Sunday, 14 April 2013

Kent - The Coming of the White Horse

After the Roman legions left England the Romano-British were left to their own devices, which would have been fine except for one thing, there were plenty of others willing to take their place, Picts in the north and Saxons on the East. “Saxons” incidentally didn't come from “Saxony”, the word was used much as European settlers described the diverse Native American tribes as “Indians”. In fact “Saxons” covers many different Germanic tribes. There was also no “Britain” as such, or even “England”, as authority broke down. What does seem clear is that the leader opposing the Saxons was called Vortigern.

Vortigern is a bit of a shadowy figure, not least because most of the sources we have now were written  by Saxon writers, and even then many years after the event. Whether is was some sort of overlord of the Britons, or just a local ruler in the south east, he at least controlled the richest region in England, and thus the most tempting target. His response was to hire mercenaries. In 449 he invited a a group of Jutes, from Jutland in Denmark, to serve under his command, giving in return the Isle of Thanet for their use (under his sovereignty of course). The tribal leader, Hengist, agreed. And it worked, Hengist and his brother Horsa, beating off raiders whilst their families built up  a settlement on Thanet (basically the eastern tip of Kent around Margate, which was actually  an island at the time). In fact, it worked so well that Vortigern offered to marry their sister Rowena, cementing ties between the two groups.

Hengist was a bit more ambitious than that. He had seen at close hand how rich, and vulnerable, Vortigern's state was and he hatched a plan. This plan, according to legend, consisted of agreeing to the wedding and when the British party arrived, including of course all the important people in the state, he would butcher then and decapitate the establishment. The plan failed, Vortigern and his brother Catigern, managing to escape with their lives. The stage was now set for a short and bitter civil war, Vortigern raised an army and returned, burning with vengeance.

The Forces

Details are vague and contradictory, but a good summary of current ideas is at

The British

The Romano British saw themselves as the inheritors of Roman civilisation, defending themselves against barbarians. In the north there were well established legionary settlements, including possibly the descendants of Samaritan heavy cavalry, and firm alliances with local tribes, Unfortunately, in the south there was neither, and defence rested on local levies. Some of the old Roman coastal forts were still strong, but society was not especially martial.

Vortigern probably had a bodyguard of about 150-300 men, the Bucellarii or Teulu, looking similar to Roman light cavalry with mail shirts, swords and javelins. These would have been good troops. But the bulk of his force would have been local levies, organised and armed as a cut-price version of the Legions, in units of 100 with a shield, spear and javelin, but lacking the training or iron discipline of the Romans.

The Saxons

The Saxons were a different force entirely, more akin to pirates, or doubtless adventurers in their own minds. Most in this case came from Hengist's homeland of Jutland, though not necessarily all, as he was already known throughput the Germanic world.

Like the British, the core of the army was a body guard of several hundred men, the “comitatus” or “gesith”, and these were probably the first to arrive. But as words spread of Hengist's successes men swarmed across to join him in Kent.

The “Saxons” were “men with seaxes”, a type of large knife, and this seems to have been a signature weapon, though most had a spear and a circular shield with an iron boss. The wealthy or important had mail shirts, and often a broadsword. And all were professional warriors, more than a match, man to man, for most of the British they would face in southern England.

The Conquest

Again, what happens next is disputed (well, this is the “Dark” ages). But a rough approximation is that, after several skirmishes, the two sides met in 455 at a ford on the river Medway, at Aylesford. The river Medway divides Kent east/ west, with presumably the Saxons arriving from the east, from their base in Thanet, and Vortigern arriving from his territories to the west. Details are unclear, but it seems to have been hard fought, with Horsa and Catigern both falling, and the Saxons being driven back towards Thanet. More skirmishes followed, with a huge battle at Crayford in 457 which according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle was a Saxon victory, although by 466 Vortigern's son Vortimer had almost driven  Hengist into the sea, with a climatic battle at Ebbsfleet (“Wippedesfleote”) near Ramsgate. Here Vortimer was killed, and in the resulting power vacuum the Saxons stormed back, finally establishing complete control.  Hengist, and his son Oisc, invited more settlers from back home and established them to the west of the Medway, keeping the East for his own tribe.

The “country” Hengist set up became known as Kent, using his family banner of a prancing white horse on a red background (“Hengist” being “stallion” in Old German). It remained as an independent state, more or less, for over 300  years until it was finally annexed by Mercia in 785.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Forest Warfare in 1840s North America - Part 2

British troops against Quebecois rebels at the Battle of Saint Eustach, 1837. The British regiments in Canada in 1842 had already considerable experiance, but not necessarily in forest warfare.

In the 1842 volume of the United Service Magazine of London (available as a free Google ebook) Sir J.E. Alexander of the 14th Regiment of Foot gave his thoughts of the special requirements of fighting in North America, in an article entitled "On Bush Fighting"


Movement through woodland made parade ground drill impossible, but some degree of cohesion still had to be kept, a difficult balance as these two passages show...

