Wednesday, December 19, 2012
A Britannic Perspective
For the Brittanic Admiral James Somerset-Haughton-Beaverton the last week had been a period of total chaos. He had received instructions from the war office that he was to prevent any fleets from landing troops in or north of the Duchy of Neider. His orders gave him the power to block and or fire on any ships attempting to break the blockade, in other words he was given the power to make war on nations that Brittania was still in a state of peace with.
This situation came about because the Brittanic Parliament was to a man so sure of the danger that a rampant Iberia or Franconia would become not only to Brittania itself but more importantly to their continental allies Rechburg and Hollandaise. Once either or both these Empires landed or moved large bodies of troops anywhere near or in any of these allies territory, then there was no doubt there Brittanic allies would struggle to defeat them. Without continental allies Brittania becomes very isolated and therefore very much weaker, not only in the defence of its own realm but for its colonies. This was because Brittania hired troops from its allies to help to defend its vast colonial Empire and without that source of manpower Brittania would simply lose the ability to defend its colonies as well as maintain its role as the leading maritime trading nation.
Due to the lack of a large regular army the only practical way Brittania had of preventing the ultimate defeat of its allies was to ensure they could not transport invading armies by sea so as to land on their allies’ coast. Brittania had the largest Navy in Europia, it was large enough to stop any one of the two Europian Empires but not both together unless quality of seaman ship was allowed to show through.
It was through the strength of this navy, not only in numbers but quality that Brittania could secure trade routes to its colonies as well as limited any grand naval moves by its enemies.
Naturally if they march overland there was little Brittania could do apart from ensuring the existence of Alliances that were strong enough to contain any threat. Thus the principal strategies employed by the Britannic Government were strong alliances on land and the presence of a strong Britannic Navy at sea.
On the 1st of March Admiral Beaverton was sailing in the Brittanic Channel with a fleet of 17 ships of the line, 8 frigates and 3 Brigs. His orders were as always to protect Brittanic and their allied shipping that used the channel from pirates and harassment from Iberia or Franconia naval ships, but more importantly to present a blockade of the northern Brittanic channel.
He also had secret orders,
“His Majesty desires that if the opportunity presents itself to cause severe damage to the Iberian Fleet, you are to take advantage of that opportunity, this applies whether a state of war exists between Brittania or not”.
Every time he read those attached secret orders he smiled, the Government was prepared to take the chance to eliminate or damage one of the two opposing fleets that could threaten Brittanic interests, even at the expense of diplomatic legalities.
Admiral Beaverton was aware that there was another fleet of 8 ships of the line and 3 Frigates at the exit of the channel, they could reinforce the main fleet or interdict a Danemark Fleet that may have orders to become involved.
Then at as the dawn broke on the fateful day the first news- of the Iberian fleet arrived.
The scouting Frigates had reported back that an Iberian Fleet of 12 ships of the line, 7 Frigates and 2 Brigs was approaching from the south, they were followed by a second fleet of 18 transport ships, escorted by 3 ships of the line and 2 Frigates were hugging the Iberian coastline..
Admiral Beaverton immediately dispatched one of the Brigs to the north to warn the second Britannic fleet of the approaching Iberians, they were to remain in position but beware of any attempt by the Danemark fleet to sail south to reinforce the Iberians.
Meanwhile he ordered his own fleet to form line of battle and he set course for the south and the Iberian Fleet.
Commander of the Iberian battle fleet Admiral Francesco Farnese was struggling to keep his fleet in formation. He had always been aware that to sail through the Britannic channel at this time of the year would mean having to sail into the winds coming down from the north, the constant need for tacking his fleet northwards was beginning to cause the fleet to lose cohesion. He had warned his King that this was the wrong time of the year to attempt to sail large fleets through the channel, but his objections were over-ruled as being far too cautious.
He had been constantly reminded that the Iberian Navy had ship for ship newer vessels than those of the Britannic navy, but his comments that it was the sailors that make a fighting ship not the age of its timbers.
In the end however he had simply been ordered to do as he was instructed, thus he now found himself sailing into the teeth of strong winds blowing down the channel.
Admiral Farnese had received reports from his outlying Frigates that Brittanic Fleets had been sighted, so he knew he was approaching the line in the channel his orders had warned him about.
His instructions had been if he was opposed by the Britannic fleet he was to force his way though with the battle fleet, but to send the Transport fleet into the nearest Franconian port until the battle was over.
So in accordance with his orders the Admiral sent a Brig back to the transport fleet with orders to make for Boulogne harbour; the 3 escorting ships of the line were to join him, the 2 Frigates to remain with the transports.
Admiral Farnese then set about trying to get his fleet into some sort of battle line.
