Friday, 29 July 2011

The Volunteer Force (3) - the Dover Review

Over the Easter holiday of 1867 there was a Grand Review of the recently formed Volunteer Force, which as well as providing a great spectacle performed two important functions. Firstly, of course, it was experience for the Volunteers of large scale manoeuvres, and a chance to practice their skills. But secondly it also sent a message to any foreign powers contemplating action against the British Isles (ie. France). Just to make the message absolutely clear, the review was held at Dover, the closest point to France and traditionally the Gateway to England.
Over 25,000 troops, 24,000 of them Volunteers, were concentrated there in just 2 days thanks to extensive use of the railway system, as used so successfully by the Prussians just the previous year.

The Volunteers Review was covered extensively in the Illustrated London News, so over to them....

The lounge on Admiralty Pier

The grand review and field day of the metropolitan volunteer corps at Dover on Easter Monday was the most interesting and successful that has yet been held. ... it exhibited several features of great novelty and importance, with regard both to the special branches of the volunteer force and their cooperation with the land and sea services of the Crown. “

Easter Sunday 1867

Volunteers marching to the review ground

In Waterloo crescent the London Scottish, who mustered very strongly under Captain Lumsden, were drawn up and at once wheeled into the rear of the Civil Service corps. These two splendid corps proceeded along the Marine Parade and passed thence through Bench street into the market square where another large body of volunteers awaited their arrival. The Queens Westminster, the 1st City of London, brigade and the Cinque Ports artillery corps were extremely well represented and when formed together formed a very formidable appearance. Without delay the united body marched to the castle heights by way of Castle street. Once at the parade ground ... they received the Litany and lessons. In returning the place of honour was given to the London Scottish, headed by two of their bagpipers. Soon after reaching the Marine Parade the volunteers were dismissed and were at liberty to enjoy themselves as they pleased.”

Easter Monday

Volunteers arriving in Dover by train

On Monday morning the sun shone brightly, though the wind was rather cold. By a quarter past 10 twenty "specials" with some 10,000 men had reached the South Eastern terminus, and 16 had bought between 8,000 and 9,000 troops into that of the London Chatham and Dover line. Assistant inspectors of volunteers were waiting in in both stations to direct the men to the spots were they were to halt until the time of the general muster. Every ship in the harbour had her masts bedizened with flags and as the troops passed along the seamen stood on the decks waving their hats. Two or 3 volunteer bands were playing, staff officers galloped here and there and everywhere and the inhabitants were loud in the expression of their pleasure."

The "invasion" of Dover

The march past having concluded, the first and second divisions of infantry, the field batteries of the Royal Artillery, and the 1st brigade of Volunteer field batteries, which forces represented the invading army, moved off to the East, and facing around as if marching from Deal, took up a positions North East of the castle. Right before them was Castle Hill fort - an outwork of fortifications close to the spot at which the troops saluted. A little to the right of Castle Hill fort, and in front of it, was the main body of the defending force, consisting of the 3rd and 4th divisions of infantry, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th brigades of artillery and about 200 cavalry. All these troops were supposed to have marched out from Dover to drive back the invaders. Such were the positions before battle commenced, a farm called "Broad Leas Farm" lying between them.”

Map of the battle

The invading force was commanded by Major General the Hon J Lindsay and the disposition of his army was made in this manner. The 1st division was deployed, skirmishers being thrown out; the 2nd division acting in support formed a continuous line of battalion columns, such intervals being allowed between the brigades as would bring the brigades of the 2nd division in rear of the centre of the corresponding brigades of the 1st division. The 2 field batteries of the Royal Artillery were formed in line on the right, and the 1st brigade of Volunteer field batteries in line on the left of the 1st division."

"The defending force was commanded by Major General Lord George Paget CB, whose disposition of forces was this; the 4th brigade of field batteries was in line with its right on the Deal road. Further to the right the 3rd division of infantry was deployed, having skirmishers thrown out. the third brigade of field batteries in line was on its right. The 4th division of infantry, acting in support, had its brigades in line of continuous columns, and the cavalry was in reserve. The 1st Sussex Artillery and the Cinque Ports artillery proceeded to the forts within the castle to work the batteries on the fortifications. Colonel Childs RA, who had the command of all the troops in the castle, had made arrangements for bringing about 70 guns into action, and having the Volunteers to work them."

"The signal for the commencement of the action, precisely at 1.40 pm, was the firing of a gun from the old keep of the castle. The defenders gave the the enemy battle by making a direct attack with the 3rd division on the invading force, this movement being covered by the force of field artillery and by that of four 42 pounders on the Bell battery of the castle. This battery faces to the North East of the castle and its guns played with great effect on the invaders who, in the face of a tremendous fire, were seen steadily advancing, supported by their own field guns."

A view of the battle

"The action had lasted about a quarter of an hour and the invading party was getting the worst of it, when the vessels of war which had gone round to Deal in the morning were observed approaching from that direction, The Terrible, under full steam, heading the naval squadron, with the Virago, the Lizard and one of the gun boats. Every sail was closely furled, and the yards were all squared and the 4 war steamers approached the town. In covering this operation they exchanged shots with a coast guard station and afterwards, when the battle was at it's height, they engaged the batteries both of the castle and the western forts. The manoeuvring of these vessels of war was quite as interesting as that of the troops in the field. Steaming along the lines of fortifications, now in one direction, now in another, they fired the starboard and then port broadsides and their fire was promptly responded to by the guns of the Guildford, the Shoulder of Mutton, and other batteries on the Western heights, the guns of which were served by Volunteer artillery men, with the assistance of members of the regular forces."

The naval squadron off Dover

Despite naval intervention the invading forces were driven back, and contact with the sea was broken.....

they made an obstinate stand and for some time both lines were completely engaged. Ultimately however, the attacking forces were overpowered, and , continuing the retreat they fell back on a position in the rear of a hollow or valley close to the village of Guston, and looking towards the sea. The defending force came up and attempted several times by assault to dislodge the enemy from his position” but eventually “the signal was made to put an end to the battle and all the Volunteers moved off the field, proceeding at once to the railway stations on their return to London.”