"In advancing through a wood in extended order great attention must be paid to preserving the line as correctly as possible: if skirmishers advance too far, or carelessly fall back too much, the consequences may be fatal to themselves or to their comrades; also distances between the files should be kept as correctly as possible".

"When the soldier advances, he should not go straight forward, but should move at an angle toward some tree or other cover, to the right or left of what he has just quitted. The reason for this is obvious: if an advance is made straightforward toward the enemy, the latter has no occasion to alter his aim, whereas obliquing toward him obliges him to take a "flying," or a difficult shot. In retreating, the same mode must be practised,—look behind for the next shelter, fire, and, concealed by the smoke, oblique to the selected cover".


" Before taking one's company into the bush, it is requisite that the men can well riddle a target at 100, 150, and 200 yards' distance—both a fixed target, man's size, and a moveable one, passed along a rope, between two posts."

To motivate the men during target practice Alexander recommends a bounty of a shilling per bulls eye.
In the field each man should carry a "powderhorn to contain 100 charges, and 100 bullets in their patches, disposed in a long and narrow waist-pouch, with 120 caps, will not encumber the soldier, and, if well managed, will serve for a good day's fighting."

Although the rifle was a superior weapon, it was "advisable to impress soldiers armed with smooth barrels with the belief that there is no superiority in the rifle, if they keep moving, as they ought to do, in the bush". And indeed, the new percussion musket "used in platoon firing, always with the front rank kneeling, leaves little to be desired in the way of an efficient weapon".

In forests, "the first rule for bush-fighting is (after careful loading), that the soldier should fire to the right of the tree; thus the smallest portion of the person is exposed".

This was the age of gunpowder, where the smoke from a discharge might be easily seen by an enemy - nonetheless that might well be an advantage..,

" When an Indian, pursued, throws himself into a ravine, he does not cross it at once, but, covering himself with the bank, he fires at his exposed pursuers, and then, concealed by the smoke, moves to the right, left, or rear, as he deems best".

Close order work

Alexander devotes several paragraphs to hand to hand combat, and clearly expected this to be a part of any actions in the future. Of course, part of the importance here was psychological...

" Whatever gives the men a real or fancied superiority over an enemy is useful: thus a simple bayonet exercise, teaching the men to parry carte and tierce, and to thrust with the musket and bayonet, and recover themselves easily from a short lunge".


Ambushes and Night Attacks

" Cautiously creeping on the enemy, taking advantage of cover, and rushing on him, and striking with lead or steel, when he is caught at advantage, are the principles of bush-fighting".

Properly executed, a surprise attack could sweep away the enemy - the operative word being "surprise" as Alexander says...

" It has been proposed to make a charge on foot through the enemy's voltigeurs in this way: suddenly close the skirmishers to the centre, advance at the double, dash through the opposite line of skirmishers, wheel by subdivisions to the right and left, and sweep down and put to the rout the enemy's line. It is objected to this mode of attack, that if it is suspected the enemy will pour in a very destructive fire on the advancing company or column, and perhaps fatally shake it".

One option of course was to attack at night, which gave a much greater chance of catching the enemy unawares. Some officers apparently thought night attacks were " un-English and cowardly". Alexander disagrees, citing British experience in Africa and Arabia. In his opinion,

" There is no doubt that a sudden rush of even a few pikemen, broadswordmen, or even bayoneteers, through an enemy's bivouac at night, thrusting at all they met, would produce the greatest confusion, and little injury would result to the assailants; fire in the dark being so very -uncertain, and nearly harmless".

Using the Forest

If possible, Alexander recommends the practice of the Burmese, who "by the dexterous use of cutting tools, as we observed in the late war in Ava, were in the habit of inclosing themselves nightly (in the bush and near their enemy) in good stockades; no nocturnal rush could be made through their encampments; this was also the Roman practice".

In fact, there was much good use to be made of felled timber.

"Artificial intrenchments in wooded countries are easiest made by felling trees; a breastwork or bank of earth, or of stones, must be employed when there are no trees. It is wonderful how little covers a man from fire: a rifleman will lie down behind a stone a foot high, on an exposed slope, and render good service, with safety to himself".

And of course trees not only a good defence, but could be used to delay the enemy (which might be very important in any delaying action against invaders. He recommends a rear guard of men armed with hatchets ("not bill hooks") to fell trees across the path, and delay the enemy as much as possible.

Mounted Riflemen

The British deployment in Canada was remarkably low in cavalry compared to, say, India, and Alexander makes no mention of cavalry as such, but he is in favour of mounted riflemen.

" With regard to Mounted Riflemen, we think they are a most valuable arm on service, especially in Canada or North America; they ought, of course, to have none of the showy trappings of the dragoons, but a serviceable and dark uniform,-say a double-breasted frock".

