Phormio, the Athenians, and the Origins of the Peloponnesian War (432-427)

Phormio: The Athenians, & the Origins of the Peloponnesian War (432-427)

Phormio, son of Asopius, was born circa 480 BC. A recurring character in Thucydides (c. 460-400), Phormio’s career spanned the rise of the Athenian empire and the Peloponcorniesian Wars (460-445, 432-404). A contemporary of Pericles (495-429), Phormio is known to history primarily for his crushing victories over the Peloponnesians, in the tradition of Themistocles or Cimon, at Naupactuas (modern Lepanto) on the Corinthian Gulf. The relevant background, and Phormio’s involvement in this campaign, are described by Thucydides in Book Two of his History of the Peloponnesian War, and through a collection of fragmentary sources.



Phormio has become a figure of significant historical interest for his role during the first three years of the Great (Second) Peloponnesian War, 431-428, and several scholars have dedicated entire chapters to his exploits.[1] Phormio’s proficiency at maritime warfare, his unconventional tactics, guile, and ability to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, has ensured his legacy in the Western tradition. Phormio’s plaudits from modern historians are many: he has been described as “wily” by Donald Kagan,[2] “an exemplar of Athenian dash and enterprise” and as a commander who “personified the spirit and skill of the Athenian navy,” by H. D. Westlake,[3] and John Hale wrote that Phormio’s “…genius lay in quick improvisation on unexpected themes, and in his conviction that every situation, no matter how discouraging, offered a chance for victory.”[4] Who was this obscure fifth century Athenian?

This post provides the necessary background to contextualize for the modern reader the 5th century struggle between the Athenian empire and the Peloponnesian League, and presents a reconstruction of Phormio’s career, culminating in the battle narrative of his stunning victories in 429.

Athens, Sparta and the Peloponnesian Wars


Bronze statuette of a warrior on horseback, wearing a Corinthian helmet, c. 560-550 BC from Taranto.

“The Greek city-state was a strange little world, very different from the medieval town in western Europe. The latter was quite separate from the countryside: it was self-contained, with political and economic benefit reserved to the privileged townspeople who lived intra muros. The Greek polis on the other hand, while ‘linked to an urban centre, was not identical with it’. The ‘citizens’ were residents of a territory greater than the city itself, which was only one element in the state, though an important one of course, since everyone made use of its market-place or agora, its citadel a place of refuge, and its temple devoted to the divine protector of the polis.[5]

Classical Hellas was as “a pattern of islands, whether real islands in the sea or ‘islands on dry land’. Each of the Greek city-states occupied a limited terrain, with a few cultivated fields, two or three areas of grazing land for horses, enough vines and olive-groves to get by, some bare mountain slopes inhabited by herds of goats and sheep…”[6]

– Fernand Braudel

Berlin Antiquites

Hoplite statue from Dodona, c. 510-500 BC, Berlin Antiquities Collection. Note the Boeotian shield.

In the decades immediately following the Persian Wars (490-479), the Athenians emerged from the Spartan-led pan-Greek alliance as a thalassocracy, or sea power. Under the able guidance of Themistocles, Cimon, and then Pericles, the Athenians came to dominate the Aegean, and large portions of Boeotia and Thrace. This was an inevitable development for Athens, a city that possessed a dedicated domestic production capacity in the form of metals, marble, ceramics, oil, wine, wool, dye, and textiles,[7] and a sophisticated system of public finance, all gravitating around the unique Athenian democracy.

The large, publicly financed, workforce of slaves and government servants in Athens, and its Aegean periphery, meant that it was imperative to perpetually import foodstuffs, principally grain and fish, to survive.[8] Suppressing piracy, and ensuring the regularity of maritime trade, was therefore a priority for the Athenian navy, which acted as an Aegean police force, and maintained good order at sea.[9]


Statue of Zeus or Poseidon, Cape Artemision, Euboea, 460 BC

Themistocles, who destroyed Xerxes’ Phoenician and Egyptian fleet at the Battle of Salamis in 480, cleared the way for Cimon (510-450) to begin expelling the Persians from Thessaly, Thrace and Ionia. Cimon, the son of Miltiades (550-489) who had fought alongside Themistocles and Callimachus at Marathon in 490, launched his aggressive empire-building campaign in 477. The date 477 is significant, as it was at this time that the corruption and excesses of the Spartan general Pausanias caused the first Ionian allies to join Athens in an attempt to break Sparta’s hegemony.[10] Eion fell in 476, and the Athenians gained their first foothold on the Chalcidice peninsula. The war against Persia culminated in the decisive, combined arms, battle of the Eurymedon in 469/6. A major rebellion on Naxos was suppressed in 466, and in 463/2 the Corinthians attacked Megara,the Megarians in turn joining with the Athenians to isolate the Peloponnesians south of the Corinthian isthmus.[11] Cimon, a Spartan sympathizer, was ostracized in 461.


