Thursday, 19 July 2012

The CSS Alabama in Singapore

When the Confederate commerce raider the CSS Alabama called into Singapore in 1863 she drew quite a crowd. One of the visitors, John Cameron, left a record in his book, now available as a google free ebook.*

 The CSS Alabama in Singapore harbour

"She arrived at dusk on the evening of the 21st December. A few made her out as she came to anchor, but as the larger part of the residents had retired to their houses in the country, the news did not spread. Early next morning however, for it was the morning of the despatch of the Europe mail, around Commercial Square were clustered groups of eager and inquiring faces learning the particulars of the arrival of the renowned cruiser. The effect of these groups was heightened by the appearance, here and there, of the strange grey uniform of the Confederate Government. There was no longer any doubt about it, the Alabama was lying in the roads in full view of all the godowns facing the beach, and here, knocking about, talking in an unconcerned yet affable manner, were the men who had held the torch to many a stately merchantman, and who had taken not a few thousands out of the pockets of some of the very merchants with whom they were standing side by side.

From the beach, a considerable way out, the long low black hull, with its raking masts and stumpy funnel, could be seen. There was no doubting her identity; and how other vessels could so often have been mistaken for her by those who had once seen her, it is difficult to understand. At ten o'clock in the morning she proceeded from her anchorage of the night to one of the wharves at New Harbour to take in a supply of coals; she moved with great rapidity, and yet made but a ripple in the water. The promontories of the land soon shut her out from the view of the town, and Captain Semmes caused a notice to appear in the newspapers that visitors could not then be received, as his ship was coaling, but that all who chose to inspect her on the following day would be gladly welcomed on board.

 Singapore harbour 1865

New Harbour is three miles distant from the town by the road, and next day carriages were at a premium, for natives of all classes, as well as the European residents, had determined to avail themselves of the opportunity to inspect a ship that will possess some place in the history of the present age. The excitement among the natives was the more remarkable; for they generally display no interest in events which do not purely relate to themselves. Seven years ago, at the time of the Chinese war, the town batteries were constantly saluting the arrivals of important plenipotentiaries in the finest ships of the British Navy, and yet seldom was even an inquiry ventured by the natives as to the cause of these unusual proceedings. All however, from the smallest boy to the greyheaded old patriarchs, could tell that the Alabama was in. They had learned her name, and flocked in crowds to see her. What their conjectures were concerning her, or what they could see about her more attractive than about the war-ships of three times her size and armament, which arrive in the roadstead at all seasons of the year, it is somewhat difficult to say. Some had doubtless learned her story, but the great mass must have been ignorant of it. Perhaps a clue to the interest they displayed might be found in the often repeated exclamations,—" Hantu, Kappal Hantu— « Ghost—ghost ship.'"

The Alabama under sail

The Alabama is in appearance a small vessel, I should say barely of 1,000 tons register; she looks trim and compact, however, and likely to prove a match for a much larger enemy. She is very long and very narrow: I paced her length as she lay along the wharf, and made it 210 feet, her breadth is barely 27 feet; and she is extremely low in the water. She is bark, but not full bark rigged, with long raking spars; and has the greatest spread of canvas in her fore and aft sails, which are of enormous size. I was assured that with canvas alone, under favourable circumstances, she has gone thirteen knots per hour; whether this be exaggerated or not, she must have great sailing powers, for one of the officers on board told me that she had only coaled three times since she had been in commission, before coming to Singapore. Her deck appeared to me slightly crowded for a fighting ship, but while she was taking in stores was not the best time to judge of this. Her engine-room is large, and her engines kept in beautiful order. She has made, they said, as much as fourteen knots under steam, but her ordinary speed was ten to eleven knots.

Her mounted armament consists of six 32-pounder broadside guns, and two large pivots, one 100-pounder rifled Blakely, placed forward, and the other a smooth bore 68-pounder. She is not a slimly built vessel as has been frequently represented, but is of thorough man-of-war build. The only action in which she had yet been engaged was off Galveston, when she was chased by the Hatteras. The action was a longer one than is generally believed, for it took eight broadsides of the Alabama to sink her enemy, and not one, as was reported. Her officers pointed me out several places where she had been damaged by the fire of the Hatteras; one was just under the main chains where the shot had gone right through her side and lodged in the opposite timbers; one ball had hulled her a little before the foremast—low down —one struck her on the deck, close to her middle starboard broadside gun, nearly killing a number of the crew who were working it, and another shot went clean through her funnel. These are small scars for a ship eighteen months in commission during war time; but I could see that they were carefully cherished. Round the wheel, inlaid in large brass letters, I noticed the rather remarkable motto, "Aide toi, et Dieu t' aidera."

I was anxious to ascertain the loyalty of the crew, of which, according to late accounts, there were good reasons to doubt. When I went on board they were washing decks and cleaning up after coaling, by no means an occupation calculated to foster the most agreeable spirit in a sailor; and yet I must say I could remark no sign of impatience, much less of insubordination. Nor could I attribute this contented behaviour to fear of the officers, who were far from rough or domineering in their manners; so that I conclude whatever may be their hardships or the precarious nature of their pay and emoluments, the crew of the Alabama would stand by her in case of danger. The officers were all Americans, except two, an Englishman and a German. They were all fine men, and seem enthusiastic in the service on which they had adventured. Some of them admitted to me, however, that the capture and destruction of merchantmen had begun to lose its excitement, and I should not be surprised, were the officers left to themselves, to learn that the Alabama had risked an encounter with the armed ships of her enemy; her commander however I should say was a man slow to move on a rash enterprise.

 Captain Semmes and First Lieutenant Kell on the Alabama, 1863

Captain Semmes is in appearance as well as in character a remarkable man. He is not tall, is thin and rather bilious-looking, and would consort much more readily to the picture of a Georgia cottonplanter than to that of a sailor. He speaks very little, but when he does allude to the Confederate States it is with a bold confidence as to their future fate, somewhat surprising in these latter days of Southern reverses. When the somewhat disheartening news for the Confederate cause just received by the previous mail was handed to him on his quarter-deck at New Harbour, he simply replied, pointing to the Confederate ensign above him,—" It is no matter; that flag never comes down." Time will tell whether or not his boast be a true one.

Whatever may be one's impressions when he sedately views the mission of the Alabama, it is impossible in the presence of the trim little ship herself not to be momentarily carried away by a sympathy for her cause; and perhaps some more tangible palliative than momentary enthusiasm may be urged in her favour. "You must remember, sir," said one of her officers to me, "that we but retaliate on our enemy that destruction of property which he has been the first to inaugurate in this war. His power at sea was by a simple chance too much for us to cope with from the first, or we should by this time have had a small navy of our own, built in our own dockyards; and as we have been content to fight him in the field with a disparity of numbers, so we should have attacked him at sea with a weaker force. Such," he continued, "has not been our fortune; but it has been our fortune to obtain this and some few other ships, and to bring them to bear on our enemies' most salient point. General Gilmore himself, when he uses the advantage which the Federal ships have placed in his hands to destroy from his batteries the warehouses and mansions of Charleston,(The news of the shelling of Charleston with Greek fire had reached Singapore by the previous mail from Europe) endorses our course as legitimate. It is true, Charleston has its forts and batteries which do their best to protect these defenceless buildings, but does this alter the parallel? Is it confessed that the merchant shipping of the Federal Government can find no protection in the Federal navy? and if it is so confessed, is it urged that we should therefore hold back from the advantage which our enemies' defencelessness gives us in one particular, while he advantages to the full by our insufficiently protected state in another? No! when the Northern hordes pause on their onward raid by the consideration of the inability of the Confederate Government to afford protection to its cities, then may we too pause on our course, for the reason that the Federal Government cannot or will not spare ships from the blockade of Southern ports to protect her foreign shipping." It was a strong argument—as strong probably as could be urged, and it did not lose its force from being put on the deck of the Alabama.