As for armament, Alexander sees little difference between a fusil or a rifle, as long as it could " throw a ball well, and at a long range", but a bayonet was essential, and also a "good straight sabre" to "enable then to act as dragoons in the charge".

On deployment the ideal was for " two-thirds of them to scour the bush, leaving one-third outside in charge of the horses, at a safe distance from danger." The sabre, of course, would be left with the horses.

 Defence of settlements

When defending a settlement (there is more talk of retreat and defence in the article than perhaps Alexander realised) " a careful officer will immediately reconnoitre all round it, and at some distance from it, and he will not trust to other eyes than his own to gain a knowledge of the localities".

Otherwise he gives this advice on defending a settlement

" Voltigeurs will, of course, when they can, always take advantage of buildings, particularly if they occupy a commanding position, and can be made defensible by the assistance of abbatis, &c., and have a supply of water. The lower story will be barricaded with what materials may be at hand, and loop-holes be contrived in the windows of the upper. Cover for the enemy, if time will permit, ought to be cleared away in front, and above all things a flanking fire ought to be obtained; a porch affords a good one along the front of a building. The church in a village will be of course the citadel, the streets leading to it being blocked up by waggons, trees, fences, &c".

Forest Warfare in 1840s North America - Part 1

The 24th Regiment in summer dress, 1840

In 1842, war with the United States was regarded as a distinct possibility in British military circles. There had already been tensions over the Canada/ Maine border and American involvement in two rebellions, as well as American insurgents crossing the border. Eighteen regular regiments were stationed in Canada, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (all separate entities at this stage), as well as 2 battalions of the Rifle Brigade and 2 cavalry regiments (see previous blog for more details).

Fortifications such as Fort Henry had been built at great expense, but much of the fighting would probably be in the heavily wooded countryside, as it had been in the previous two failed attempts to invade Canada, in 1776 and 1812.

In the 1842 volume of the United Service Magazine of London (available as a free Google ebook) Sir J.E. Alexander of the 14th Regiment of Foot, stationed in Canada, gave his thoughts of the special requirements of fighting in this area, in an article entitled "On Bush Fighting"

From the tone of the article it is clear that some officers reckoned that parade drill would suffice, in Canada as it had in Waterloo.

" Some old officers think that the rifle is not equal to the musket and bayonet, in or out of the woods—that one fire with a common piece, and a charge under cover of the smoke, will clear every enemy from the front."

Sir Alexander firmly disagrees, pointing out that in the successful campaign in Canada in 1814
"it was found necessary to intermingle the newly arrived regulars with the Glengarry Light Infantry, a provincial corps, to show them how to cover themselves, and to teach them, in short, wood-craft."

In contrast, he  believes in the virtues of "light infantry training", as was being introduced for all British regiments at the time, and gives some advice on adapting this to the North American theatre, the nature of which is given in the following passage...

" In bush-ranging, his camping ground may at one time be among rocks overhanging a clear stream, alive with fish; at another among majestic trees on the edge of a prairie richly decked with wild flowers; a third bivouac maybe on a hill-side, commanding a prospect over boundless forests and lakes, frequented only by wild fowl."


Campaigning was likely to involve long marches in difficult terrain.

"For British troops to rival the walking and running feats of Indians, (who, lightly equipped, can march in a day five times the distance the white man accomplishes, and Kafirs, as we know, can accomplish seventy miles in one day,) it would be well if much more attention were paid than there is at present to gymnastic exercises. "

To this end Alexander recommend that sport be encouraged at every opportunity, so that " the men could leap, wrestle, spar, play single-stick, and otherwise harden and make supple their frames". Especially to be encouraged were the " exhilarating games of football and cricket" but even skittles or quoits would help. However, he cautions though that " Moderate, active, and daily exercise is what does good to the frame, not a sudden and violent strain on the .system. We speak from long experience in training."

 Sir Alexander does not refer to the harsh Canadian winter, but it was one more reason that the men had to be fit. Here we see the 43rd Regiment marching by the St Lawrence, to New Bruswick from Canada.

Furthermore, equipment should be adjusted to the conditions. Alexander recommends jettisoning as "much useless leather" as possible including the "large crowned shako" worn at the time, and that all "useless baggage (the bane of Indian armies)" dispensed with.  Boots should be primed with "talin and rosin melted together".

Training should involve as much actual field work as possible

Alexander quotes Colonel James Fitzgibbon, formerly of the 49th, that
" Without much practice in the bush, the men cannot have such confidence in themselves or in one another, and must, through ignorance, greatly expose themselves to the enemy's fire".

To this end, "Preparatory to taking the field, it is highly desirable, in many of our colonies, that the troops should be drilled in the woods, both by companies and in greater numbers."