Athenian warship painted on Attic vase c. 520

George Grote considered this opening phase of the Lacedemonian-Athenian competition, 477-450, as a period of rising Athenian hegemony, followed by the transition thereafter to empire: a condition that was ultimately to last until the Athenian navy was defeated by Lysander at the battle of Aegospotami in 405.[12] After the Persian Wars, Sparta was the foremost warrior polis in Hellas, commanding a formidable coalition of Greek allies, including Thebes, Corinth, the islands of Melos and Thera, and later Syracuse.[13] The Spartans were decisively weakened in 464, however,  by an earthquake that ruined the polis, killing tens of thousands, and was immediately followed by a serf rebellion amongst the helots.

The First Peloponnesian War (461-446)


Hoplites from Clazomenae sarcophagus

The Athenians took advantage of Sparta’s weakness to launch the First Peloponnesian War.[14] In 459/8 Myronides smashed the Corinthians when they attempted to expel the Athenians from Megara, but the Spartans recovered their position somewhat by defeating the Athenians at Tanagra in 457. This Peloponnesian victory was overawed, however, by the Athenian conquest of Aegina that year, after a spectacular naval battle in which the Athenians captured 70 triremes.


Map of Helles with battles from the Persian Wars (490-479), from Robert Strassler, ed., The Landmark Thucydides (New York: Free Press, 2008 [originally 1996])

Myronides crushed the Boeotian Confederacy at Oenophyta in 456,[16] and the war was temporarily halted as negotiations took place, followed by the return of Cimon, recalled from ostracism, who arranged a five year truce between Athens and Sparta (c. 451/0).[17] The war against the Boeotian Confederacy continued, however, resulting in the Theban victory over Athens at Coroneia in the spring of 446, but was then concluded by Pericles’ recapture of Euboea in July of that year.[18] The Thirty Years’ Peace between Athens and Sparta followed,[19] with the Delian League then, in little more than a decade, securing possession of every island in the Aegean except Thera and Melos.[20] A symbol of the rising Athenian empire, the Delian League’s overflowing treasury of imperial tribute had, of course, been moved from Delos to Athens around 454.[21]


Battles of the First Peloponnesian War, 460-445

The Delian League was now steadily encroaching on territories controlled by the members of the Peloponnesian League, and the Athenians took appropriate defensive measure.[22] Themistocles, after the Persian sacking of Athens in 479, instituted a defensive rebuilding program during which the city’s walls were repaired and strengthened, and the Piraeus was fortified. In 462 the Athenians began construction on the long walls to unite Athens and the Piraeus into a single fortress,[23] a monumental task completed five years later in 457.[24] In times of crisis – when the Spartans were in Attica – 16,000 men, slightly over half the entire military capacity of Athens, were required to man the metropolis’ walls.[25]

The Athenian polis, and the Delian League, 447-431



The Varvakeion Athena, c. 200-250 AD. A reduction of the 40 foot tall Athena Parthenos by Pheidias that was erected in the Parthenon during 447-438 BC, & modern reconstruction of the ivory and gold statute, from Spivey & Squire, Panorama of the Classical World (2004)

Before Solon’s time, c. 594, and, indeed, with varying degrees of populist reforms since, the citizenry of Athens was composed of essentially a military reserve (“those who provided themselves with arms”), ruled over by a landed aristocracy composed of various tribal elites.[26] The chief offices were those of the archons, representing the ancestral religious and military power of a hereditary state.[27] In 510 the Spartan King Cleomenes overthrew the Athenian tyranny founded by Pisistratus, installing instead a Spartan oligarchy headed by Isagoras. Immediately afterwards, however, the exiled democrat Cleisthenes returned to power and formulated the familiar Athenian constitution of 509/8, reforming the archons into annually elected civic-religious offices with greatly reduced real powers. The ekklesia, the citizen Assembly at the Pnyx, became the new centre of power.[28] This body was composed of all male citizens over the age of twenty, with a quorum of 6,000 required for decisions.[29] The Assembly was physically guarded by 1,000 mercenary Scythian archers, retained at state expense for the purpose of policing.[30] Many of the old factions and plutocratic elites, nevertheless, remained or subsequently reconstituted themselves.[31]