Units taking part

London Scottish Rifle Volunteers
Raised, as the name suggests, from Scots living in London under the command of Lt Col Lord Elcho. They wore Highland dress, but to avoid interclan rivalry it was in Hodden Grey, not one of the traditional tartans.

Cinque Port Artillery Volunteers
The original Cinque Ports were a federation of towns along the English south coast who banded together for common defence in medieval times. By this time the Cinque Ports had a purely ceremonial role, but when Volunteer units were formed in Dover, and later other towns along the coast, they used the name.
A sergeant in the Cinque Ports Artillery Volunteers 1865

1st Sussex Volunteer Artillery
Based in Brighton, they normally formed part of the garrison of Shoreham Fort.

HMS Terrible
a paddle steamer of 19 guns on two decks, she had already served in the Mediterranean and the Crimean war

HMS Virago
a 6 gun paddle sloop, last seen in these blogs at the siege of Petropavlovsk

HMS Lizard
an iron paddle gunboat, with 3 guns.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Volunteer Force (2) - By the Book

The creation of the Volunteer Force in 1859 led to a huge upsurge of interest in matters military in England, especially as it followed on from the Crimean war and various hostilities on the continent. To meet this interest publishers rushed to produce books, and fortunately for us some are available for free on the internet.

Rifles and volunteer rifle corps,
By Llewellynn Frederick W. Jewitt

A rather opinionated overview of the whole subject, but he does go into considerable detail about the various rifles and pistols available, amongst other things. He uses the Derbyshire Volunteers as an example. Well worth checking out.
For example

The Adams Revolver (Made by Mr Robert Adams, 76, King William street, London Bridge)

The revolver patented by Mr. Adams is one of great beauty and immense power, and, for all purposes where a revolver can be of service, is as effective as any arm well can be. The whole frame, which includes the barrel of the pistol, is made of one single piece of iron of the best quality which can be procured. When we say of one piece of iron, we mean it literally; it is neither welded or jointed in any way, but cut out of one solid mass of metal; it is, therefore, as firm at the angles as in any other part, and as strong as metal can make it. Having been cut to the required form, and worked up and rifled, it thus becomes more safe and more firm than if made in several pieces, and held together only with bolts.

There is a detailed discussion of the mechanism, which allowed firing without separately cocking the hammer each shot.

There can be no doubt that for a revolver to be really valuable in case of emergency, it ought not to require separate cocking for each discharge; for, although this can be done with great rapidity and ease with the thumb, it is a loss of time which in many instances might be fatal. This is clearly shown in the following letter which we have had shown to us:—

"Sir,—In these days of warfare, any invention of improvements in fire-arms should he patronised and assisted, and with that view I write you this letter. I had one of your largest-sized Revolver Pistols at the bloody battle of Inkermann, and by some chance got surrounded by Russians. I then found the advantages of your pistol over that of Colonel Colt's, for had I to cock before each shot I should have lost my life; but with yours, having only to pull the trigger, I was able to shoot four Russians, and thereby save my life. I should not have had time to cock, as they were too close to me, being only a few yards from me; so close that I was bayoneted through the thigh immediately after shooting the fourth man. I hope this may be of service to you, as I certainly owe my life to your invention of the Revolver Pistol.—I have the honour to be your obedient servant, "J. G. Crosse, 88th Regt.

This was very much a commercial enterprise, and there are also some wonderful adverts...
Of course the new volunteers would need instruction, and two drill books are also available.

Drill and rifle instruction for the corps of rifle volunteers
Col Sir D Lysons 1860

This goes into immense detail into the various drills and manoeuvres the troops would need to learn. There is only space for a few snippets here....

Firing would be in 2 ranks. The men of a file must always work together; both men should never be unloaded at the same time; they will fire alternately, commencing with the front-rank man. On broken ground the volunteers must take advantage of all cover, and when advancing or retiring they will run from one place of cover to another, the two men of each file keeping together and taking care not to get in the way of other files. When moving, the loaded man should always be nearest to the enemy.

Preparing for Cavalry.
When the square is to prepare for cavalry, upon the word Ready, the first and second rank will sink down at once upon the right knee, as a front and rear rank kneeling, in the manner prescribed when at the capping position, and at the same time they will place the butts of their rifles on the ground against the inside of their right knees, locks turned uppermost, the muzzle slanting upwards, so that the point of the sword will be about the height of a horse's nose ; the left hand to have a firm grasp of the rifle immediately above the lowest band, the right hand holding the small of the butt, the left arm to rest upon the thigh about six inches in rear of the left knee. The third and fourth ranks will make ready as a front and rear rank standing. Muzzles of rifles to be inclined upwards. The standing ranks will fire by files, and the kneeling ranks in volleys by word of command. When the sides of the square are less than four deep, the front rank only will kneel.

In this manner dispersed parties may be formed to resist an attack of cavalry in an open country, either in one or more squares, according as they may be more or less dispersed ; each square consisting of any number of men. Every man will run to the nearest rallying point, but the larger the square the safer it will be.

A battalion may send out any number of companies to skirmish, according to its strength, and the extent of ground that is to be covered; each company that is sent out to skirmish must have a company in support, as a general rule about 200 yards in rear of its centre ; the reserve should always be composed of at least one-third of the whole battalion; it will be placed at about 500 yards in rear of the centre of the skirmishers.
When a line of skirmishers composed of several companies advances or retires, it will move by the centre of the whole line, except while inclining to a flank, when it will move by the flank to which it is inclining.
The directions already given for the movements of the skirmishers and supports in case of the approach of cavalry, are equally applicable to the companies of a battalion ; the reserve will advance on the first alarm, and form square when necessary ; the captains must as far as possible form their squares so as to flank each other.
When required to assemble, the skirmishers will at all times form first on their supports, after which they may both be brought in, and formed at quarter distance in rear of the reserve.
Relieving Skirmishers. When skirmishers have suffered considerable loss, when they are fatigued by continued rapid movements, or when their supply of ammunition is getting low, it will be advisable to relieve them. The most convenient method of effecting the relief is to order the support to extend and relieve its skirmishers. When retiring, the successive relief of the skirmishers by supports, is the most effectual manner of keeping an enemy in check. The officer commanding a support should therefore be constantly on the look-out for good positions, in which he may extend his men with advantage, such its a bank, a ditch, a wall, or such like cover.
After relieving, the new skirmishers must hold their position until ordered to continue the retreat.
Reinforcing, or extending a Line of Skirmishers Any part of a line of skirmishers may be reinforced, by throwing forward the supports or part of them, in the same manner as they are thrown forward when relieving skirmishers, but on joining the old line, both will remain and skirmish together, dividing the distances. A line of skirmishers may be diminished by calling in any portion of them, who will retire in the same manner as skirmishers are brought in when relieved. In this case, the remaining skirmishers will divide the space left by those who have retired.