Photograph of the CSS Alabama in Singapore harbour

There the renowned ship lay, in calm unruffled water, making with a background of the beautiful green islands of New Harbour as pretty and as peaceful a picture as the eye could wish to gaze on.

On the morning of the 24th, at about ten o'clock, the Alabama proceeded out of New Harbour, to the westward, and her long low dark hull, raking spars, and short stumpy funnel, rapidly faded from the view of the green island of Singapore—probably for ever. But like Dundee and his blue-bonnets of old, if Singapore had seen the last of the Alabama, it certainly had not heard the last of her and Captain Semmes and his grey-coats. On the night of her departure from New Harbour, scarcely thirty miles off, she came up with and destroyed the British, or at least British registered, barque Martaban; two days later she burned the American ships Sonora and Highlander, as they lay at anchor in the Straits of Malacca. Captain Semmes found means, too, to send back to Singapore a justification of his destruction of the first ship which appeared in the newspapers there three days after the event.

In very few foreign ports could the proximity of the Alabama have created a more visible effect than it did at Singapore. At the beginning of the present year there were eighteen large American ships, aggregating over 12,000 tons' measurement, lying idle in the harbour, when there was a brisk demand for shipping. Fully one-half of that number changed owners shortly afterwards, and passed under another flag. I heard one of the officers of the Alabama remark:— "We don't care much whether or not we succeed in destroying any more of the enemy's merchantmen; we have done enough already, our presence alone in these waters will now suffice to ruin the eastern commerce of the Federal States." And truly the observation has come nearly to be realized. Besides these idle ships, there were no less than 120 men who had been cast adrift by the Alabama, maintained at Singapore at one time by the United States' consul. One crew had the singularly bad fortune to be burned out twice; they came up from Batavia after having been landed from on board the Contest, which was burned in the Java Sea, and shipped again at Singapore on board the Sonora—one of the vessels burned while at anchor in the Straits of Malacca. Certainly the Alabama will be remembered in Singapore."

* Our tropical possessions in Malayan India: being a descriptive account of Singapore, Penang, Province Wellesley, and Malacca : their peoples, products, commerce, and government (available as a free google ebook)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Straits Settlements

Look at Malayisa on the map and it appears a single, if odd shaped, state, but the situation in the 1860s was very different. Like "Germany" and "Italy", "Malaysia" did not exist, it was a hotchpotch of small kingdoms and sultanates, and also three British enclaves, Penang, Malacca and Singapore, grouped together as the Straits Settlements. These had been part of the East India Company, but as with India, it was clear that the Company was not up to the task, and it was decided to group Penang, Malacca and Singapore as a Crown Colony in their own right, which was finally established in 1867.

In 1865 John Cameron published a thorough and illustrated description of the Straits Settlements prior to their transfer to Crown status (for details see at the end), most of the quotations and the information below comes from his book.


A road near Penang 1865

In 1786 Captain James Light leased Penang Island from the Sultan of Kedah on behalf of the East India Company, attracted by its commanding position at the head of the Malacca straits and fine natural harbour. He offered a lease of 6,000 Spanish dollars per year, and a promise to provide military aid against the Siamese and Burmese. Unfortunately it soon became clear that the EIC had no interest in wars against enemies it had no particular quarrel with, not even helping when Siam occupied Kedeh and Kedeh became effectively a Siamese vassal state. In fact, the status quo was confirmed by the Burney Treaty between Britain and Siam in 1826. It was only in 1909 that a further treaty transferred Kedah and three other states to the British sphere of influence.

Penang was set up as a free port in competition with the Dutch in Indonesia, and immigrants flooded in, though it already had thriving Chinese and Indian trading communities.  One of the first things the EIC had done was build Fort Cornwallis in the harbour, but this was just a small palm stockade. Then in 1800 Arthur Wellsesley, the future Duke of Wellington, was bought in to update the defences. He recommended leasing a stretch of land across on the mainland as the whole island was not very big, about 13.5 miles by 10 miles, and a new mainland site would add a wedge about 25 miles long, and 4-11 miles wide as a buffer against any attacks from Kedeh, or pirates based on Kedeh´s shores. This became Province Wellesley, and increased the rent paid to Kedeh to 10,000 dollars per year. Further more, between 1804 and 1810 a proper fort was built, anticipating attacks from the French, pirates, or from Kedeh itself. It was built of stone and brick with a moat 9m wide and 2m deep, although in fact it never once saw battle.

In 1805 Penang had been made a "Presidency" within the EIC, raising it to the level of Madras and Bombay, and then it was made the capital of the new Straits Settlements with Malacca and Singapore, though Singapore replaced it in 1837.Cameron remarks how the town was smaller, and the bustle considerably less, than Singapore and it suffered though having no wharf or jetty, everything had to be ferried to ships at anchor. However, whilst the wealth of Singapore came from trade, Penang and Wellesley Province was much more productive agriculturally., especially in rice and sugar, as well as the being the biggest export port of "penang" or bete nuts. The hills of Penag island had a reputation for their healthy and pleasant climate, though at sea level Penag had "a disagreeable heaviness or sultriness about the atmosphere".

 A paddy field in Wellesley Province 1865

In August 1867 Penang suffered 10 days of riots, basically a turf war between Chinese Triads. The Kean Teik Tong and Red Flag against the Ghee Hin Kongsi and the White Flags. With weak EIC policing the Triads had become extremely powerful, trading in opium and illegal immigration. The new crown Colony Governor Colonel Edward Anson was forced to call in sepoys from India to put down the riots.


Malacca historically had a strong Chinese connection, the Sultan even marrying a Ming Chinese princess in the 1400s and it became the dominant force in the area. In 1511 the city was conquered by a Portuguese expedition from Goa with 1,200 men and 17 ships, but they struggled to keep control, and in 1641 it had been taken over by the Dutch. Malacca´s decline continued though as the Dutch were more interested in developing Bataiva (Jakatrta), and in 1824 they traded it to the British in exchange for Bencoolen in Sumatra, which made more sense for both parties. Malacca joined the Straits Settlements, and in 1867 became part of the same Crown Colony as Penang. Although trade was increasing by the 1860s and there was a sizable export of tin, it still wan´t breaking even.


A view of Singapore 1865

In 1819 Thomas Stamford Raffles signed a treaty with the Sultan of Johor on behalf of the EIC to develop the south of Singapore island as a trading post. It was a perfect choice, with a deep water harbour, fresh water and abundant timber.  In 1824, the EIC settlement was expanded to the whole island, and in 1826 Singapore joined the EIC Straits Settlements. Before this the Dutch had more or less a monopoly in the area, and had imposed many taxes and restrictions, so when Raffles declared Singapore a free port, without port duties, trade flooded in. Even in 1825 it was turning over 22 million pounds per year. Singapore grew at a staggering rate, from about 1,000 in 1819 to 100,000 in 1869, mainly Chinese and Indian immigrants coming to work in the rubber plantations and tin mines. Unfortunately, administration, and especially policing, did not grow at the same rate. In 1850 there were only 12 policeman in the whole city, and as in Penang the Triads became very powerful. On the plus side, relations with the Sultan of Johor, inland from Singapore, were extremely good during this period. This was not least as the British had provided military support in disputes with his neighbours. The Sultan, or Temenggong, Abu Bakar was known for his diplomatic skills, as well as desire to modernise Johor, and he had toured both Britain and Turkey.