Views of the Acropolis from social media, 2021, the Acropolis viewed from the Pnyx in 1976, & Ruins of the Parthenon in 2014

Such was the situation at the time of the Persian Wars. The prestige of the victorious Athenian generals and statesmen from that period, notably, Miltiades (of the Philaidae clan, and victor of Marathon), Aristides (who organized the Delian League),[32] Themistocles (victor of Salamis), and Cimon (son of Miltiades), was so immense that they entirely dominated state policy. Miltiades, however, after capturing Lemnos, was imprisoned upon returning to Athens as a result of his failure to persecute the conquest of Paros in 489.[33] The appointment of archons was then further reformed in 488/7, into offices appointed by lot,[34] and, to curtail the influence of the general-statesmen, the institution of ostracism was invoked, whereby the Assembly could expel any citizen whose power was believed to be approaching that of the old tyrants.[35] Xanthippus, Pericles’ father, an opponent of Miltiades, was ostracized in 484.[36] Themistocles, meanwhile, was engaged strengthening Athen’s maritime connections, by fortifying the Piraeus and planning for the long walls that were eventually built in the middle of the century, but also alienating the Athenians by his pompous comportment, and was in turn ostracized in 472/1.[37] Aristides arranged the Athenian system of finance, by which 20,000 public servants were retained on state pay (see below).[38] Cimon, after numerous campaigns expanding the Athenian empire, was ostracized in 461, on the eve of the First Peloponnesian War, as we have seen.[39]



The long walls, and Piraeus, Map of Athens.

Just before the outbreak of the First Peloponnesian War (c.460/1), Athenian politics, and, in particular, its finances, was controlled by a faction of 300 elites. This centuries old Council of the Areopagus (the Hill of Ares, on the Acropolis),[40] was composed exclusively of former archons from amongst the nine archon offices: the basileus, or chief archon, responsible for sacrifices and religious rights;[41] the polemarchos who was commander-in-chief of the army,[42] high-magistrate for contract law,[43] and chief judge of the foreigners, metics – the citizens and non-citizens alike who were required to finance the public’s services (leitourgiai); the king archon, who presided over festivals; the eponymous archon, whose name became that of the year, and was responsible for family law; and the six thesmothetai who presided over trials.[44]

Ancient SpartaOutter Keramakos

The Dipylon Gates, Inner Kerameikos, and straight road to the Academy

In 462/1 the populist Ephialtes was able to mobilize the Assembly to restrict the power of the Areopagus, but was later assassinated for his trouble.[45] Pericles, from the patrician, but thoroughly democratic, clan of the Alcmaeonidae – from which Cleisthenes was also a descendant,[46] and thus an opponent of the Laconian sympathizer Cimon, a Philaidaen – succeeded Ephialtes as the champion of Athen’s democratic faction. By taking advantage of the crisis resulting from the First Peloponnesian War, Pericles succeeded at reforming the judiciary and in opening the archons to a broader electorate.[47] But, in 451, he also restricted the citizenry to those whose parents were both Athenians.[48] Cimon, backing the power of the Areopagus, strove to frustrate then thirty-year old Pericles.


Views of the Acropolis. and Parthenon, from Raphael Sealey, A History of the Greek City States, ca. 700-338 B.C. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976)

As it happened, Pericles succeeded in breaking the power of the Areopagus, and as a result their former control over Athen’s finances devolved to the Council of Five Hundred, the boule, which had originally been established by Cleisthenes as a sort of rotating bureaucracy for the Assembly.[49] Composed of 50 citizens from each of ten reformed tribes, based on the Athenian districts (demes), the councillors were chosen by lottery as rendered by the kleroterion, a machine designed to select or discard groups of tribal candidates.[50] Citizens over the age of thirty were allegeable for annual service, but could only hold office in the Council twice during their lifetime, and act as epistates (chair of the prytaneis for 24 hours) but once.[51] Councillors (bouleutes), selected by the lottery, were required to undergo background examinations (dokimasia) by the presiding Council, prior to being sworn in, at which point they could join the Council meetings which were held, during the 5th century, in the Bouleuterion at the Agora.[52]


The Athenian Ecclesia, citizen’s assembly, at the Pnyx

The Council (boule), in turn, was administered by an executive, the prytaneis, of 50 councillors formed from each of the tribal groups, who were always in session and whose terms lasted thirty-five days (ie, 1/10 of the year).[53] Thus, each tribal group acted in the capacity as Assembly presidents for a little over a month. Councillors were paid by the state at the rate of five obols a day, and six obols (one drachm) for a prytaneis.[54]


The Bouleuterion in the Agora, meeting place of the Council of the Five Hundred. The prytaneion, state accommodations for prytaneis was nearby.