Bugle Calls.

The following bugle sounds may occasionally be substituted for words of command when skirmishing, but the voice is less liable to-error, and commands can be passed down an extended line with great rapidity by the supernumeraries.
One G- sounded on the bugle denotes the right of the line; two G's the centre ; three G's the left. The G's, preceding any sound, denote the part of the line to which it applies ; for instance, two G's before the extend signify to extend from the centre; one G followed by the close, to close to the right; one G followed by the incline, to incline to the right ; three G's followed by the wheel, to wheel to the left.

Formation of an Advanced Guard on a Road.
When a column is marching along a road, the advanced guard will be composed of one or more companies, divided into four parts or sections; the two rear sections (under the command of the senior officer) will form the reserve in front of the column ; the second section from the front will form a support 200 yards in front of the reserve, under command of the third senior officer ; the leading section will be 100 yards in front of the second section, and will detach a corporal and two files 100 yards to its front and two files to each flank, 100 yards from the road and about 50 yards more retired than the corporal's party.
The senior subaltern will accompany the leading section. The detached files must carefully examine all houses, enclosures, &c. within their reach ; but should more distant objects present themselves, patrols must be detached from the second section for their particular examination.

Single files of communication will be placed between the different divisions of an advanced guard, and also between its reserve and the head of the column. The distance between the two latter must be regulated by circumstances; but it will generally be about 500 yards during the day and about 300 during the night.
In open country an advanced guard is simply a line of skirmishers, with a support, and, if necessary, a reserve.

Instructions for mounted rifle volunteers
Colonel Sir D Lysons, 1860

There is a lot about horse drill, so again here are just some snippets.

When mounted rifle volunteers assemble on horseback, they are not to be regarded as cavalry to be occasionally dismounted, but as infantry mounted in order to move quickly.

The idea is to use one rank when mounted, two when skirmishing....

I Object of Skirmishing.
The principal duty of mounted rifle volunteers on active service would be to hinder and embarrass the march of the enemy by unexpected attacks on his flank and rear at a distance from the main body of our troops, where it would be unsafe, if not impossible, for infantry to act, unsupported, without the aid of horses.

II . Horses not to be exposed.
Mounted volunteers should never expose their horses to fire unless it is positively unavoidable. If their advance and intention is discovered by the enemy before they commence to fire, the object of their attack will probably have failed, and the sooner they retire the better.

III. Safety of Mounted Volunteers
By keeping at long range from the enemy's infantry the volunteers can at any moment take to their horses and gallop away in perfect safety, let the enemy be ever so numerous. Should they be followed by the enemy's cavalry, an intelligent officer, by a judicious use of the banks and ditches and other natural obstacles, and of his superior knowledge of the country, may bid defiance to a superior force.

IV. Intelligence required in Skirmishing.
It is not possible to lay down distinct rules for the movements of skirmishers of any description, least of all for the skirmishers of a corps of mounted rifle volunteers. Much must depend on the knowledge of the officers, and also on the personal intelligence of every individual in the corps.

V. Trumpet or Bugle Sounds
The trumpet or bugle should seldom be used, as the enemy will probably understand the sounds as well as the volunteers. The skirmishers must be accustomed to move by sign or signal; and, above all, to take advantage of the nature of the ground.

VI. Skirmishers and their led Horses.
The volunteers who remain with the horses must conform to all the movements of the skirmishers as far as they can without exposing their horses to fire, always bearing in mind that it is their business to place the horses in the most favourable position for the skirmishers to remount when forced to retire ; should the mounted party be concealed from view, the officer in charge of such party must remember to place one man where he can be seen by the dismounted men, in order that the skirmishers may know where to find their horses.

VII. Linking Horses.
It may under some circumstances be found practicable to link all the horses together, leaving only the flank man of subdivisions or sections to take care of them. This, however, should only be done when the skirmishers are certain to have plenty of time to remount, and when there is no danger of their horses being attacked by the enemies' cavalry. It must, however, be remembered that under these circumstances the horses will be immoveable.The method of linking must depend on the nature of the horse appointments of the corps.

VIII. Remarks on Assembling.
As sizing is of little importance in their case, it is recommended that mounted volunteers should be encouraged to choose their own associates as neighbours in the ranks. Four men should agree, for the purpose of riding to drill together, to meet at a common point. They should choose one as guide for the day, and march according to his word of command in fours, files, or single files, paying attention to dressing or covering. This practice will accustom the horses to work together. It will also teach small parties of skirmishers the habit of looking to each other, both for support in firing and for holding each other's horses.

Sword Drill
There is an extensive chapter on sword drill, though how well Volunteers would fare against say, Chasseurs d'Afrique or hussars is extremely debatable. Anyway, here is an example....

The greatest attention should at all times be paid to maintain the proper position and balance of the body, from which, by too great an exertion in delivering a Cut or Thrust, the horseman may be suddenly thrown, and thereby lose the advantage of his science in the use of his Sword, by the natural efforts which he must make to regain his seat; nor should he fail to have every confidence and dependence upon his Guard, without trusting to his avoiding the attack of an opponent by turning or drawing back the body to escape from it.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Volunteer Force (1)

The Crimean War showed that the British army couldn't defend an expanding Empire, protect the homeland, and undertake major operations overseas. To compensate, the Volunteer Force was formed.