Duties of an officer

" In the bush, a cheerful demeanour, without the least familiarity, is best; being on the move, has naturally an exhilarating effect, and if an officer is seen contentedly to partake of the very same fare as his men, they will cheerfully go through much rough work."

As well as taking care of his men, ensuring they have good food and lodging, Alexander recommends that an officer should pay careful attention to the individuals under his command.

" The peculiar superiority possessed by each individual would be ascertained, and well known in his company, and when choice men were wanted for a forlorn hope, or for any other special service, the fittest men could at once be selected. Swimmers, for example, where swimmers only could be of service. Men thus grouped together would have the highest confidence in each other; under the influence of which confidence they would be elevated and stimulated to make greater efforts than under other circumstances."

Friday, 29 March 2013

British Army commitments, 1842

In 1842 the United Service Magazine of London published a list of the Distribution and Stations of the British Army (available free as a Google ebook). This gives an intriguing snapshot of British military priorities and resources at the time.

British Isles

One thing that's immediately obvious is the worldwide commitment of the army, with only 52 of the 148 regiments listed based in the British Isles. Given the relatively small size of the army compared to her European rivals, this presumably reflects the absence of a clear threat to the homeland, and confidence in the Royal Navy, the “Senior Service” which received more resources, and prestige.
The home forces included all the Guards units, and the bulk of the cavalry.

A Royal Horse Guard in parade dress outside Windsor castle (New York Library digital archive)
Mainland Britain

1st & 2nd Life Guards (Hyde Park & Windsor)
Royal Horse Guards (Regent's Park)
2nd , 3rd and 6th Dragoon Guards (Nottingham, Birmingham & Glasgow)
1st , 2nd, 4th and 6th Dragoons (Manchester, Exeter, Brighton and Piershill)
8th and 11th Hussars (Hounslow & York)
13th Light Dragoons (Ipswich)
17th Lancers (Leeds)

Grenadier Guards (1st ,2nd & 3rd Battalions) (Windsor, Wellington Barracks, London & Winchester)
Coldstream Guards (1st & 2nd Battalions) (St John's Wood & St George's Barracks, London)
Scots Fusilier Guards (1st & 2nd Battalions) (Portman St., and The Tower, London)

6th , 11th, 15th, 16th, 24th, 32nd, 34th, 53rd, 58th, 60th, 61st, 65th, 66th, 67th, 72nd, & 73rd  Regiments of Foot (Gosport, Weedon, Chester, Portsmouth, Devonport, Leeds, Northampton, Edinburgh, Chatham, Manchester, Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Plymouth, Bolton, Newport respectively)


4th , 5th & 7th Dragoon Guards (Dublin, Dublin & Cahir)
10th Hussars (Ballincollig)
12th Lancers (Dundalk)

8th , 36th, 37th, 45th (& Reserve Battalion), 54th, 56th, 64th, 69th, & 76th Regiments of Foot

Given Britain's clear dominance of the seas, the Army was deployed either where an invader could come by land, or to protect naval ports. In the first category the two dominant commitments were India and Canada. 

The last stand of the 44th (East Essex) on the retreat from Kabul

Twenty nine regiments are based in India, backed up by the massive army of the East India Company. Or rather the three armies of the Presidencies of Bombay, Bengal and Madras. These units comprised mainly local troops with British officers, and were, technically, separate from the British Army as such. Since 1839 the British/ British Indian armies had been locked in the disastrous Afghan War, with in 1842 the massacre on the retreat from Kabul. In total, 4,500 British and Indian soldiers, and 12,000 allied civilians had been killed. In 1845, the British forces would be in action again, this time against the Sikh empire, although this time they emerged (just) victorious.


3rd  Dragoons
9th & 16th Lancers

3rd , 9th, 10th, 13th, 21st, 29th, 31st, 44th, 50th, 62nd Regiments of Foot


14th Light Dragoons

2nd , 22nd, 28th, 40th, 78th, 86th Regiments of Foot


15th Hussars

4th , 25th, 39th, 41st, 57th, 63rd, 84th, & 94th  Regiments of Foot


90th & 95th  Regiments of Foot
Ceylon Rifle Regiment

The Americas

After India, the biggest commitment was Canada. War with the United States was regarded as a distinct possibility in 1842, and referred to several times in articles in the magazine. The previous war had ended only 27 years before and there had been several incidents since. In 1837, insurgents had smuggled arms into Canada from the US, only for Canadian militia to cross the border and burn their ship. As recently as 1839 there had been a dispute over the Maine/ New Brunswick border. Whether the force would have been sufficient is debatable, as in the war against Mexico only 6 years later the United States was able to field 32,000 soldiers and 50,000 militia, although of course Britain could have reinforced from the homeland. Having said that, British contingency plans never depended purely on a static defence of Canada and the Royal Navy would have been deployed from it's bases in the Caribbean, especially Bermuda. Hence the deployments throughout the area.