The prytaneis was responsible for preparing the Assembly’s agenda (probouleuma), which was done several days in advance of the Assembly’s weekly meetings, so that legislative matters could be voted on (cheirotonia) expeditiously. The prytaneis were also responsible for convening meetings of the full Council when required, and for entertaining foreign dignitaries at the Prytaneum.[55]



The kleroterion lottery, by which means candidates, representing the deme-tribes, were divided into rows of ten, and selected at random for the council and public services.

All magistrates, except the ten strategoi, were selected by the drawing of lots.[56] Athens was thus administered by a galaxy of magistrate colleges, usually numbering ten to reflect the tribal-demes (the latter overseen by demarchs): the ten astynomoi (controllers of the police and public works), the ten agoranomoi (supervisors of the agora who guaranteed exchange values and oversaw retailers), the ten metronomoi (inspectors of weights and measures), the ten epimeletai (port overseers who imported grain, maintained order at the docks, and oversaw wholesale merchants – and were responsible for issuing triremes to the Athenian trierarchs),[57] the nautodikai (magistrates of the Piraeus court),[58] the pentekostologoi (who levied the docking and transhipping fees),[59] the sitonai (civic grain buyers),[60] the sitopolai (grain sellers and their treasurer),[61] the hodopoioi (road surveyors with their slave labour pool), the chief architect, the poletai (public contractors), the praktores (tax collectors), the apodektai (receivers), the episkopoi (tribute collectors),[62] the kolakretai (treasurers of Athens), the Hellenotamiai (treasurers of the empire),[63] and their secretaries (xyngrammateus).[64] In addition, the courts were managed by the heliaia, citizens appointed as judges. Religious festivals, as mentioned above, were controlled by the nine residual archons (plus their secretary).[65]


Stadium at Delphi, 4th century, from Spivey & Squire, Panorama of the Classical World (2004)

Aristotle (384-322), whose Politics (written between 328-325) was informed by the research provided by his school for the Constitution of Athens, stated that the Athenian economy maintained about 20,000 persons at public expense: 6,000 members of the courts, 1,400 magistrates (700 domestic, 700 aboard), 500 members of the Council, 2,500 infantry, 2,000 sailors for 20 guardships, another 2,000 sailors employed to collect the League’s tribute, plus 1,600 archers, 1,200 cavalry, the 1,000 Scythian guards, 500 guards for the Piraeus, and another 50 for the Acropolis.[66]


Life in classical Athens

Thousands of slaves and servants were kept on state play including: councillors, clerks, sacred officials, amourers, shipwrights, secretaries, some doctors, temple attendants, dockworkers, mercenaries, miners, street sweepers, minters, the Scythian police, even the torturers and executioners employed by the dreaded Eleven, jailors,[67] and innumerable other lesser, or more essential, public functions; a myriad of public servants responsible for the city’s welfare. The important point here is to note the variety of services and the complexity of the system of state pay: although the majority of the population of Athens were slaves (perhaps as many as 150,000),[68] struggling in Athen’s various artisanal factories, workshops, and on farms and vineyards, it is significant that the fleet’s triremes were crewed by wage-earning rowers,[69] and that hoplites, and their servants, were maintained at the state’s expense while on campaign (even slaves had to be paid since they purchased their own food).[70]

war01 Warfare in classical Greece

The army was commanded by the strategoi, generals such as Cimon, Pericles, Cleon, Demosthenes, Nicias, and Alcibiades, who were elected directly by the Assembly, with no term limits, from amongst the ten tribes and thus hopefully representing all the demes in Attica.[71] In practice, following the Persian Wars, the strongest strategos came to wield immense influence. However, the interests of these formidable marshals were tempered by the requirement to divulge their accounts at the conclusion of their commands (euthyna), and they could be recalled, or even ostracised for ten years, at will by the Assembly.[72] Echoing Thucydides, John Hale’s described Athens as “in fact less a democracy than a commonwealth governed by the richest citizens.”[73]


For his failure to take Amphipolis in 424, Thucydides the historian was exiled from Athens. He retired to his family estate in Thrace and wrote his History. He died about age 56 in 404 (or 60 in 400), leaving the narrative of the Great Peloponnesian War to be completed by Xenophon.