The Lancashire Rifle Corps 1864

It was to be a part time army. Members were to be returned as “effective” if they had attended eight days drill and exercise in four months, or 24 days within a year, the rest of the year they carried on normal lives. In fact, the Volunteer Force system slotted neatly into the British class structure of the time. The regular army had working class troops and upper class officers, the Volunteers tended to attract members from the expanding middle class, who could afford the equipment and had enough flexibility to take time off.

Units were Rifles or Artillery, and (at the start) remarkably autonomous. Originally small units of about 100 men, they were integrated into battalions during the early 1860s, and they also started to receive a grant to defray expenses! The military role of the rifle corps was to harass the invading enemy’s flanks, the artillery corps were to man coastal forts and defences.

Uniform and Arms

There was actually a recommended War Office uniform, though it wasn't compulsory (a fact seized upon by various county associations around the country). The tunic was brownish grey, with green facings, and the cap grey with red braid. The trousers were the same colour with red cord down the sides and russet gaiters, into which the trousers could be tucked to form knickerbockers. The was also a greatcoat with hood.

The War Office recommended uniform

In practice, many prefered to chose their own uniform, which was permitted as long as the Lord Lieutenant* of the county agreed, and so many consequently adopted green uniforms, based on the rifle brigades of the Napoleonic war**. By the mid 1860s Lord Lietenants could enforce a common uniform within a county. Volunteers had to provide their own equipment, though they were supplied with government issue "short" Enfield rifles until 1870 when they started to receive the Snider breech loading conversion.


One consequence of the formation of the Volunteers was a huge increase in the popularity of rifle shooting as a hobby, encouraged in the Volunteers of course as a way of increasing proficiency. A National Rifle Association was formed and regular events were held on Wimbledon Common, before moving to Ministry of Defence land at Bisley in 1890.

Volunteers training on Wimbledon Common, 1888

How useful they would actually have been we will never know, the military "what if" The Battle of Dorking suggests not very much. In a stand up fight against regular troops they would have struggled, but in harassing an invader, delaying his progress their role may have significant. After all an invading army had to be supplied across the Channel, which would presumably have meant evading the Royal Navy and making a dash for London. Time and material expended on the Volunteers was that much less available when the Navy closed the Channel again.

A rifle meeting at Bisley 1897

* Lord Lieutenants are technically the Queens representatives in each English county, but it is mainly a ceremonial post. None the less they have had some responsibilities over the years.

** The London Gazette lists a Daniel Sharpe as a lieutenant in the Kent Rifle Corps in 1860. A distant relation?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Steamships and Samurai 2 - The bombardment of Kagoshima

It wasn´t supposed to be this way.

Following the murder in September 1862 of Charles Richardson, by the samurai retinue of Shimazu Hisamitsu, the British had demanded compensation from the Japanese government, and had received it. Japan though wasn't just the central government, which was in many ways just a cipher. In reality, Japan was made up of provinces, each ruled by a clan with it's own armed forces. Shimazu Hisamitsu ruled the province of Satsuma, and demands he give up the murderers and pay reparations were dismissed out of hand.

The Satsuma capital was Kagoshima, but their main source of wealth was the port of Yokohama which had a large, and nervous, colony of foreign traders. Masters of merchant ships there had organised means of communication with the shore by signals, so that the foreign residents could get speedy on board ship, in case of danger. To reassure them, and make a point to Satsuma, a substantial British fleet was dispatched. The commander was Vice Admiral Kuper, although his position as Vice Admiral was only "acting", given to ensure parity with the local French equivalent. Kuper had a lot of experience of active service in the east, and had just been appointed head of the East Indies and China station, but his experience so far had been in China, not Japan. That was about to change.

By February 1863 the South Australia Register was reporting a substantial fleet in Yokohama harbour consisting of;
HMS Euryalus, Kuper´s flagship. HMS Pearl, HMS Argus, , HMS Centaur, HMS Rattler, HMS Racehorse, HMS Havoc & HMS Kestrel. These would shortly be joined by H.M.S. Ringdove, Encounter, Scout, and Coromandel, and the gunboat Hesper, with coals and stores.

HMS Euryalus

The British were by no means the only foreign power with grievances.The Chosu clan had attacked French, Dutch and United States shipping, resulting in a running battle between the USS Wyoming and Chosu warships and forts at Shimonoseki. The Dutch Medusa and French Tancrède and Dupleix had also fired on Chosu positions. But the Satsuma clan were supposed to be more reasonable. Nonetheless, after a year of fruitless discussions, the British decided enough was enough, and Kuper was ordered to threaten the use of force. Alarmed, the central government sent a last minute plea for delay to Lieutenant Colonel Neale, the British Chargé dáffaires in Japan.

"On receipt of your despatch of the 3rd of August, we fully understood that you intend to go within three days to the territory of the Prince of Satsuma with the men-of-war now lying in the Bay of Yokohama, to demand satsifaction for the murder of a British merchant on the Tokaido last year. But owing to the present unsettled state of affairs in our empire, which you witness and hear of, we are in great trouble, and intend to carry out several plans. Supposing, now, something untoward were to happen, than all the trouble both you and we have taken would have been in vain and fruitless; therefore we request that the said departure may be delayed for the present".

The Fleet at Kagashima

Pleas for patience fell on deaf ears and Kuper and Neale left Yokohama on August 6th 1863, arriving off Kagashima on August 11th with the following fleet....