Defence of the Straits

 Singapore harbour 1865

The EIC traditionally relied on fortresses rather than manpower. Singapore, the capital and the most naturally defensive of the enclaves, had four forts, all built since 1857, except Fullerton which had been remodelled. Why 1857?  - because that was the time of the Indian Mutiny, and everybody was nervous. The primary function of the forts was to provide a safe refuge for European residents, defence against an invading power was a secondary priority.

a) Fort Canning
On a hill near the city and about half a mile from the beach, with 7x 68 pounders, 8x 8 inch shell guns, and 2x 13 inch mortars. Withing the ramparts were accommodations for 150 European gunners. Unfortunately though, its distance from the sea meant that it's guns did not protect all of the harbour.
b) Fort Fullerton
Built on a promontory at the entrance to Singapore river, with 9x 68 pounders, and one 13 inch mortar.
c) Fort Palmer
An earthwork overlooking the entrance to the New Harbour, with 5x 56 pounders, and
d) Fort Faber
Also overlooking the New Harbour, with 2x 56 pounders.

This sounds impressive until you consider that until 1864 there were only 50 gunners to man them, and even after that only 120. Consequently, the guns were poorly maintained. Cameron recalls a 7 gun salute attempted in the early 1860s at Fort Canning, in which the first three cannons failed to fire.  A similar situation applied to the infantry. New barracks had been built in Singapore to house 1,200 men, but in 1865 the entire infantry contingent in the Settlements consisted of 2 battalions of Madras Native infantry, split between 400 hundred sepoys  in Penang, 100 in Malacca, 100 in Labuan (in Brunai) and 400 in Singapore. Cameron also makes the point that not a single gun points inland, and so landing a few regiments in that direction would render many of Singapore's defences useless - given what was to happen 80 years later this is very prescient. As for Penang and Malacca, Cameron assumes them indefensible against any European power that could get past the Royal Navy.

Post 1867 the situation did not change very much, partly as there was no obvious external threat, partly because the Settlements themselves were expected to pay 90% of defence costs. It was more economic, and probably better strategy, to rely on the Royal Navy to deter any foreign power. Of course the rise of Japan changed everything, but that is another story.


It was often remarked that for the English at home, "Malay" meant "pirate". In the 1830s and 40s there were whole fleets of Malay pirates, even entering the harbours at Penang and Singapore. Gradually though it was reduced by aggressive British and Dutch patrolling and, especially, the use of steam ships. Sailing ships had generally been ineffective against the pirate galleys, apart from anything else their tall masts had given warning of their approach. Steamships however frequently overhauled and then destroyed the pirates,  as well as bombarding their bases, so that generally piracy became uneconomic. On the other hand, as John Murray reported in The Quarterly Review of 1862 (Vol.3 p487).

 A Malay village near Singapore 1865

"Although the piratical system has received a severe check, and may be considered as destroyed in some of its former haunts, it is still in full operation elsewhere. ; On the north-west coast of Borneo, the Dayaks have been reduced to order, but the Malays in other parts of the archipelago still carry on their depredations. Piracy is not merely a habit; it is a passion. The organisation of a community for this purpose is as formidable as it is complete. 
High up the stream of some beautiful river, presenting the most enchanting scenery, the banks exhibiting pictures of Arcadian simplicity and primitive innocence, are moored fleets of boats, waiting for the well-known signal to put to sea. The vessels are built to subserve the exact purpose for which they are intended: the largest are 100 feet in length, with a proportionate beam, carry a gun in the bow, swivels on each broadside, and are propelled by sixty or eighty slaves; others, drawing only a few inches of water, are designed to approach as swiftly as the swoop of a hawk, and to board some unsuspecting ship before her crew can make any preparation. 

 Malay pirates (Illustrated London News 1857)

The platforms of the larger prahus are crowded with men who, at the prospect of a fight, generally deck themselves in scarlet; and the spectacle is said then to be eminently military and imposing: the brass guns glitter on the bows, spears and double-handed swords gleam in the sun; the fighting men often appear resplendent in steel armour, and their courage is animated by the beating of drums and gongs. A defenceless trader has little hope of escape from such formidable enemies.
The Quarterly Review Vol.3 p487 1862. John Murray

* Our tropical possessions in Malayan India: being a descriptive account of Singapore, Penang, Province Wellesley, and Malacca : their peoples, products, commerce, and government (available as a free google ebook)

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Spanish at the Gates, Gibraltar 1779-1783

It's very hard to get details of the Spanish troops involved in the Siege, after all the the British concentrated on the heroics of the garrison, and the Spanish didn't like to dwell on a major defeat. But it was an immense deployment. Fortunately, there is an excellent study by Ángel J. Sáez Rodríguez of the Instituto de Estudios Campogibraltareños online - Uniformes y ejercitos multinacionales en El Gran Asedio de Gibraltar (1779-1783).

The Army

The infantry troops of the Spanish army who participated at some point in the siege included four battalions of Spanish Guards and another four of Walloon Guards, the first battalion of the Regiment of America, one battalion each of the Regiments of Cordoba and Savoy, and the regiments of Zamora, Extremadura, Guadalajara, Murcia, Princesss and Burgos. Of these, some were composed of hardened troops, like those from the recent campaigns in Uruguay such as the Regiments of Murcia, la Princessa, Cordoba, Zamora, Guadalajara, Saboya and the Lusitania Dragoons, whilst others had no experience at all. Amongst the foreign units were the Regiment of Ulster, the Italians of Milan and Naples, and the Swiss Betchart Regiment.

 A grenadier from the Napoles Regiment

For many years enlistment in the army had been voluntary, backed up by foreign mercenary forces, which is why there were so many Irish and Swiss regiments. There was a prohibition on recruiting non-Catholics, so there not the German troops found in British and French armies. But increasingly an important part of the Spanish forces were the provincial militia, with over a third of the 42 Regiments serving at Gibraltar at one time or another. According to the Ordinance of 1770 males over 1.6m and between 18 and 36 were liable and each province had to provide a quota, though there were many exceptions by profession, and especially by social class. Service was for 8 years, and each regiment  was commanded by a colonel, with 8 companies of infantry, one of grenadiers and one of light infantry. At Gibraltar the grenadiers and light infantry were separated and formed into 3 divisions including the provincial grenadiers of Andalusia, Ciudad Real, Guadix, Logroño and Toro, and provincial light infantry of Jerez, Lorca and Soria.
 A captain in the America Regiment

Regarding the cavalry, the majority of regiments were represented at one time or another. There was a clear distinction between the "cavalry" and dragoons.  Among the former,  were 2 squadrons of the Bourbon Regiment and the Alcantara, Algarve, Calatrava, Farnese Infante, Montesa. Also present were Volunteer Cavalry, as a squadron of this unit of light cavalry. With the reforms of Charles III, the cavalry regiments of the line at this time included 4 squadrons, and each of these, 3 companies, totalling 504 men.

 The Farnesia, Alcantara and Principe Regiments. The drummer of the Alcantara Regiment is wearing a different uniform to the bulk of the regiment, as per the infantry.

Among the dragons were 2 squadrons of the Pavia and Lusitania Regiments and the Almansa, King, Sagunto, Villaviciosa Regiments  These were sometimes used to fight dismounted as light infantry. Since 1768, the dragoon regiments consisted of four squadrons, each composed of three companies formed by a captain, one lieutenant, one lieutenant, two sergeants, drummer, four corporals, four grenadiers and 32 dragons, as well as the staff.