Two hours later Admiral Beaverton was sitting in his stateroom with Captain Engels, his Flag captain and Admiral Noble who commanded 7 ships of the line in a second squadron in his fleet. They had been discussing tactics for the coming battle when they interrupted by the beating of drums, the ship was being brought to battle stations, moments later there was knock on the door, the First Lieutenant stepped in and
“Sir, lookouts report the enemy fleet on the horizon”
“Thank you Jenkins” the Flag captain said.
The three men stood up, Admiral Beaverton offered his hand to Admiral Noble
“Well Charles its seems it’s time for you to rejoin your squadron, may I offer the best of the day and good hunting”
Admiral Noble took the hand, shaking it vigorously
“Damnation to Iberians I say, and indeed to you sir, the very best of luck.”
With that the three men made their way to the deck, Admiral Noble made his way to the side, turned and saluted Admiral Beaverton, he then nimbly made his way down to his gig waiting below.
Then there was a call from the masthead.
“Sail on the Port Quarter, too far to identify yet.”
Admiral Beaverton and his flag captain made their way to the quarterdeck, once there the admiral was offered a telescope. First he looked towards the new sighting, but it was indeed too far away for now, he then turned to look to the Iberian fleet over to his starboard quarter.
The Admiral turned to his Flag captain,
“By god James they are leaving it mighty late to tack.”
The Iberians had been sailing on a nor westerly course that was taking them towards the coast of Britannia only some 3 miles away from their current position.
Another call from the crow’s nest
“Sail on the Port Quarter is the Brig Bounder.”
The Admiral looked to the first lieutenant,
“Order Bounder to close and report.”
The admiral once more studied the Iberian fleet as they were now beginning to change tack which would set them on a course to bring them back towards the mid channel.
The Admiral turned to his Flag Captain,
“Well James it seems the Iberian Admiral wants to close with us”.
The First Lieutenant then noticed the Iberian Admirals pennant on the flag ship; he quickly checked his records and reported to Admiral Beaverton,
“Sir the Iberian Fleet is commanded by Admiral Farnese, he is aboard the 80 gun ship Cartagena”
“Signal the fleet form on me,”
Admiral Beaverton walked over to the starboard side of the quarterdeck, again quickly raising his glass to observe the fleet; the tacking procedures of the Iberian fleet were shoddy to say the least.
“Well James it seems Admiral Farnese has decided to mix it with us, so let’s not disappoint the Admiral”
The first lieutenant had been watching the Brig Bounder as she was deftly tacking her way towards them, he was able to note the signal flags quite easily now, he quickly noted the message down. He walked over the Flag Captain, handing him the written message.
Admiral Beaverton turned to see the Captain reading the transcript.
“Well James what is it?”
“Admiral, the Brig Bounder reports the Iberian transport fleet is putting into Boulogne, she also reports she is being followed by three Iberian ships of the line, all 64’s.”
The Admiral nodded,
“Well those three ships are of no concern to us for now, they are tacking into a head on wind so will be quite slow; so for now let us deal with Admiral Farnese.
James signal Admiral Noble he is to cut through the enemy line at their tacking point, we will head them off and close on the front of their line.”
The Britannic fleet having the wind on their stern meant they were closing rapidly on the enemy fleet.
The Iberian Admiral had been observing the Brittanic fleet with some concern; they had all the advantages, the wind and better sailing formation.
As he looked back over the Cartagena’s stern he was more than a little worried, his fleet had successfully formed line before tacking but lost the cohesion once more when they tacked and now with only 4 ships having set on the new course, the remainder were still in the process of tacking or will be soon, except there was now very little time.
The Britannic fleet was increasing its sail and had now split into two; the leading squadron seemed to be intent on closing on him while the second squadron was heading straight for the spot where his own ships were tacking.
Admiral Farnese turned to his Flag Lieutenant
“Order the ships that have not tacked to do so immediately, then they can reform line” he muttered softly to himself, “if they have time.”
The Cartagena was the first to open fire, it was at long range and quite ineffective, several of the other Iberian ships also fired to little or no effect.
The Britannic Battle lines swept swiftly and silently closer to the Iberian fleet, six ships of Admiral Farnese’s fleet had completed tacking, when the Britannic fleet came with effective range, these ships began to fire a concentrated barrage on the leading Britannic ships. Admiral Beaverton’s flagship “Rascal” an 80 gun ship of the line suffered considerable damage to rigging and sails, the worst hit had been the bowsprit which was all but severed creating havoc on board, The forward mainmast was likewise heavily damaged so the Admiral ordered his Flag Captain to lay alongside the Iberian flagship the Cartagena. In closing on the Cartagena the Rascal took further damage but at least so far none of it fatal to the ship. As the Rascal pulled alongside the Iberian ship it fired its first broadside, all the guns were loaded with double shot thus the damage created below decks on the Cartagena when the broadside was unleashed was utter devastation, the main mast fell to the starboard side just as the Rascal was crashing alongside on the port side.