HMS Euryalus, the flagshuip with Admiral Kuper and Colonel Neale onboard. The Euryalus was a wooden screw frigate with a crew of 515, 51 guns (incl 16 carronades and, most effectively, 17 breech loading Armstrong guns) and over 70 tons of shot and shell. She had seen action in the bombardment of Bomarsund and Sveaborg in the Baltic during the Crimean war, and in China during the Taiping rebellion. Possibly not the luckiest of ships, she had already lost 20 men to cholera in China, and in April 64 had 40 cases of smallpox. Her luck was not to improve at Kagashima

HMS Pearl, a screw corvette and the 2nd most powerful ship in the squadron, with 20x 8 inch muzzle loading smooth bores mounted as broadsides and a 10 inch smooth bore on a pivot at the front.
HMS Perseus, a 17 gun wooden screw corvette.
HMS Argus, a 6 gun paddle steamer, she had already served in North America, and would later be seen in Africa
HMS Coquette, a wooden screw gunboat
HMS Racehorse, a wooden screw gunboat with one 110 pdr and 2x 20pdr guns.
HMS Havock, a wooden screw gunboat with 4 guns, built by Hills of Bristol in 1856. The smallest of the squadron at only 232 tons. She had been in the East since 1860 and was destined, slightly bizarrely, to be sold in Yokohama in 1871.


The squadron anchored in the deep waters of Kinko bay and a 24 hour ultimatum was delivered. The theory was that the fleet would work just be being there, surely the Satsuma regime would see sense? That wasn´t the view in Kagoshima however, they evacuated the town, and primed the guns in forts around the bay. Impatient with yet more diplomatic prevarication Kuper decided to seize three Satsuma steam merchant ships in the bay, with a combined value of about 200,000 pounds, to use as bargaining counters. This delighted the sailors in his fleet who now stood a fair chance of getting prize money. What they did not expect was opposition, but the Satsuma forts, some equipped with huge 150 pound cannon opened fire,...

"The Spit battery fired a signal gun, and immediately all the batteries opened fire with shot and shell on the squadron, the shot flying very close over our heads"

Shocked, the British pillaged and burnt the captured steamers and retired to organise themselves. It took 2 hours to ready the ships for war, but then they formed line of battle and opened fire with shell and round shot.

On the Euryalus
"Opened fire with pivot gun on No. 8 battery the shells bursting well. 2 20 p.m. - Opened fire on battery with starboard broadside, the shot and shell telling well particularly the quarter-deck Armstrongs. The enemy's shot and shell began to fly very thick about the ship, cutting a great many of the ropes. Men in top observed men leave battery, our fire having dismounted four guns. We now began to approach the large batteries owing to the wind blowing, so fresh and directly on shore all the smoke covered completely these forts, so that we could not tell how far off we were, but we supposed about 700 or 800 yards.

2 55 p.m. - Captain Josling and Commander Wilmot both killed on the bridge by one and the same shot. The Admiral and Mr. Parker, the master, were on the bridge along with the captain and the commander when the latter were killed, and narrowly escaped the fatal ball. The Admiral's coolness and collectedness on this trying occasion was very remarkable; but when all was over he paid a worthy tribute of feeling to the memory of the brave officers and men who had fallen around him on the spot. A 10-inch shell exploded at the muzzle of the No. 3 gun on main deck, killing seven men on the spot, and wounding Lieutenant Jephson and five men. A shell came through the starboard waist bulwark, and burst under the starboard launch, completely blowing her bottom in, but without hurting any one. A shot carried away starboard speaking tube on the bridge, and lodged in the brake of the poop, breaking all the cabin windows. The firing very hot; at this time we were under the fire of 37 guns from 10-inch to 18 pounders.

HMS Euryalus leading the line of battle. Note the stormy conditions

3 10 p.m.
- Racehorse got on shore under No. 8 battery, she firing at it and keeping them away from the guns; the Argus and Coquette sent to her assistance.
3 30 p.m. -Ceased firing.
3 45 p.m. - Came to under Josling Point in 25 fathoms.
4 20 p.m. - Forts discontinued firing on the Argus. Racehorse and Coquette observed the town to be on fire.
7 p.m. - The Havoc set fire to five large Loochoo junks.
8 p.m. - Observed Satsuma's foundries to be on fire; blowing very hard, with rain; ship with two anchors down and steaming slowly against it.
Midnight. - Town foundry and junks burning fiercely.

"Sunday, 16th, 4 a.m. - Town and foundry still burning; junks burnt to the water's edge and drifted on shore; saw that several had been dismounted in batteries Nos. 7 and 8.

11 a.m. - Committed to the deep the bodies of Captain Josling, Commander Wilmot, and the following men:- Wm. Yardley, A.B.; Jas. Smith, ordinary; Wm. Hagarty, A.B.; R. Lindsay, A.B.; John Warren, ordinary; John Hawkins, ordinary; Patrick Fleming, Royal Marines, all killed yesterday during the attack on Kagosima. Noon. Town and foundry still burning.

330p.m. - Weighed and proceeded in company with squadron; cleared for action. Engaged batteries on both sides, firing shell at Satsuma's house and town.

3 45 p.m. - Magazine in No. 11 battery and also that in Spit Battery blew up Batteries on Tori Island, and Spit Battery firing on squadron.

5 p.m. - Ceased firing; observed the town to be on fire to the south of Satsuma's house.

5 20 p.m. - Came to off the Seven Islands in 8 fathoms, about 68 miles to the south of the town.

9 30 p.m. - Departed this life Thomas Harding, B.I.C., from the effect of wounds received yesterday.

Leading the line the Euryalus was, according to the Times, " hulled ten times, and her masts and rigging cut to pieces." besides "30 of the crew put hors de combat".

The following Foreign Office telegrams were later printed in The Times


"All hope of negotiations being at an end, the fleet took up its position opposite Kagosima, and prepared for action. "Two shore batteries opened fire on the fleet, which returned it. "By dusk the town was in flames in several places. "Three forts were silenced. "Our loss consisted of 11 killed and 39 wounded. "Captains Josling (of the Euryalus) and Wilmot were killed by the same shot. "9 p.m.- The whole town is in flames.


"The fleet stood out, engaging the whole of the batteries. The city ia one mass of ruins - palace, factories, arsenal, &c. "Three steamers of Satsuma are destroyed completely. "The shore batteries are reported to have been well served."

With no land forces, Kuper had done all he could and retired to Yokohama.