The usual deployment of the blockading forces was organised as follows. The far right of the line was occupied by the Spanish Guards, the far left by the Walloon Guards and the center by other line infantry regiments.The outposts of the isthmus were occupied by the light infantry regiments of the Volunteers from Catalonia and Aragon. These had a leading role in the skirmishes at the advanced trenches on the isthmus, contesting control of no man's land, both to prevent enemy infiltration and to intercept the flight of deserters. Given that, in the end, no attempt was made to storm Gibraltar, it was these troops at the front line who saw the only actual fighting, with the sappers and artillery. They were at constant danger from sniper and artillery fire, the height of the Rock giving the besieged a great advantage. This danger got considerably worse when the British started to shorten the fuses of their mortar shells, so that instead of burying into the sandy soil the shells exploded early, an early form of airburst effect.

 Voluntario de Catalunya 1778


Ironically the Spanish Army showed more variation in colour than the combined British and Hanoverians, with white, blue, red and yellow uniforms. Trousers were of the same colour as the coats.The basic colour of the infantry was supposed to be white, following an edict from Philip V, with fifes and drums in blue.  But of the regular infantry, only 32  of the 52 regiments wore white coats at this time.
The militia also wore white, with blue and purple facings.  "White" was a relative term though, as each man had only one uniform, which had to last several years, and so it was often patched and dirty. But there were also regiments with blue coats, especially the Guards, or red (the irony of the Irish having the same uniform as their hated enemies the English did not go unremarked) and the Dragoons, uniquely, wore yellow. Add the blue of the artillery and navy, both important at Gibraltar, and you have quite a mixture.
 The infantry were in the process of changing their tricornes to leather caps with brass badges, but the grenadiers retained their distinctive bearskins.

  The artillery and Corps of Engineers both used a loose blue uniform with scarlet facings and they kept the tricorne which was being phased out of the other services. Although the commander of the Spanish forces at Gibraltar was completely useless, described as a "null" by the French, other commanders performed well, and the men bravely. Like the artillery, the uniform was of blue, with red facings.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Hanoverians at the Siege - Gibraltar 1779-83

Extracted from "Geschichte de churhannoverschen Truppen in Gibraltar, Minorca und Ostindien" by Ernst von dem Knesebeck, published in 1845. Available as a google ebook.

To Gibraltar

August de la Motte, the senior Hanoverian commander during the Siege

It soon became clear in 1775 that Britain did not have enough troops to calm the colonial rebellion in America. So the English parliament approached George III, who was also king of Hanover, and they requested the use of Hanoverian troops. He agreed and wrote to Field Marshal von Spoercken to release five battalions. These would be paid by the English, but were only be available for use in Europe, and would be subject to their own rules, justice and religion. The idea was that they could release British garrison troops for the Americas. Two battalions were sent to the island of Minorca, then British, and three to Gibraltar.

das 1. Bataillon von Reden, under Obristlieutenant von Walthausen; replaced by von Dachenhausen when von Walthausen drowned in November 1775

das 1. Bataillon von Hardenberg, later known as von Sydow, under Obristlieutenant von dem Bussche. Von dem Bussche returned to Hannover in 1778 and was replaced by von Hugo.

das 1. Bataillon la Motte, under Obristen la Motte and Major von Schlepegrell.

Each battalion consisted of one grenadier and five musketeer companies, with a total including officers and noncommissioned officers of 473 men, as well as two women. The red and white uniform was remarkably similar to the British troops, though Hanoverian officers wore a characteristic gold sash.

 Gustav Von Dachenhausen

By November 1775 they had been shipped down to Gibraltar, where they were heartily welcomed by the Vice-Governor, Major-General Boyd, and shown to their barracks in the city. The three English regiments that the Hanoverians were replacing were reportedly not best pleased to be leaving for the forests of America, and the Hanoverians soon discovered why. Gibraltar at this time was a very congenial posting, the southern climate was comfortable, the food good, and the Rock interesting. Although most days, after service, the troops were put to work on the fortifications they received a working grant, and most considered themselves well paid.

"Many a trip was undertaken by the Hanoverian officers after the Spanish cities in the area, even to Italy, Africa and the African pirate states. In the fortress were the hospitable rooms of the vice-governor of officers to open once a week, and also to the other days there was no lack of social conversations. The arrival of the first governor (General Elliot) in no way interfered with these pleasant conditions, and soon did this great man's love and respect for the Hanoverian brigade just to win as much as had been both the General Boyd."

Start of the Siege - 1779-1780

Governor Elliot was expecting trouble, but a sudden declaration of war in 1779 took him by surprise. Several officers from the garrison were vacationing in Spain, and one was taken prisoner. The Spanish, based in a camp at San Roque, consisted of 18 battalions of infantry, one battalion of artillery, eight squadrons of cavalry and 4 squadrons of dragoons. At the same time the Bay of Gibraltar was blockaded by a Spanish fleet of three battleships, three frigates and nine smaller vessels. In comparison, the garrison of Gibraltar, had 5 English and 3 Hanoverian battalions, which including the artillery reached a strength of almost 5,400 men. There was also a volunteer corps of Englishmen and Germans, with 2 officers and 80 privates, under Lieutenant Belleville of the La Motte regiment. They had in the harbour one ship of the line, of 60 guns, and three smaller ships.

From July 1779 to mid-January 1780 only 15, mostly in small boats made it past the blockade with food, and lack of meat and fresh food became a  real issue. An armed guard had to be put on the bakers, so great was the demand. The weekly ration of a soldier consisted of 7 pounds of wheat bread or hardtack, 2 pounds of salted beef and 1 pound of salt pork, 4 pints of peas, 3 of oatmeal and 10 ounces of butter. The latter was later withdrawn and replaced by more oatmeal. On 11th January 1780 even this was reduced, with the loss of the pork and one pound of beef. Apart from this though, service in the fortress was not too severe and the health of the soldiers was pretty good. At any one time only 600 out of 6,000 were needed for piquet duty, and time hung heavy for the rest. They were also well protected from enemy fire, only 30 men were lost from the three Hanoverian battalions in 1780.

On the night of 30 September 1st October 1780 the Spanish made a raid on the palisades of the Bay side and caused some damage, but worse was prevented by the "vigilance and intrepidity of two Hanoverian soldiers who were here on duty".

1781 - the counter attack

The relief convoy in April 1781 was a huge relief, with massive celebrations all round, and in fact quite a lot of drunkenness until order was restored. The downside was a huge increase in Spanish bombardment, first against the transports and then against the town. 25 Hanoverians were wounded, and 156 in the garrison as a whole. Monotony was replaced by labour as the bastions were continually repaired, and new ones cut from the rock.

Throughout the autumn work continued on the Spanish side, building more and more batteries, and it was clear that something had to be done. In secret, General Elliot started planning a sortie. He was helped when on 20th November two Spanish deserters arrived, and could give detailed plans of the batteries and their layout. They also described Spanish morale as very low, and the state of things on general to be sloppy. On the night of the 26th November 1781, the British attacked,. It was an incredibly risky operation. They had to cover 500 yards to the Spanish lines, and then another 1,000 to the batteries and there was only one exit, and entry, gate. They were organised into three columns, with Hanoverian troops forming the bulk of the right hand column under von Hugo. This consisted of the von Hardenberg regiment (296 men), together with the grenadier companies of the von Reden and la Motte Regiments (142), the light company of the British 56th Regiment (57) together with 25 artillery men and 50 labourers, 570 in total. The right column was to attack the San Carlos battery on the east of the Spanish lines. The British troops in the centre column were under the Hanoverian Dachenhausen.