The Spartan polis, and the Peloponnesian League

Geometric map Peloponnesus

Geographic map of the Peloponnesus

Sparta, through its gradual conquest of Laconia and Messenia, became the largest Hellenic polis during the archaic period,[74] but the Spartan government, in comparison to the Athenian, was a model of simplicity. The Spartans, based on the laws established by Lycurgus, had evolved into a barracks-state: the city was ruled by twin kings, really hereditary high-priests who commanded Sparta’s army,[75] one from the Eurypontid and one from the Agiad family lines, while foreign policy and finance was administered by the five annually elected ephors,[76] a kind of central committee, who in turn summoned the popular gathering of the apella, and, likewise, acted as the executives of the gerousia, or senate, of 28 elders (over the age of 60), in consultation with the two kings.[77] The ephors were responsible for acting as a supreme court, and were tasked with enforcing morality amongst the Spartans. Two of their number also accompanied a Spartan king during campaigns.[78]

Enter Phormio, the Rebellion on Samos, 441

Phormio’s first appearance (chronologically) in Thucydides’ history, interestingly enough, is alongside the historian himself, Thucydides son of Olorus, who, together with Hagnon, another Periclean general, were leading a contingent of 40 ships to reinforce the Samos expedition of 440/439, which was then being executed by Pericles.[79]


2nd century Roman copy of a c. 430 bust of Pericles, c. 1786 drawing by Vincenzo Dolcibene,anonymous drawing of the same, c. 1789-1817, British Museum, Towneley collection

Heavy-handed Athenian intervention by Pericles, in favour of democratic Miletus against oligarchic Samos in the dispute of 441,[80] caused the Samians to openly revolt the following year, being joined in this endeavour by the Byzantines, and envoys were sent to the Peloponnesus to ask the Spartans for aid. On this occasion the Corinthians intervened decisively, by refusing to support the Samos rebellion (citing the right of the league leader to coerce their allies – the same rationale the Corinthians would then employ in their attempt to dissuade the Athenians from intervening in the Epidamnus affair that brought the Corcyraean-Corinthian dispute of 433 to a head),[81] and, without Corinth’s support, Sparta could not coerce Athens.[82]

samos Hera

Sacred way

Ruins of the Heraion, Island of Samos, Sanctuary of Hera, and the Sacred Way running the 6 kms south from ancient Samos.

The Athenians were thus given a free hand in Samos. In 440 Pericles led the expedition with 60 warships and transports to suppress the revolt. 70 ships of the Samian fleet (including 20 transports) were scattered by Pericles’ 44 triremes off the island of Tragia, and the city of Samos was placed under siege. Pericles was distracted by perceived Phoenician intervention, and the Samians took the opportunity to run the Athenian blockade, but were only able to break through for a fortnight before Pericles returned with his fleet, now numbering 60 triremes. With the arrival of Phormio, Thucydides, and the others, Samos, after a siege lasting nine months, was starved out and forced to surrender, and shortly after this the Byzantines likewise submitted.[83]

Phormio’s First Intervention in Acarnania


Achaea & Aetolia

A few years later (Westlake, Busolt, and others, suggest 437, although Kagan and others,[84] believe the date is closer to, or even after, 433/2), after Phormio’s role in the defeat of the Samos rebellion and prior to his involvement in the Potidaean campaign (see below), the Amphilochians and the Acarnanians appealed to Athens to help them recover Amphilochian Argos from the Ambraciots, a Corinthian colony allied to several nearby tribes in western Hellas.[85] The Amphilochians were colonists originally from Argos, and the Acarnanians were a growing colonial polity, leaning in Athens favour, in the volatile frontier region of Aetolia, north of the Gulf of Corinth. The orchards of Aetolia, with its high mountains, and the animal wilds Epirus, were both important sources of pine, fir, and oak, essential commodities for ship-building, as well as the less dense, but more resilient, poplar or willow, material for the hoplite’s distinctive aspis shields.[86] Athenian access to Epirus, through Corcyra, was the draw that pulled Athens into the Epidamnian affair, ultimately leading to the naval showdown with the Corinthians at Sybota in 433, where the Athenians intervened decisively in Corcyra’s favour.[87]