Strangely, relations between the Satsuma regime and Britain became quite close. Tortuous negotiatians via the central governoment hgradually improving matters. The Satsumas had saved face, after all they caused more casualties, but they had been very impressed by the Royal Navy. Significantly, they didn´t give up Richardsons murderers, but they did pay the 25,000 pound compensation demanded (about 16 million in today's money) and even bought new ships from the British. Samurai were trained as naval officers and the Satsuma navy became, in time, the basis for the future Imperial Japanese fleet. Heihachiro Togo, the hero of the Russo-Japanese war was manning one of the Satsuma cannon in the battle.

Satsuma negotiators

Kuper was heavily criticised in some quarters initially, but exonerated, and in fact promoted to Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1864 "for his services at Kagoshima".

Further Reading

The Times quotes come from the Mid Victorian Naval site, which has more about Anglo-Japanese hostilities at the time

The Richardson affair is fictionalised in James Clavells novel Gai Jon

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Steamships & Samurai - Part 1

Japan in the 1860s was undergoing massive changes, mainly due to growing foreign influence. Holland in the 1840s was the first, but this was only a tiny crack in the wall - once in a year two Dutch ships steamed to a rendezvous, where they were met by two ships of the Empire. The cargoes of the vessels were then exchanged, and the squadrons returned to their respective ports.The United States, and Commodore Perry, forced the crack open in the 1850s and there were now foreigners such as Britons, Russians and French in many ports, trading and introducing strange ways. Japan at this time was hyper fragmented, both between classes and geographically, ancestral clans dividing the country into more or less autonomous domains, each controlled by a clan with their own armed forces. It was natural that some of these groups would see advantage in changing the status quo, and some would bitterly resent it.

The Richardson incident

Namamugi village 1862

Our story takes place in the domain of the Satsuma clan, whose capital was Kagoshima, but whose wealth came from the port of Yokohama, the main port in Japan for trading with the outside world. There were many foreign traders there, living in an area called the "Kannai", which was protected, an quarantined, by a moat. Foreign trade had made Satsuma the 2nd richest clan in Japan, but it also caused tensions.

On September 14th 1862, four British subjects were on an afternoon jaunt to visit the Kawasaki temple in present day Kawasaki. Two Yokohama based merchants, Woodthorpe Charles Clark and William Marshall, a Mrs. Margaret Watson Borradaile, and a Shanghai merchant, Charles Lennox Richardson. They had set out from Yokohama by boat that afternoon, picked up horses on the far shore, and were now riding through the vallage of Namamugi. Coming in the opposite direction was the large retinue of Shimazu Hisamitsu, taking up most of the road. Shimazu was the father of the Daimyo, or Lord, of Satsuma, but in reality he was the ruler as Regent, and he was travelling with his samurai escort. Now it was the custom for riders to dismount in the presence of important figures, and in fact samurai had the legal right to strike anyone they considered showing "disrespect". That these were hated foreigners only inflamed the situation more.

As the party squeezed past some of the samurai lashed out with their swords - the Britons fled, but were blooded and Richardson fell from his horse, mortally wounded. Hisamitsu gave the order for todome, the coup de grace.

A Japanese depiction of the event. Richardson is in the middle, in black with a top hat

There had already been several attacks on foreigners, but this was the last straw. The Satsuma authorities claimed they had only acted perfectly legally, but actually this was untrue as British nationals were exempt from the "disrespect" rules under the Anglo Japanese Friendship Treaty. What is possible is that Richardson, after 9 years in Shanghai, regarded himself as an Eastern expert, and maybe didn't realise that what would pass in China would not in Japan. Anyway, there were repercussions.

Shimazu Hisamitsu, effectively the ruler of Satsuma province

The foreign trader community in Yokohama clamoured for some sort of protection from their governments. The British Chargé d'Affaires, Lieutenant-Colonel Neale, demanded from the central government an apology for this and other incidents, such as the murder of 2 sailors from HMS Renard in June. Neale also demanded a huge indemnity of £100,000, rather bizarrely in Mexican silver dollars, about 1/3 of the total revenues for one year. He got it too, but demands to the Satsuma government for reparations, the surrender of those responsible, and guarantees for the future, were ignored. Losing patience a British squadron was sent to Kagoshima, the Satsuma capital, in a show of force.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Hanoverian Standoff - the Maidstone affair of 1756

On Monday 13th September 1756 a German soldier walked into a shop in Maidstone, Kent, to buy some handkerchiefs. What happened next helped bring down a government and led to a big change in military policy.

Britain was at war, and it was not going well. Since 1754 Britain had been fighting a losing war against the French in North America, and now this had spread to Europe, to become the Seven Years war. Defeats in Ohio and the loss of Menorca in the Mediterranean had raised well founded fears of a French invasion, but most of England's regular forces were abroad.

To make up the short fall the government hired troops from Germany, or rather the German states of Hanover and Hesse. These were not technically mercenaries, which are hired individually, but auxiliaries hired as units from the rulers of the state. A huge 12,000 had been hired, and they arrived in May. They had to go somewhere, so a enormous camp was set up at Cox's heath (modern Coxheath), an area of open ground outside of Maidstone, presumably as it lay on the obvious invasion route from France. The disruption and anxiety this caused locally can be imagined, but draconian discipline ensured that the troops were well behaved and they were, for the most part, accepted. After all they had to buy their supplies, and handkerchiefs, somewhere.

Coxheath Camp 20 years later in 1778, this time with 15,000 Hanoverians

Trouble in the Haberdashers

Christophe Guilleme Schroder, who was from Hanover, entered the shop with his friend Winckler and asked to see some silk handkerchiefs. The owner, Christopher Harris showed some, which Schroder accepted, paid for and tried to leave. Unfortunately he had 8, but only paid for 6. This might have been a mistake, or as Harris claimed, Christophe might have slipped in another two when his back was turned. Now it´s not mentioned in the accounts, but Harris must have had some trouble with Germans, or soldiers, before, or maybe his gout was playing him up, because he immediately charged Schroder with theft and demanded he be taken to the local authorities. According to the Hanoverian account he used "offensive language". Well, a crowd had gathered by now, and Schroder was taken in front of the mayor of Maidstone, called, slightly suspiciously, John Harris. Schroder was charged with common felony, and committed to jail to wait the next quarter sessions, or trial date. Most commentators at the time considered that he got off lightly, although Maidstone prison was condemmed around 1800 for it's terrible conditions even by the standards of the day, so not the pleasantest of places.