 Senior allied officers during the sortie, with Gibraltar behind

At midnight the troops were gathered, and 3 clock in the morning on 27 November, after the moon, which shone very bright, had set, they left Gibralltar. In the darkness they came first across the Spanish Walloon Guard, and upon being challenged Lieutenant Hugo shouted "Krena6iers ällsnovre! " and they rushed the 7ft high barricade with little resistance. A portion of the Hardenberg Regiment had strayed in the darkness and came upon the San Carlos battery unexpectedly, from where they received a volley but they carried on, reinforced by the rest of the Regiment, and this was the only mistake of the night. At a given signal the batteries in Gibraltar opened up and the Spanish, thrown into confusion, retired from the battery line. With incredible speed troops swarmed over the batteries and fascines, attaching wreathes of pitch which they set alight, and spiking the guns. They were covered from counter attack by the combined light and grenadier companies and the Hardenberg Regiment. When trails of powder were lit to the magazines, the order was given to withdraw, again covered by the Hardenberg Regiment, with the magazine exploding like an earthquake before they reached the gate. By 5 o clock they were inside.

The sortie had been incredibly successful, the siege works burned for days and several magazines had been lost, all for remarkably little loss. Of the Hanoverians, the Hardenberg Reigment lost 2 dead and one wounded, von Reden 1 dead, and la Motte escaped casualties.

One consequence of the sallie was increased public perception in England, especially at a time of almost unrelenting bad news. George III, as Hanoverian head of state, promoted La Motte to Lieutenant Genral, and von Hugo and von Dachenhausen to Colonel & Brigadier.

The Spanish now turned their fire again on the city, and much of it was destroyed, though the fortifications were almost untouched. There were again few casualties, though several men from La Motte were lost when one of the magazine at the Willis batteries received a direct hit and exploded. But conditions on the Rock were now worse than ever, the troops sleeping in tents, many of the non-combatants in whatever ruins or huts they could find. There was plenty of salt beef, but no fresh food, and scurvy broke out again.

1782-4 - the Grand Bombardment and home.

A German (Hanoverian?) portrayal of the bombardment

During the early months of 1782 the Spanish reconstructed their earthworks, with no expense being spared, and of course, defences much improved. They also considered what new methods they could use, even poison gas, but they decided to build floating batteries, and this went ahead in great secrecy. Meanwhile, the British and Hanoverians had been strenghtened to 7,500 men, and were making innovations of their own, including a cannon which could be depressed 20 degrees, for firing from the great height of the Rock. They also developed "heated shot". Actually, this wasn't new, but was hardly ever used as it was technically very difficult, the heat tending to ignite the powder of the cannon prematurely. But they had lots of cannons, and time, to play with and eventually got it right. A sergeant in the La Motte Regiment, Schwependik, a blacksmith by trade, invented an oven that could produce several glowing shot at once. He received a life long pension from the English government.

The Spanish also built up their assault forces, under the command of the Duke of Crillon, who had just captured the island of Minorca, and the Hannoverian garrison there. There was also a French corps under Falkenhayn of 4,000 men, which although small in comparison to the Spanish forces, almost matched the garrison by itself. There were many more cannon, more ships, and the floating batteries. There were also landing craft, flat bottomed to convey troops across the bay after the defences had been pounded to rubble. It looked like this time the Spanish could not possibly fail.

On 9th September 1782 all the land batteries and gun boats started firing, joined on the 12th by a Franco Spanish fleet, and on the 13th by the floating batteries, which were meant to bear the brunt of the attack. The British responded by the heaviest fire they could manage, concentrated initially on the boats towing the floating batteries, which were crewed by criminals as the work was so obviously dangerous. To their dismay the British found that the floating batteries themselves were more or less immune to cannon fire. Only the heated shot seemed to make any impression, and even then the artillery battle went on for hours. By 3pm smoke was blowing around the bay, but it was not until 8pm that the garrison could see boats evacuating crews from the floating batteries. By 11pm a shipwrecked Spanish ship bought news that the Spanish were starting to retire, but still the battle kept on, artillery crews replaced with sailors who knew how to work the guns. By 3am several floating batteries could be seen in flames, which only served to illuminate the others to make better targets. Before daybreak a counterattack with gunboats drove off the boats protecting the batteries and the danger was over. Overall, Spanish losses were estimated at about 2,000, losses in the garrison were just 16 killed and 69 wounded.

Although moral in the siege lines was now low, the Spanish court did not give up, and the blockade continued. Fresh food was still low. The arrival of Howe's convoy in October relieved matters though, and brought the garrison up to 8,000 men. Spanish preparations for another attack continues, but halfheartedly, and in February 1783 news came of the Treaty of Versailles. On March 12th Governor Elloit met the Duke of Crillon outside the walls, they shook hands and peace was declared.

It was over a year before the Hanoverian brigade could return home, but in August 1784 they embarked and in September they were back in the river Weser at Geestendorf (Bremerhaven). They were met by Major Genreral von Busse and one by one discharged from English service. They marched to their respective garrisons at Nienburg, Verden and Hameln, where they were received as heroes.

As an aside, the three Hanoverian Regiments were granted the battle honour "Gibraltar". Their successors in the German Army still carried this into World War 1.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Largest Battle of the American Revolution

Was this Saratoga? Yorktown? No, it was the siege of Gibraltar, empathising how world wide this conflict really was.

The Siege

Gibraltar ("The Rock") had been ceded to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, ""for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever", but Spain had been trying to renege on the treaty ever since. In 1779, with Britain alone against Spain, France, Holland and revolting American colonists, the opportunity seemed to there for the taking.

Spain laid siege with 13,000 men under Martín Álvarez de Sotomayor, including two battalions each of Royal Guards and Walloon Guards of the Spanish army, whilst the cavalry included French Dragoons. There was also a blockade on the seaward side, based at Algiciras, and another Spanish squadron at Cadiz to block reinforcements.

The British, under Governor General Elliot, had 5,382 troops including a Corsican contingent and a Hanoverian Brigade of three battalions. Fortunately, Elliot turned out to be an inspiring and determined leader. And a conscientious one, he had been laying in stores and preparing defences for some time.

The Defences

The only landward route to Gibraltar was, and is, across a narrow isthmus. Every effort had been made to cover this with as many cannon as possible. Directly across the causeway was a wall and dry ditch with two bastions, mounting 26 guns. Flanking this, and the causeway itself were the King's, Queen's, and Prince's lines cut out of the rock itself. Above were the Willis batteries, and then further batteries up the Rock until the summit, which was crowned with cannon and mortars. The Mole, projecting out past the harbour, was itself fortified and gave a crossfire onto the causeway. There was so much artillery that 100 British infantry were detailed to help man the cannons. The whole was so formidable that it was called the Mouth of Fire by the Spanish. The seaward side was equally covered with bastions and cannon from sea level to the summit, with barriers of old masts and chains blocking the old and new landing stages. Only the Eastern flank, which is a sheer drop into the sea, was unfortified and left to the famous Gibraltar apes. Last, but not least, a huge cistern had been made to collect rain water, so that at no point in the siege was there a shortage of water.

The Spanish troops constructed huge siege works around Gibraltar, and the blockade started to bite. By the winter Gibraltar, with virtually no room to grow food, was starting to suffer. Scurvy, caused by a shortage of fresh vegetables, was common and ships had to be broken up to get firewood. What saved Gibraltar was the Battle of Cape Vincent in January 1780, A massive British convoy under Admiral Rodney not only smashed through the Spanish blocking force at Cadiz, but captured or destroyed 4 ships of the line, including the Spanish flagship. This, the supplies landed, and reinforcement with the 73rd Highlanders gave a huge boost to the garrison morale. The presence of Prince William, son of the King, in the fleet also showed commitment from Britain, and that the garrison was not forgotten.