The following Britannic ship behind the Rascal also saluted the Iberian flagship with a broadside as well, the 64 gun “Beaver” sailed past and fired into the stern of the already shattered Cartagena the two broadsides from Rascal and Beaver had all but destroyed the enemy flagship, Admiral Farnese was laying severely wounded on the quarter deck.
The Beaver also fired its starboard battery at the following Iberian ship as it ran between the two Iberian ships, each successive Britannic ship ran in parallel to its neighbouring Iberian ship in the line and for a short while they all were engaged in a vicious firefight, several either deliberately or because of damage crashed into the side of the enemy ships instigating brutal boarding actions.
Admiral Nobles squadron hit the disorganised Iberian ships that had just finished tacking, none of them were in line and all were exposed to Admiral Nobles squadron as the sailed through disorganised Iberian fleet.
Those Iberian ships in the rear that had finished tacking immediately began to wear away with the wind, realising the futility of trying to form a battle line the best they could do was use the wind and escape, but even this was difficult for all of them as the Britannic ships had full sails and closed rapidly.
On board the Rascal the Britannic boarding parties had swept on board the Cartagena, the melee was brief as most of the Iberian crew were already killed, wounded or stunned by the effects of the severe broadsides. Captain Engels lead the boarding party, he knew what he was looking for and with a small group from his crew they fought their way to the Admirals stateroom. As he boatswain remarked at least there was no need to open doors, there were none left standing? The broadside from the Beaver had collapsed all the internal walls and doors right through the length of the Iberian flagship.
Admiral Beaverton looking over the side of his ship noticed the entire side of the Cartagena was caved in where the doubleshotted broadside had collapsed huge sections of the Iberian flagships hull. The water was pouring into the stricken Iberian vessel. He immediately ordered the First Lieutenant to recall the crew; meanwhile those men still on board the Rascal started cutting the debris that was tying the two ships together. The few remaining crew on the Cartagena were likewise dropping their weapons and fleeing over to the Rascal, knowing full well their own ship was doomed. The fear was now that the sinking Cartagena would take the Rascal with her if they could not achieve separation.
In Admiral’s Farnese stateroom Captain Engels and his men had heard the summons back to the ship, but they continued the search for all or any papers, in the corner of the cabin one of his men found the all crucial pouch, inside they found the weights required to sink it when or if it needed to been thrown overboard, for with the weights inside the pouch were Admiral’s Farnese orders from his King.
Gathering the pouch and all the maps and documents they could they fled back on deck, and then back to their own ship.
Looking over the stern of the rascal Admiral Beaverton looked on the rest of the action with some satisfaction, clearly the Iberian Fleet was taking a considerable pounding, several ships were attempting to escape, a few were still fighting for all they were worth; but the result was now clearly inevitable.
The Rascal did manage to separate from the Cartagena before she went down, taking Admiral Farnese with her, of the 12 Iberian ships of the line engaged 7 were sunk or so badly damaged they surrendered, the remaining 5 escaped along with the frigates.
The Britannic fleet lost 3 ships and 7 ships with severe damage, but as they were only a few miles from the Britannic coast safety was not too far away.
The Rascal suffered the worst damage and would require considerable repair before seeing action again.
The Battle of the Britannic Channel was over, the remaining Iberian ships struggled back to Franconian ports to recover and make urgent repairs.
Back in his stateroom Admiral Beaverton opened the Iberian pouch and began to read the orders the Iberian King had issued to his admiral, he read passages such as
“…therefore Duke Anton Louvois by not making common cause with the Empires of Franconia and Iberia has placed himself and his territories outside the protection of the Papal see, therefore you are instructed to land the Army on the shores of Neider and ensure all measures are taken to return the Duchy to its full responsibilities as part of both the mother church and to the Empires of Franconia and Iberia.”
“… it is hoped you will receive full support from local Franconian units which are based near the border, but whether this support is forth coming or not you will ensure the Iberian Flag flies securely over the Duchy of Neider and Iberia remains in full control.”
Admiral Beaverton looked up from the missive he was reading, looking at Captain Engels he said
“For god sake get a Brig alongside, this need to get back London damn quick”.
The Admiral knew that in his hands he had the documents that could change the entire diplomatic settings in Europia, especially those of Neider.
Only being a few miles from the coast by nightfall the Iberian Orders were in the hands of the Prime Minister and the King, the common phrase of all who read them seemed to be “Good God”.
Two days later, Duke Louvois’s own phrase was less delicate when he read copies of the orders, but his actions were certain, he announced that the Duchy of Neider no longer considered itself part of any alliance or agreements with neither Franconia nor Iberia. Instead it had now signed a defensive alliance with the Brittanic Empire, The Kingdom of Hollandaise and the Herzogtum von Rechburg.