlantic coast and mount an attack on Larache on the Moroccan Atlantic coast, burning several Moroccan ships. Rockets were apparently useful for this kind of bombardment warfare. 
The Guerrierea at Sidon (centre)

A similar expedition took place in 1840, but this time in conjunction with the Royal Navy, in support of the Ottoman Empire against a breakaway Egypt. A British squadron with the Austrian 48 gun frigate Guerrierea bombarded Sidon and Beirut and then attacked the city of Acre. A small Austrian/ British/ Ottoman landing party, under the command of the Austrian Archduke Friedrich, landed and took the Egyptian citadel. During this campaign, an Austrian rocket troop had been landed to support 3 battalions of Turks and a battalion of Royal Marines attacking Egyptian forces outside Sidon.
So far rockets had proved useful, but the major test of the rocket corps, and the whole Austrian army, was to come in 1848 ......

Further reading
Mario Christian Ortner. Die Entwicklung moderner Kriegsraketen im19. Jahrhundert. (In German).
Progress on the continental production of Congreve Rockets. The Monthly Magazine. Apr 1826. Google Books.
The war in Syria. Commodore Sir Charles Napier, K.C.B. 1842. Project Gutenburg.