 The Battle of Cape St. Vincent

Running the Blockade

By the summer of 1780 food was running low again, but blockade runners kept them going. Every effort was made to bring in fresh fruit from Africa to hold off scurvy.

Admiralty-Office, September. 18, 1781.
Extract of a Letter from Captain Curtis dated Brilliant, Gibraltar, August 7.
I beg Leave to acquaint My Lords Commissioners that His Majesty's Sloop Helena arrived here this Morning. Her Approach was discovered by the Enemy and us at the same Time, about Five o'Clock. She was in the Gut to the Southward of Cabarita Point, and nearly a Third of the Way over from it towards Europa. It was perfectly calm, and the Helena was rowing for the Rock.

I immediately took the Repulse and Vanguard Gun-Boats, with all the Boats of the Ships; and went for her, as expeditiously as possible. Fourteen Gun-Boats of the Enemy, carrying each One Twenty-six Pounder in the Bow,, moved also from Algaziras, accompanied by several Launcbes. These Boats got on faster than I could proceed with the Repulse and Vanguard, and before Eight o'Clock those of them the most advanced commenced their Fire upon the Helena, being then within Half Gun-shot. She returned it with great Deliberation and Effect, but still continuing to use her Oars. The greater Part of the Gun-Boats were soon close to her, and the Clouds of Grape and other Shot, that seemed almost to bury her were really astonishing. However she could not, without our Aid, bear long this very unequal Combat. The Repulse and Vanguard began a well-directed Fire upon the Enemy, being so placed as was deemed the most efficacious to cover the Helena, and annoy them. 

The commencement of the Sea Breeze having got to the Helena she soon reached us, the Enemy still persevering on their attempt upon her, firing at her broadside and others keeping astern, raking her. However the Steadiness and Bravery exhibited onboad the Helena, and the well appointed Grape from the Repluse and Vanguard, very soon made some of them retire, and they had all fled by ten o Clock, allowing us to tow the Helena into the Mole without further molestation. A Xebec, mounting between twenty and thirty guns, which was lying near to Cabarita Point, got under way when the Breeze came and advanced to join the Gun Boats, but upon seeing them retire she retired also.

The Masts, Sails, Rigging and Furniture of the Helena are cut all to Pieces, and the Hull a good deal damaged, but it is as wonderful as it is fortunate that the Boatswain was the only man who was killed on board her.  The Bravery, the Coolness, and the Judicious Conduct of Captain Roberts do him infinite Honour and His Officers and Men deserve the highest Commendation.
London Gazette

On 7th June the Spanish sent a fire ship into the harbour. This nearly worked, but the garrison was alerted and at 1am woke to see Gibraltar blood red against the dark night. Cannonades drove off the Spanish boats, and English boats rowed out, hooked the burning vessel, and towed it away. Even then the danger was not over, two more fireships were approaching and almost reaching the pier, but they were fended off just in time. The hulks were later salvaged by the British and used, ironically, as firewood

Yet again food started to run out, especially as supplies from North Africa had been cut, but another convoy arrived in April 1781, and this convoy evacuated all civilians from the Rock.

The Sortie and the Grand Bombardment

It was now clear to the Spanish and French that the British could not be starved out. So in November they assembled ready to storm the defences. the British response took them entirely by surprise. The night before the assault was due fully half the garrison silently left Gibraltar and then flung themselves on the siege lines. It was a dramatic success, batteries were set on fire, cannon spiked and troops routed. Over two million pounds worth of Spanish stores and equipment, an immense sum for the time, was destroyed. the assault had to be cancelled.

 Watching the destruction of the Spanish floating batteries from The Rock

But still the Spanish and French persisted. Eventually, on 13 September 1782, nearly three years after the siege started, they started their assault. The plan was to smash Gibraltar´s defences "into powder" and then storm it with 35,000 Spanish and French troops. A fleet of 18 ships of the line, 40 gunboats and 20 bomb vessels surrounded the Rock, as well ten "floating batteries" with 138 heavy guns. These were immense, with guns only on one side, counterbalanced with lead. The cannon side had extra protection, and a roof was made of planks and iron sheets. They were, in a way, the first Ironclads. On the landward side there were 86 more guns. Over 80,000 spectators gathered to watch the show - they were disappointed. The British batteries, with higher elevation, and therefore range, fired red hot shot at the wooden floating batteries, exploding three and damaging the rest. They also damaged the ships so much that they caused 719 casualties. Demoralised, the allies withdrew.

This was the last major assault. In October another large British convoy appeared, 31 transports with supplies and the 25th, 59th and 79th regiments. The siege continued but in February 1783 a peace treaty was signed. Although the British bargaining position was weak the Spanish didn´t press for Gibraltar, gaining instead Minorca and territory in the Americas. Presumably they assumed Gibraltar could be picked off at a later date. It wasn´t.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The mid Victorian Swiss Army

For Switzerland, the Europe of the mid 19th century was a dangerous place. France under the glory seeking Napoleon III to the west, a Prussia bent on becoming a superpower to the north, the traditional enemy Austria to the east and a fiercely ambitious Italy to the south. Switzerland was very much a federation of cantons, each mostly self governing, though since 1848 the Federal Assembly had responsibility for defence. The problem with this was that they were especially vulnerable to salami tactics, cantons picked off one by one. With French, German and Italian speaking cantons, and Prussia and Italy determined to unite the German and Italian speaking peoples, Switzerland was especially vulnerable. This is their response.

 Swiss uniforms 1857

1855 - The Swiss Army (Putnam's Magazine)

In Switzerland no national standing army exists. Every Swiss is compelled to serve in the militia, if able-bodied; and this mass is divided into three levies according to age. The young men, during the first years of service, are called out separately for drill, and collected from time to time in camps; but whoever has seen the awkward gait and uncomfortable appearance of a Swiss squad, or heard the jokes they crack with the drill-sergeant while under drill, must at once see that the military qualities of the men are but very poorly developed. The organization of the militia is almost entirely in the hands of the various cantonal governments; and, though its general form is fixed by federal laws, and a federal staff is at the head of the whole, this system cannot fail to create confusion and want of uniformity, while it must almost necessarily prevent a proper accumulation of stores, the introduction of improvements, and the permanent fortification of important points, especially on the side where Switzerland is weak, toward Germany.

The Swiss, like all mountaineers, make capital soldiers when drilled; and, wherever they have served as regular troops under foreign banners, they have fought exceedingly well. But being rather slow-headed, they need drilling much more, indeed, than either French or North Germans, to give them confidence in themselves, and cohesion. It is possible that national feeling might possibly replace this in the case of a foreign attack upon Switzerland, but even this is very doubtful. An army of 80,000 regular troops, and less, would certainly bo a match for all the 160,000 and more men which the Swiss say they can congregate. In 1799, the French finished the business with a few regiments.

 A Swiss sharpshooter 1852 (New York Digital Library)

The Swiss boast a great deal of the rifles of their sharp-shooters. There are, certainly, in Switzerland, comparatively more good shots than in any other European country, the Austrian Alpine possessions excepted. But when one sees how these dead shots, when called in, are almost all armed with clumsy common percussion muskets, the respect for the Swiss sharp-shooters is considerably lessened. The few battalions of rifles may be good shots, but their short, heavy pieces (stutzen) are antiquated and worthless, and their awkward, slow method of loading, with loose powder from a horn, would give them but a poor chance when opposed to troops armed with less superannuated weapons.

Altogether, arms, accoutrements, organization, drill, everything is old-fashioned with the Swiss, and very likely will remain so as long as the cantonal governments have anything to say on the subject.