The Canadian deployment had a much lower proportion of cavalry compared to that in India, presumably related to the terrain.


1st Dragoon Guards
7th Hussars

1st (2nd Battalion), 14th, 23rd, 23rd (Reserve Battalion), 43rd, 68th, 70th, 71st, 71st (Reserve Battalion), 74th, 81st, 83rd, 85th, 89th and 93rd Regiments of Foot

New Brunswick

30th & 52nd Regiments of Foot


Royal Newfoundland Companies

Nova Scotia

82nd  Regiment of Foot
Rifle Brigade (Reserve Battalion) 
Rifle Brigade (2nd Battalion) 


20th  Regiment of Foot

St Vincent

33rd  Regiment of Foot


46th  & 92nd Regiments of Foot

British Guiana

47th  Regiment of Foot (Berbice)
1st West Indian Regiment


59th  Regiment of Foot


60th  Regiment of Foot (2nd Battalion)
2nd West Indian Regiment

The Mediterranean
British interests in the Mediterranean centred on her island bases, with the obvious exception of Gibraltar. As well as being a crucial naval base, this had a land border with a Spain that had already coveted Gibraltar for over a hundred years. For much of the 1830s Spain had been racked with civil war (the Carlist Wars) and as recently as 1842 there had been a coup attempt in Madrid. In the circumstances it is hardly surprising that Gibraltar was strongly garrisoned.

The forces in Corfu, Cephalonia, Zante and the Ionian Islands perhaps require some explaining. These had been Venetian possessions before conquered by France during the Napoleonic Wars, Several rapid changes of ownership followed before they became a British protectorate at the Congress of Vienna. British rule was certainly hugely better than French or Venetian, but after Greek independence in 1830 a movement developed to join the mainland, which they eventually did in 1864. A this time Corfu, especially, was a very useful British naval base in the eastern Mediterranean, especially for British intervention in the short Egyptian/ Ottoman war in 1839-41.


1st (1st Battalion), 5th, 7th, 48th & 79th Regiments of Foot


19th and 88th Regiments of Foot
Rifle Brigade (1st Battalion)
Royal Malta Regiment


38th, 77th and 97th  Regiments of Foot ( 97th Reserve Battalion)


42nd  Regiment of Foot

Ionian islands

42nd  Regiment of Foot (Reserve Battalion)


97th  Regiment of Foot



12th , 35th and 87th Regiments of Foot

Sierra Leone

3rd West Indian Regiment

South Africa (Cape of Good Hope)

27th , 75th, 91st (& Reserve Battalion) Regiments of Foot
Cape Mounted Riflemen (Cape of Good Hope)

St Helena

St Helena Regiment

The Far East

The 18th (Royal Irish) at the Battle of Amoy in China, 1841

The large garrison in China was a result of the Opium war, which had started in 1839, and only ended in 1842. Since the 1750s a massive amount of tea and other goods had been imported to Britain from China, but access to Chinese markets in return was extremely restricted, creating a huge trade imbalance (sound familiar?). The unfortunate British response was to export opium, for which there was a huge Chinese market. Initially this was actually welcomed by the Chinese government (as long as they got their cut via taxes), but the massive increase in opium production and importation led to increased tensions and eventually war, which the British won easily, gaining Hong Kong as a colony. All this, of course, required British troops.

Otherwise, the largest British deployment was in New South Wales. This does not necessarily mean Australia, and in fact probably doesn't. In 1840, New Zealand had controversially become a British territory, initially assigned to New South Wales and in 1841 becoming a separate colony, but possibly that change is not reflected in this list. Certainly annexation had been far from popular with some of the Maori chieftains, though others had argued that too many European settlers had been let in previously, and New Zealand was inevitably going to be  British or French. Anyway, small scale revolts and skirmishes started almost immediately, and resulted in two major British-Maori wars in the 1860s.


17th  Regiment of Foot


18th , 26th, 49th, 55th and 98th Regiments of Foot

New South Wales

51st , 80th, 96th & 99th Regiments of Foot

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Neapolitan Navy in the Nineteenth century

In the 1850s, Italy wasn't the unified state we see today, but a patchwork of smaller countries, with the northern regions still controlled by the Austro-Hungarian empire. The largest of these statelets, comprising the south of the peninsula, and the island of Sicily, was the the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, with it's capital in Naples (why two Sicilies when there is only one?, but there you are). The KTS was ruled by the Bourbon family, although Sicily had repeatedly rebelled and in 1848 had actually been independent for 16 months.

The Navy (Real Marina del Regno delle Due Sicilie)

The flag of the Real Marina del Regno delle Due Sicilie

A look at the map shows that the sea was essential to the Kingdom's trade, especially considering the poor nature of the roads inland and almost complete lack of railways. In fact the KTS possessed the largest merchant fleet in the Mediterranean, and 80% of all merchant tonnage. The first steamship built in the Mediterranean had been built near Naples, a rare technological achievement.