The commander of the Hanoverian troops in Maidstone was Georg Ludwig, Graf von Kielmansegg, and he wasn't accustomed to having civilians telling him what to do. Next day, he went to the mayor and demanded that Schroder be released to him, claiming that he was under Hanoverian, not English jurisdiction. The major refused, at which point Kielmansegg threatened to march troops into town and get him. This where the affair starts getting serious. News of the threat spread all over the country, but especially in Kent where they suddenly became aware that there were 12,000 foreign troops in their midst with very little to stop them. Many comparisons were made with Hengist and Horsa, Saxon auxiliaries of the Roman-British who had rebelled and set up their own kingdom in Kent - the alliteration with Hanover and Hesse helping no end in this regard. Plays on the words "outside the law" and "outlaws" were also quite tempting.

A contemporay cartoon of the event. Hanoverians, with handkerchiefs, kept out of the pub by stout Kentish men. The Hanoverians, being outside English law, are "outlaws".

Nonetheless, Mayor Harris still refused to release Schroder so Kielmansegg went up a level, to the government in Whitehall. Unfortunately, most senior ministers were away so it fell to a junior minister, the Earl of Holderness, to make a decision. He did, ordering the mayor to release Schroder at once, which he reluctantly did. Harris could have let the matter drop, but his revenge was to write again to Whitehall demanding "clarification" of the jurisdiction of town and Hanoverians. This forced the entry of the Attorney General and other senior figures, and bought the whole thing much more into the public domain.

Holderness's Problems

Earl of Holderness

Holderness found himself in the middle of a political firestorm, various controversies converging on him at once. They can perhaps be summarised as follows

a) A military officer had threatened the mayor of an English country town, and Holderness had supported the army. This did not go down well. Soldiers were regarded at this time with ambivalence, necessary but dangerous and frankly, almost criminal. Britain spent a fortune on her fleets, but the army was kept as small as possible. They were also regarded a potential threat to liberty, and the Maidstone affair" played right into this prejudice.
b) The military officer was foreign.
c) Not only foreign, but Hanoverian. George II was also King of Hanover, and was widely rumoured to prefer his homeland, not least because there he was an absolute monarch. The Jacobite rebellion was only 11 years earlier, and although there was little enthusiasm for a Stuart revival in England, there wasn´t a great deal of popularity for the Hanoverians either. There was always the suspicion that English interests would be second to Hanoverian ones, which the Schroder affair rather suggested. Holderness himself was generally held to owe his position to royal patronage rather than any particular talent, so it was especially unfortunate that he was the one handed this hot potato.
d) The government of which Holderness was a part, lead by the Duke of Newcastle, was already unpopular due to the debacle at Menorca, and was unlucky enough to face a talented political operator in the form of William Pitt who knew a good stick to beat the government when he saw one.

There were of course counter arguments. It made sense for a threatened, rich, country with a small army to hire troops elsewhere, and no one claimed the Germans were anything but good troops. Being Hanoverian might make them more loyal to England, not less - after all they shared the same king. In fact, of 12,000 troops the only claim laid against them was stealing some handkerchiefs, and thats debatable. In contrast, an officer of Foot, John Lauder, had been executed in Maidstone in August for killing a pot boy, William Forster, with his sword "in the heat of passion and liquor".


The country was not in the mood to listen to the Hanoverian side. Kielmansegg was sacrificed and sent back to Hanover, but it wasn't enough and by December Newcastle was out and Pitt was in charge. The King refused initially to sack Holderness, but he soon went too. At the end of November, 4 battalions of Hanoverians marched to Chatham and embarked for Germany, the transports returning for another 3 battalions. They had, incidentally, been camped on Cox's Heath all this time "notwithstanding the severity of the weather".

The incoming government started a process of forming a citizens militia, which was felt to more patriotic. Men would be trained, but continue their normal professions - lack of military training was held to be balanced by fervour in defending their homes and families. Of course Germans were still hired, in both the American Revolution and the wars against Napoleon, but home defence was to rely on English forces.

I would like to tell you what became of Schroder, but I cannot, it is not known. A local paper, the Kentish Post, reported that he was lashed repeatedly, and then thrown out of the army, but another reorted that he couldn't be tried, as Harris refused to testify in front of a foreign court. Let's imagine he returned home, married a beautiful Fraulein and set up shop back in Hanover. Selling handkerchiefs.

A more detailed description of the Maidstone affair, especially the political implications, can be found in an article by M McCormack - Citizenship, nationhood, and masculinity in the affair of the Hanoverian soldier, 1756. The Historical Journal, 2006 - Cambridge Univ Press
The rest comes from various contempory documents

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Maximilian's Austrians - in action

Mexico was very much an active posting for the Austrians, Poles and Hungarians of the Austrian Legion, and for example, most families were left back home in Europe. When the wife and children of Edmund, Graf Wickenburg, arrived a fellow officer wrote "What a decision for a woman with her children! Such a long journey to lead a Mexican officer's life!", even though they were based in the capital, Mexico city. The countryside was full of bandits and all transport required strong escort.

The usual pattern was for a few rifle companies with cavalry support, and Mexican auxiliaries, to be launched as flying columns against insurgent targets. The cavalry were sometimes sent out by themselves as independent squadrons, such as an Uhlan (lancer) squadron under Ernst Graf Fünfkirchen, who mainly operated against local gangs in the countryside, but unfortunately there is little record of these "police" actions, sometimes just the name of a town in the official biographies of officers.