The Neuchatel Crisis of 1856

Swiss troops at Mamertshofen castle in the winter of 1856/7

There were very few states that faced down Prussia in the 19th century, but Switzerland was one of them.
To understand the Neuchatel crisis you have to remember that Switzerland was not a unitary state, but a loose federation of semi-independent cantons. One of these, Neuchatel, was ruled by the King of Prussia, but as head of state, not as part of Prussia, Neuchatel was still part of Switzerland. In 1848 Neuchatel had rebelled and kicked out the Prussians, but in 1856 Royalists attempted a coup, to bring back the Prussian king, William. It failed, and the plotters were captured, but Prussia made its move. William demanded the release of the rebels and backed that up with a threat of military intervention. Thirty thousand Federation troops were mobilised and stationed along the Rhine, the border, against 110,000 Prussians.
Faced with opposition from Britain, France and Russia, Prussia backed down. In 1862 Count Otto von Bismarck took over, and from then on Prussian conquests were much more sure footed.

 Swiss troops during the crisis

1861 (The New American Cyclopedia)

The Swiss army consists entirely of militia, and is divided into 3 classes: 1, the regular army, composed of men between 20 and 33 years of age, to the number of 3 per cent, of the population; 2, the reserve, consisting of men between 33 and 40 who have served their time in the regular corps; 3, the landwehr, comprising all men under 44 years of age who are fit to bear arms and are not serving in either of the other divisions. The strength of the army in March, 1860, was as follows: regular force, about 90,000; reserve, 51,000; landwehr, 43,000; total, 184,000. Probably over 100,000 could be brought into the field at a few days' notice. The organization is very complete, and for celerity of movement and concentration the Swiss army will compare favorably with any in the world.

1862 (From the Stateman's Yearbook of 1865)

The army numbers 80,000 men, and 120 companies of "sharpshooters," comprising 8,712 picked riflemen. The cavalry comprises 2,911 men, divided into 35 companies, and the artillery, 12,400 men, with four "mountain batteries," of 10 guns each, and eight "rocket batteries", besides twelve companies of sappers and miners.

1864 (The Eclectic Magazine: foreign literature, Volume 63)

It would not be fair to omit Switzerland from this comparative list, especially as the organization of her army, like that of Great Britain, possesses special and peculiar features of its own. Switzerland, in fact, disclaims the idea of having a standing army; her constitution prohibiting the existence of one within the limits of the Confederation. However, not to leave the commonwealth without a system of defense, every one is expected to be trained to arms, and nearly every one is so trained. Children from the age of eight are regularly instructed at the upper and middle schools in military exercises, undergo special examinations, and are frequently paraded and reviewed with all the pomp and eclat of veteran troops. When they have gone through their infantry exercises, and have become expert in the use of the rifle—Wimbledon has witnessed some of the excellent shooting of these gallant and keen-eyed sons of the Oberland—the young Tells practice gunnery, two and four pounders being supplied by the government for that purpose.  The total amount of this patriotic force—like the Spartans of old, every Swiss feels he fights, when he does fight, for his institutions, and therefore fights with the purest feelings of patriotism—is 339,926 men; a large number for so small a commonwealth. Only the Bundesausug, however, is on active duty, and the service of these is light and easy.  The policy of the government has invariably been unaggressive, and rarely has the army of Switzerland been called into the field. The arrogant claims of the late King of Prussia on Neuchatel was the last occasion on which the Swiss spirit was roused; but a show of popular indignation sufficed to puff out the ambition of a Pourtales and the pretensions of the crowned Hohenzollern.

 Carabiniers 1860 (New York Digital Library)

1869 - The Vetterli Rifle

Military technology made huge strides during this period, and so did infantry fire power. Rather than buy from outside the Swiss designed their own, the Vetterli rifle. Johann-Friedrich Vetterli (1822–1882) had worked in both England and Frenace before becoming director of the Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft's armament factory.
The 1869 Repetiergewehr (repeating rifle) Vetterli came on stream in 1869 It combined the magazine of the American M1866 Winchester rifle, the bolt system of the Prussian Dreyse needle gun and a novel self cocking action and at the time it was the most advanced in Europe. It was soon followed by the 1871 version, and continued in use until 1890.

1869 (Reflections on the Formation of Armies, With a View to the Re-organization by Walter James Wyatt)

The Swiss Army.
The thirteenth Article of the Constitution of September 13th, 1848, forbids the maintenance of a standing army within the limits of the Confederation. To provide for the defence of the country, every citizen has to bear arms, in the management of which the children are instructed at school, from the age of eight, and they pass through regular exercises and public reviews. Such military instruction is voluntary on the part of the children, but is participated by the greater number of pupils at the upper and middle-class schools. They not only go through the infantry exercises, but practice gunnery, the necessary rifles and cannon—-the latter 2 and 4 pounders— being furnished by the Federal Government.

The troops of the republic are divided into four classes, namely:—

1. The " Bundesauszug," or Federal army, consisting of all men able to bear arms from the age of 20 to 34. All cantons are obliged, by the terms of the Constitution, to furnish at least 3 per cent, of their population to the "Bundesauszug."
2. The army of reserve, consisting of all men who have served in the first-class, from the age of 35 to 40. The numbers are calculated to amount to 1J per cent, of the population.
3. The "Landwehr," or militia, comprising all men from the 41st to the 45th year.
4. The "Landsturm," or army of defence, including all men above 45, till the term when they are disabled by age from military service.

Swiss Federal Infantry (New York Digital Libray)

1871 (The Franco-Prussian War)

The first ever complete mobilisation of the Canton forces came in 1871, a defensive measure during the Franco Prussian war, to make sure neither side strayed across the border. Apart from anything else, they had responsibility for disarming 87,000 French soldiers of the French Armee d'Est, who asked for asylum and were interned for 6 weeks. It didn't help that the internees were arriving through Neuchatel, and the pursuing Prussian army might well seize the chance to take it back. But they didn't, and the enormous military and humanitarian operation did a lot for Switzerland's reputation in Europe.

 Swiss troops recieving French zouaves 1871

1871 (The American Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events)

SWITZERLAND, a federal republic in Europe. Area, 15,722 square miles; population, in 1860, 2,510,494; of which 1,476,982 aro Protestants, and 1,023,430 Roman Catholics.
The staff of the army, on April 15, 1870, was composed of 76 colonels, 93 lieutenantcolonels, 130 majors, 226 captains, and 292 lieutenants.

Immediately upon the outbreak of the war between France and Germany, and notwithstanding the friendly assurances of France and Prussia that the neutrality of Switzerland was to be strictly respected, the Federal Government determined to place such a force on its frontiers as would render a violation of Helvetic territory a more difficult undertaking than if it were only defended by a respect for existing treaties. In little more than a week's time, through the military organization of the republic, in which every man is a soldier, either in the active contingent, or in the reserve, or the landwehr, five divisions were called to arms, and marched to the most threatened part of the frontier, the line separating Switzerland from Baden. These corps formed an effective force of 50,000 men. The Government issued treasury bills to the amount of 5,000,000 francs, bearing interest at the rate of four and a half per cent, per annum, and the money was immediately furnished by Swiss bankers and capitalists. During the latter part of August, the Government consulted with General Herzog, commander-in-chief of the Swiss Army, and, upon his advice, recalled the entire military force on the frontier, leaving only two battalions of sharp-shooters as a corps of observation.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Gibraltar of the West - Bermuda in the 1860s

After losing the southern American colonies in the American Revolution, Britain started developing Bermuda as a naval base.The other alternative was Halifax in Nova Scotia, which had an excellent harbour. - but one significant disadvantage, it could be reached overland from the United States. Nonetheless, until 1868 Bermuda was part of the Nova Scotia command, for much of that time more or less an outpost of Halifax. For the Navy this had the advantage that ships could be rotated between the two, Halifax being regarded as much healthier. In the same way, ships were often sent north to Bermuda from the Caribbean when there was sickness in the crew. Even then, disease was often a problem. In 1868 an outbreak of fever and diarrhoea struck the Bermuda garrison - out of 3,519 men 1,665 were admitted to hospital. The official report at the time stated...
"This outbreak of fever was attributed by the Principal Medical Officer "to the "effects of a sudden change from the cold bracing climate of New Brunswick "to the hot relaxing climate of Bermuda." The exemption of the Royal Artillery from fever is attributed to their having previously served at Gibraltar, and thus being more inured to the heat, and to their duties being lighter than those of the other troops."