Protecting this huge merchant fleet, and the ties to Sicily, obviously demanded a Navy, which in 1859 stood at...

Sail ships (all built in Castellammare di Stabia)

The Vesuvio

Two ships of the line, of 86 and 80 guns.
The Monarca of 86 guns, later converted to also have steam power
The Vesuvio (80)
4 frigates of around 50 guns each, the Amalia, Regina Isabella, Partenope and Regina
1 corvettes (22) Cristina
1 mortar vessel
5 brigantines of 18 guns


1 frigate of 54 guns, the Borbone
11 steam frigates all of 10 guns, except the Fulminante which had 12  These mainly dated from an upgrading of the Navy during the 1840s and were a mixture of locally built ships from Castellammare and others made in England including the Fulminate (Blackwall) and Guiscardo, Roberto, Ruggiero and Tancredi (Gravesend) and the Veloce (Cowes). Several of these English built ships were actually converted merchant ships, originally purchased by the Scilian rebels.
13 smaller corvettes and gunboats of 4-8 guns including the paddle corvettes Ferdinando II (1833), and Gaeta
and numerous smaller vessels

There were also two battalions of Marines, each of 6 companies, and 14 companies of Marine Artillery.

 The Marines

The Navy was supported by the Arsenal in Naples, which in 1860 employed 1,800 men, whilst ships were produced at the dockyards at Castellammare, with boilers from the foundry at Pietrarsa, at the time the largest industrial complex in Italy.

Initially, the Navy seems to have been quite well regarded, and during the 1820s and 30s various actions were undertaken against the North African states to deter piracy. In 1848, the Navy contributed significantly to the Neapolitan victory. The big test however came during the wars of Italian Unification, and here it failed, miserably.

Part of the problem was discontent amongst the officers and men. In 1856 a magazine exploded in the Monarca, causing many casualties, and in 1857 the steam corvette Carlo III exploded - in both cases sabotage was suspected. In 1860, the Veloce, a ten-gun paddle steamer, deserted and gave fire support to Garibaldi's forces at the Battle of Milazzo. Shortly afterwards the garrison at Messina in Sicily was abandoned after the Navy refused to support the shipment of troops from Naples, many Naval officers only agreeing to an Oath of Allegiance if it did not include fighting against other Italians.

Crucially, the navy did not stop Garibaldi crossing over to the mainland, and this was the beginning of the end for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. After this the time for intervention was past, although the huge Neapolitan fortress at Gaeta could maybe have been saved when under siege in 1861, if the weaker Piedmontese Navy had been driven off, but it was not to be.

After the war some of the best ships were incorporated into the new Italian Navy, but the ships, yards, and manufacturing were increasingly transferred to Piedmont. Economically the Unification was in many ways a disaster for the South, and well as for the Veneto in the north, leading to poverty, and massive migration to the Americas.

Selected ships


Built in Castellammare di Stabia' in 1824. She has quite an eventful career, in 1825 being sent to Tangiers and Tripoli to deter pirates, and in 1843 she was the flag ship of the squadron that carried the Princess Maria Teresa to Rio, to marry the Brazilian Emperor, Dom Pedro II. She had been involved in the war of 1848, shelling Palermo, but despite a refit 1852 in the new dry dock at Castellammare, she was too poor condition to be involved in the events of 1860-61.


Part of the 1840s modernisation program, when launched in 1850 the Monarca was the most powerful warship ever built in Italy, even though she was, anachronistically, entirely powered by sail. In 1858 this was resolved when she returned to the shipyards at Castellammare and four steam boilers were added, though at the expense of reducing her armament to 64 muzzle loaders.

In August 1860, a rather daring plan was hatched by the rebels  to board the Monarca in Castellammare harbour. The Tukery (see above, and below) was to sail from Palermo with, in addition to her crew, two companies of the 2nd battalion of the Sardinan Bersaglieri, who were to board the Monarca at night. Meanwhile, a sympathiser in the harbour, Captain Giovanni Vacca, removed the iron chains holding the ship and positioned her facing out to sea. Unfortunately, it all went horribly wrong. Firstly, the port was on high alert after a false alarm a few days before, and secondly, Vacca should have left well alone, the Monarca was much taller then the Tukery and instead of boarding from the pier the revolutionaries would now have to tie alongside and climb up.

 The assault of the Tukery on the Monarca

Anyway, the leader of the expedition, Poila, tried to bluff his way through, asking permission to tie alongside and at the same time dropping three boats, each of 24 men, on his far side which rowed round towards the Monarca. At this point, the Bourbon crew realised what was afoot, and under the orders of Commander Guglielmo Acton*  opened fire. The three boarding parties pressed home their attack, but the crew of the Monarca had the advantage of the high ground, and were soon joined by soldiers on the pier. The deck of the Tukery was swept by fire and Piola ordered a retreat, but as the Tukery backed away one of the boarding boats was sucked under her paddle wheels and destroyed, the other two having no choice but to surrender.