For example, the official biography for Karl Manussi von Montesole, an Unterlieutenant 1st class in the Jagers at this time, lists the following for 1865;
Tezuitlan, Zacapoaxtla, Azala, Hochiapulca, las Lomas, Hachiapulca, Elxochito, Comaltepec, la Hoya, Tetela d'Oro, Zantla, dos Cerros and the storming of Tlapacoyan
and for 1866:
"Apolecca, several smaller battles against Porfirio Diaz, Tehuacan and Hnajuapan

Austrian Legionaires, Puebla

The first major offensive was launched against the Sierra del Norte from July 1865. The forces here were mainly indigenous Cuatecomacos under General Francisco Lucas. They had already resisted an earlier French assault, but Thun took care to recruit local forces from the plains, especially cavalry. His artillery, under Weinhara, were not ready at the start, but followed on and soon made their presence felt. This was a war of ambush and the storming of towns, the artillery were useful but suffered heavily and one consequence was the urgent training of every gunner in use of a rifle, as previously gunners in the Austrian army were unarmed, and helpless in an ambush.


Austrian Jagers in Mexico, Note the Imperial Mexican flag

Thun's campaign was energetically conducted, with Republican troops attacked at every opportunity. The first major target was the heavily defended town of Teziutlan, garrisoned by about 1,000 men, a third of them cavalry. Thun at this point had neither Austrian cavalry or, crucially, artillery, but he sent 3 companies of Jagers, and about 75 Mexican cavalry. Somehow they managed to reach the town undetected after a night march and at dawn they attacked, the 6th company under Captain Hassinger von Perote reaching and taking the market place. Lietenant Manussi von Montesole won the Bronze Military medal, but sadly Hassinger died from his wounds. The survivors dug in and repelled a counter attack a few days later. This first victory made news in Mexico and in far off Austria, the Emperor himself saying that "if I lived a long time there would not be good day, as the news of this beautiful affair,"

The Sierra del Norte

From a secure base at Tezuitlan in July Thun struck out in all directions. Huahuaxtla was taken without a fight, and a stand at the bridge at Apulco was broken by two mountain guns (now arrived) and a flank attack by Mexican cavalry. Another battle group with an infantry company and Mexican lancers took Tetela. Tlapacoyan repelled one attack, but was stormed at bayonet point on November 22nd and the defenders scattered leaving many rifles and ammunition behind. Unterlieutenant Karl Manussi von Montesole of the Jagers received the Order of our beloved Madonna of Guadalupe for his part in this.

It hadn´t gone all their own way however. On 17th July, Captain Graf Karl Kurtzrock -Wellingbuttel led 3 platoons of his 3rd lancers (64 mounted and 55 on foot) and some 115 Mexican troops against the mountain village of Ahuacatlan. Presumably the lancers on foot borrowed rifles as there were only 16 carbines per squadron, a major deficiency in this type of op. Attacked by 3 x their numbers they were forced into the church were they resisted for several hours before their captain was killed and the remaining 28 survivors, most of whom were severely wounded, surrendered. Fortunately for them a squadron of lancers under Oberleutnant Wolf-Metternich, having made a forced march, managed to free them a few days later.

Hussars in the Sierra de Huahtla

Hussar officers in Puebla

Eventually by the end of 1865 the area was under Imperial control and towns and villages garrisoned. On a small scale, victories continued in 1866. One example comes from the official report of an officer of the hussars in June 1866.
In Tehuacan in the the Sierra de Huahutla he received news from local sympathisers that there was a concentration of the enemy at Mazatlan and he set out with a small force of 15 hussars and 26 native infantry to disperse them. He set out at noon for Teotitlan where he discussed the operation with a local official, Luis Rosa, who gave him valuable advice on the terrain, and arranged some indian scouts. The enemy were over 200 strong, and virtually inaccessible in the mountains, but in true hussar style they decided to attack. It all depended on surprise.

They set off at night, at 9pm, on a "very arduous" march, up into the hills through dense forest and narrow clefts in the rock, so tortuous that much of the time they had to lead their horses by hand. At midnight they met two Indian scouts, who confirmed that the enemy were still unaware of their presence, so they carried on until at 6am they reached Mazatlan, where they stopped to rest the men and horses. Eventually they reached a spot below the ridge where they knew the enemy to be. Leading the horses along a circuitous path through bushes the hussars timed their attack to match the arrival of the infantry who marched straight up "at astonishing speed". At the summit the hussars and sentries saw each other at the same time and all hell broke loose, the sentries screaming "los sombreritos, los húngaros" - "the little hats, the Hungarians".

Galloping forward to survey the situation the commander saw how strong the position was, and that only an immediate attack stood any chance of success. The hussars charged straight at the infantry at full gallop, jumping a fortification ditch, and smashing the firing line that was starting to form so the Republicans routed, and it turned into a "witch hunt". The hussars were joined by their infantry and despite their exhaustion after the overnight march, many enemy were captured or driven into the the heights of Huahutla. All the enemy´s equipment and leaders were captured except one, the chief, who was attacked by the hussar commander at sword point and unhorsed, but still escaped.

Santa Gertrudis and the end of the Adventure

Nonetheless, during 1866 the troops became progressively more disheartened. There was a strong feeling that they should have been back in Austria, defending the homeland in the disastrous war with Prussia. Republican forces were better armed, and French withdraws in the face of US and Prussian pressure damaged morale still further.

The Austrians assembling in Matmouros, June 1866

As well, their Mexican allies in the Imperial army, who had never been very reliable, were now openly defecting to the enemy, most disasterously at Santa Gertrudis on June 14th. Two infantry companies and two guns had been ordered to escort a wagon train from the port of Matamoros to Monterey, together with 1,000 Mexicans under General Olivera. They were shadowed by 2,000 Republicans under Escobedo, and when the moment was right he attacked with his whole force. Olivera bolted, but the Austrians, who were leading the column, made a stand using the wagons as cover, and drove off the first attack, including a counter charge with bayonets. What happened next is disputed, but Austrian accounts claim that Olivera's Mexicans defected and attacked them from behind. Virtually all the Austrians present were killed in the fighting or captured and executed.

Things came to a head when they heard they were to be placed under the command of a Mexican general, Marquez. They protested and in December 1866 the legion was disbanded – most went home to Austria.