The population of Bermuda was also unaffected. At least the scale of the outbreak led to many improvements in conditions at the barracks, as well as recommendations that troops arrive during the autumn so that they can acclimatise slowly.

Bermuda and the American Civil War

    Bermuda´s military value had been amply demonstrated during the war of 1812, when privateers from Bermuda captured 298 American ships, and Bermuda was a staging post for amphibious operations such as the capture of Washington. Very much the same considerations were voiced by Sir Alexander Milne, the commander of the North American and West Indian Squadron during the American Civil War,

 "If Bermuda were in the hands of any other nation,the base of our operations would be removed to the two extremes, Halifax and Jamaica, and the loss of this island as a Naval Establishment would be a National misfortune."

HMS Challenger in Bermuda 1865. Like many of the Victorian steam corvettes she had a story to tell. In 1862 she had been part of the force that occupied Vera Cruz in Mexico, whilst in 66 and 68 she was in action in Fiji. But her contribution to history is as the worlds first oceanographic ship on the Challenger Expedition. The Space Shuttle Challenger was named after her.

Thus Bermuda was essential during the War between the States as a projection of the British navy, but it was also greatly valued by the Confederates as a "neutral" port, where they could trade war supplies, or even just stock up on coal. The Globe Hotel was so established as a centre for Confederate agents there is a museum commemorating this there today. For example, in March 1862 the SS Bermuda passed through with a cargo of guns and ammunition, whilst on 3 April 1863 the steamer General Beauregard with a cargo of "Enfield rifles, 1 field battery of guns complete, 500 bags saltpetre, blankets etc was in the harbour. The prosperity generated made the Confederacy very popular amongst Bermudan traders, and there was a large community from the Southern States.

 The USS Sonoma & Tioga off Bermuda

Conversely, the United States were far from popular. Not least after the actions of Commander Charles Wilkes, who seems to have been almost determined to cause a war. In command of a small squadron, the Wachusett, Sonoma and Tioga , he sailed into St Georges harbour, and not only refused to leave for a week but ordrered the two gun boats in his squadron to blockade the harbour, even firing on a Royal Mail cutter, the Merlin. It was Wilkes who later cuased the "Trent Affair" by stopping and boarding the British mail packet Trent and seizing two Confederate commissioners aboard.

The Dockyard

 HMS Vixen, an armoured gunboat, in Bermuda dockyard.

    Bermudas´s location was militarily perfect, but there were  disadvantages. For a start, there were not many deep water channels suitable, although eventually a suitable site was found on Ireland Island, on the extreme western tip of Bermuda. Unfortunately, the main settlement was St. Georges, at the eastern end of the island, whilst the official capital, government buildings and garrison headquarters were at Hamilton, in the centre. Nonetheless by 1864 the Duke of Somerset could report that.....

    "During the last twenty years much has been done to render Bermuda an important naval Station, more especially while Rear-Admiral Hutton was Superintendent. The old floating depots for provisions, naval stores, &c. have been abandoned, and a fine dock and victualling yard have been built with a basin of more than sixteen acres, and a jetty for coaling ships, at a cost of about £112,000: the construction of a first-class dock would complete the establishment. Bermuda lies in a central position, which is the key to the North American United States in case of war: it is a convenient distance from Halifax to vessels which might be injured in the Gulf Stream, and it is convenient also with regard to the West India Islands. Engineers have, however, contended that there are natural difficulties which are insurmountable, "owing," as one of them says, "to the ground being so porous and uncertain. You may go through a solid piece of rock, five, six, or ten feet, and you may come into a cavern connected with the ocean sixty or seventy feet deep: the openings in the rock are something very extraordinary. In Bermuda there are caves which will astonish you: the connexion between the rock and the sea is surprising : you cannot go fifty feet without getting to something which would upset your arrangements."
    United Service magazine 1864

    This porous rock was a problem. Maintenance of a fleet "on station" required a dry dock, but the nature of the rock made this impossible. The ingenious, but hugely expensive, alternative, was to make a floating dock, in England, and float it down to Bermuda.

    By 1869 though it could be reported that
    "The floating dock at Bermuda which was launched last year, and is so far successful, is paid for, having cost altogether about .£300,000. It is a most ingenious construction, and 18 well worth the money spent upon it It will be most useful, as it is much better to repair ships at Bermuda, if possible, instead of sending them home."
    Colburns United Services Magazine 1869

 The floating dock arriving at Bermuda

    The dock was towed to Madeira, where HMS Warrior and HMS Black Prince took over and continued the voyage to Bermuda, with the paddle frigate HMS Terrible lashed astern to act as a rudder, the voyage lasting 39 days. This was partly because of the sheer power needed to tow the dock, but it also sent a message that Britain had bigger and better ironclands than the United Staes, and was committed to defending her American and Atlantic territories.


    All of this made Bermuda an obvious target for attack, and from the 1850s to 1860s fortifications were substantially upgraded, and the garrison increased. Given that since the 1840s a string of American government spies had been making reports on the islands defences, and how they might be overcome, the concern was probably warrented. The main centres were;

a) St Georges garrison
The original, on the Eastern side of the island.

b) The dockyard garrison
Protecting the Naval dockyard, with ranges for training of marines.

 The barracks on Ireland Island, 1848

c) Prospect camp
By 1860 this was the site of the main garrison on the island, with barracks, training areas and a fort, Fort Prospect, manned by the Royal Garrison Artillery. As well as Fort Prospect there were two other forts, Fort Hamilton and Fort Langton, sited to give overlapping fire. Fort Hamilton, completed in the 1870s, was on a site of 10 acres and carried 18 guns and was surrounded by a moat.

In fact Bermuda was dotted with fortifications.

 In the East, at St Georges, there was Fort St Catherine, the largest on the island. like much of the defences, expanded and upgraded during the 1860s. Designed to cooperate with St Catherine were Fort Victoria, whose 18x 32 pound cannon commanded the approaches to the dockyard, and Fort Albert, built in 1840, a moated pentagon redoubt with 4 heavy guns, two eight inch howitzers and two ten inch mortars. In 1865 the heavy guns of Fort Albert were replaced with modern ten inch rifled muzzle loaders.

At the dockyard end of the island  there was Fort Scaur, sited to prevent attack on the docks from the landward side, with a dry moat and "disappearing carriages". These were pulled back out of sight of the enemy for reloading, and the whole fort was designed to present a miminal target to the enemy.

    There was a martello tower at Ferry Reach, with a garrison of 24 men and one officer and two ammunition stores, one on Ordinance Island (!), connected by a causeway to the main island, and one at East Broadway, near Hamilton.

During this period the number of troops had also been increased substantially, and by 1865 there were over 6,000 troops on the island. Regiments included, at various times,  the 2nd battalion of the 2nd Queens Regiment, and the 15th, 30th and 61st Regiments.

Bermuda continues to be a British Overseas Territory today, although, ironically, it was an important base for American units during WW2.