A bizarre gun fight now developed in the harbour, with the Tukery taking on the Monarca, shore artillery and rifleman on the quayside, but both sides desperate not to hit British and French vessels also in the harbour. The engine of the Tukery was hit and for 20 minutes she was immobilised, though when she drifted towards the foreign vessels the Neapolitans ceased fire. Eventually she managed to get under way and escape.
* Guglielmo Acton was a descendant of an Anglo-Neapolitan family long associated with the Neapolitan navy. He was awarded the Croce di Cavaliere dell’Ordine di San Ferdinando e del Merito for his part in the action. He later joined the Italian Navy and commanded a frigate at the Battle of Lissa.

In September 1860 when Francis II fled to the fortress of Gaeta, the Monarca, now under a new captain,  refused to follow him, and changed sides, in fact taking part in the bombardment of Gaeta. After the Neapolitan surrender she entered the Italian navy, as the largest ship in the fleet.

Veloce / Tukery

As we have seen the Tukery played a major role in the affairs of 1860/61, so it's a little surprising that she was never meant to be a warship at all. She had been ordered in 1848 by the SS Peninsular & Oriental Navigation Company from Thomas & Robert White of Cowes, Isle of Wight, as an ocean going passenger steamer. Howver, she was purchased during construction by the revolutionary government in Sicily. Pressure from Naples led the French to arrest her in Marseilles and turn her over to the Bourbon authorities.

Finding themselves with an unexpected bonus, the Neapolitans armed the newly named Veloce with eight 200 mm guns, changed in 1851 to two smoothbore pieces of 60 pounds, 4 gun-howitzers, and two 12-pounders.

Bewteen 1857 and 1860 the Veloce was busy transporting troops to Sicily, but in July 1860 the captain, Amilcare Anguissola, sailed into Palermo harbour and declared for Garibaldi. His crew were offered posts in the new navy, but 130 men out of 179 elected to return to Naples.

Under her new colours the Veloce was renamed the Tukery (in honour of the Garibaldist Lajos Tüköry) and was even more busy, as we have seen taking part in the battle of Milazzo and transporting men and material. In August she was damaged in a fight with the steamer Borbone, and had to return to Syracuse for repairs, but later that month she was again in action in the raid on the Monarca. This was to be the last action of the Tukery and she was later transferred to the new Italian navy.


The Archimede in Naples harbour

A more typical ship of the fleet was the Archimede, constructed in Castellammare between 1842 and 1845 as a steam powered paddle steamer, with two masts as backup. She was armed with a smoothbore 112 pounder, a 60 pounder, 4 Paixham howitzers and 6x 30 pounders.

Like most of the Neapolitan fleet she was involved in the Sicilian rising in 1848/49, blockading the island and bombarding Taormina, Messina and Catania in April 1849. Together with the Roberto and Carlos III she forced the surrender of Schisò and Taormina later that month.

Her career for the next few years consisted of cruising in the Mediterranean, though in 1860 she rescued the US brig Golden Rule, earning her captain the Congressional Gold order of Merit.

During 1860 the Archimede and the rest of the Neapolitan fleet were involved again in blockading Sicily, in August attacking and capturing 15 boats from the Garibaldian fleet. By September however it was clear which way the wind was blowing, and when Francis II fled to Gaeta the Archimede refused to follow, instead declaring for the Sardinian fleet. In January 1861, she actually transported Sardinian troops to the siege at Gaeta. In March the Archimede was officially transferred to the Italian Navy.

Further reading

A very thorough and well illustrated guide (in Italian) can be found at

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Civil War in Kent, 1643

By July 1643 England was 11 months into an increasingly bitter civil war between the supporters of King Charles I (the Royalists), and Parliament (the Roundheads). In some cases this pitched brother against brother, but as a very rough approximation, the cities favoured Parliament, and the countryside the King. This was the case in Kent, mainly Royalist, but next to the huge Roundhead stronghold of London.

Kent was important for three reasons, as a source of Royalist troops, for communications to Dover and the Continent, but also for the Wealden iron working industry. It's hard to see today, but the Weald, an area of about 500 sq miles in Kent and Sussex, was a major source of iron as it had the ore easily available, and trees to provide charcoal. The whole area was dotted with furnaces, and many of the cannon and cannon balls used in the Civil War came from there. The village of Horsemonden, for example, had a furnace employing over 200 men, supplying cannon to the army and navy (and both sides in the Civil War!).

Of course, all this iron had to be moved around, and to get it to London much was shipped along the river Medway. This trade had been become so important that the navigable length of the river had been increased in the 1630s as far as Yalding, although material still had to be transhipped to get past Aylesford bridge downstream. So far therefore the little village of Yalding had mainly experienced the economic benefits of the war - it was about to experience the war at first hand.

The July Expedition into Kent

In July 1643 Parliament in London sent as expedition into Kent, and their report back can be found online at .

 Richard Browne (abt 1648)

Approximately 4,000 men, mainly from around Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Faversham had assembled at Sevenoaks and to quell the "insurrection" London sent 1,800 troops and two troops of Horse, led by Colonel Richard Browne. Even the offical report admits they were joined by few ("but valiant") Gentlemen of Kent. After a failed negotiation at Sevenoaks, the Royalists retreated towards Tonbridge, where on July 24th they made a stand. As the Roundheads approached they found themselves under sniper fire...

"the Londoneres following them; who when they came within two miles of the Towne, heard Muskets goe off, and the bullets flie about their eares, but saw no enemy, for they had hid themselves in the Woods and Hedges, whereupon the Parliament Forces made severall shot at the Woods and Hedges which frighted them away".

The Royalists now formed up in regular formation in front of the town, near Hilden bridge. After they failed to drive them off by cannon fire ("they discharged a little Drake or two, but to little purpose") the Roundheads under Colonel Browne resorted to musket fire, and although it took a "very hot fight", soon the Royalists broke and fled into Tonbridge, where 200 were captured. The rest fled along the line of the Medway to Yalding, pursed by the Parliamentarian cavalry, "and good execution was done upon them".

At Yalding (Yawling in the text) the surviving Royalists, approximately 600 now, again made a stand. The Roundhead commander, Sir Miles Levesey, surveyed the scene and

"drew such forces of horse and foote as he had together, and planting his Ordnance for battering the Towne, drew neere himselfe with his power. His Ordnance were so planted, that hee might have beate the Towne upon the enemies heads, but being unwilling so to doe, if by treaty he could bring them to accord; hee summoned them, promising they should enjoy the benefit of the Parliaments Declaration, if they would submit and lay downe Armes."

Levesey's artillery set up on Burgess Bank, across the river from Yalding church, and despite his claim to have spared the town, at least a few cannon balls have been found in the Royalist positions. Initially the Royalists refused to surrender, but some slipped away as night fell, and next morning Levesey sent a Master Godfery to negotiate. Outgunned, outclassed and outnumbered, 300 of the Royalists fled and the rest surrendered, .

Participants and forces


An account from the Parliamentarian tax collector in the area, Thomas Weller of Tonbridge, describing his (very personal!) version of the lead up to the battles here can be found at

The Parliamentary expedition consisted of 1,800 men and two troops of horse. The vast majority of the Parliamentarian troops seem to have been Londoners, probably from the London Trained Bands. Trained Bands were militia, technically part time soldiers, but those from London were some of the best troops available in 1643, well equipped and trained by professional soldiers. With the onset of war 6 regiments had been formed, distinguished by their colour of their flags: Red, White, Yellow, Green, Blue and Orange.

Richard Browne was Colonel of the Dragoons of the London Trained Bands, and senior Captain of the Orange regiment. It seems likely therefore that the troops were at least in part from the Orange regiment, and the Horse were dragoons. The year after the events described here Browne was made Serjeant Major General of the Counties of Oxon, Berks, and Bucks and by 1649 he was Sheriff of the City of London. However, he became disillusioned with Cromwell's Protectorate and he was one of those who welcomed back Charles II, eventually resulting in his being awarded a baronet in 1660.

Sir Miles Levesey seems to have been more Kent based. In 1644 he is recorded bringing a regiment of horse from the county to assist the siege of Arundel Castle and in 1648 he won a battle at Kingsdon against the Duke of Buckingham. In 1649 he seems to have been in charge of the forces in Kent, as it was he who was ordered by Parliament to disband most of the military there.


Despite the attempts of Weller, especially, to portray the Royalists as bandits, some at least seem to have stood up well to the London Trained bands, and to have been equipped and trained as a proper army. Levesey captured at Yalding..

 "a good quantity of Muskets, gilt Swords, Pistols, Pikes, and Collivers, enough to arme six hundred men, besides seveteene pieces of Ordnance mounted, and as many dismounted, many barrels of Gunpowder, and foote Colours, he tooke one hundred and fifty good horse, besides those conveyed away, but since disclosed."

There seem to have been no cavalry, or if there were, they didn't hang around to protect the army after Tonbridge. There was also no clear commander, which was probably part of the problem. One of those who took part was Thomas Farnaby, scholar and former solider in the Low Countries. He was captured later and imprisoned in Newgate prison, but released in 1645.

This was more or less the end of military activity in Kent in the Civil War, until the great revolt of 1648, but that's another story.