Modern Corfu


Battle of Sybota, 433, from The Landmark Thucydides

Pericles, responding to the Acarnanian request of 437, despatched Phormio with 30 ships. In a naval action near Naupactus, Phormio’s fleet of 30, deployed into five lines, defeated a grand Ambraciot fleet of 50, by forcing them to break up their formation during a chase, as recounted by Polyaenus.[88]

Phormio then deployed his army ashore and proceeded to make short work of the Ambraciots, enslaving their women and children, capturing Chalcis by stratagem, and recovering Amphilochian Argos. Phormio made off with a great deal of Chalcidian plunder.[89] The Acarnanians were so pleased with Phormio’s conquests that they formalized an alliance with Athens,[90] demonstrating the real political importance of the campaign – a component of Athen’s increasing influence in north western Greece and Italy: Kagan points to the treaties of Rhegium, Leontini, Phormio’s alliance, Diotimus’ expedition to Naples, and then the treaty with Corcyra of 433, as other examples.[91] When Phormio returned to Athens he was seasoned and wealthy, if not rich, still in his prime, with a reputation for guile, toughness, and hard training. He was also a family man with a son. Could there be greater triumphs still?

The Potidaean Campaign, 433/2


The forested highlands of north-east Hellas, Thessaly, Thrace and Macedonia, were important sources not only of timber and precious metals, but also alum, an essential ingredient in dye for Athenian textiles.[92] Potidaea, although originally a Corinthian colony, was at this time a member of the Delian League, and thus beholden to pay tribute to Athens.[93] A small polis (Delian League tribute assessed at 6 talents), but geographically significant port, Potidaea like Corinth, Byzantium, and, in later ages, Gibraltar or Singapore – one of the ‘the keys that lock up the world’ in Admiral Sir John Fisher’s phrase – was centred on a geostrategic bottleneck from whence tolls could be collected,[94] and much of the surrounding waterborne trade and maritime communications controlled.


The Chalcidice Peninsula, showing Potidaea and Pallene, where Phormio led siege operations in 432 BC.

The Potidaeans were known to be gravitating towards Corinth, perhaps because the Athenians were gradually increasing the tribute assessment on the Pallene peninsula and in neighbouring Bottice.[95] Kagan suggests the rationale for this tax increase had to do with the ongoing operations of the Athenians in Macedonia.[96] At any rate, over the winter of 433 the Athenians sent Potidaea an ultimatum, requiring them to dismantle some of their fortifications, provide hostages, and expel the Corinthian magistrates from their city.[97] The Potidaeans instead sent envoys to Corinth, who proceeded to inform the Spartans. Sparta guaranteed Potidaea’s independence, should the Athenians attempt to use military force to secure the tribute they were due that spring, thus establishing a showdown between the two blocs.[98]


The situation in Chalcidice was a significant one, as the Athenians had already deployed there an expedition of 30 ships, with 1,000 hoplites, commanded by five generals of whom the leader was Archestratus.[99] Kagan argues that Archestratus did not depart until April 432, at which time his mission had expanded to include the conquest of the Potidaeans.[100] Archestratus’ mission certainly involved the coercion of Perdiccas, the King of Macedonia, whose competitors for the Macedonian crown the Athenians in fact controlled.[101] Seeing an opportunity to aggravate the Athenians, Perdiccas encouraged the Chalcidians and Bottiaeans to join the Potidaean rebellion. This they did, establishing a regional federation with their capital at Olynthus, only seven miles away from Potidaea.[102] Perdiccas, meanwhile, despatched messengers to engage his diplomats at Sparta and enlist their aid against the Athenians.[103]



 Potidea today, with canal & The seawall of Emperor Justinian

The Corinthians sent 1,600 hoplites to support the Potidaean federation, and presently the Athenians despatched Callias, in 40 ships with 2,000 hoplites, to reduce the region and return it to Athenian control.[104] Callias joined up with Archestratus, thus creating a combined expedition of 70 ships and 3,000 hoplites.[105] This total force must have numbered at almost 15,000 men (200 crew in each trireme, plus the 3,000 hoplites and their transports – whose true number would have been much higher when all the attendants, slaves and armourers were counted: see below). This expeditionary force was thus sufficient to isolate the Potidaeans from the Bottiaean side of the Chalcidice peninsula, although not yet enough to overcome them so long as they could access the Pallene.

The timing of these operations is worth noting: in the Aegean Sea the prevailing winds are north to south from May to September, but south to north from October to April,[106] and it is likely the Spartans held their war conference in August or November 432,[107] after the summer in which Pericles issued the Megarian Decree, restricting Megarian products from the Athenian market.[108]

Theater 2


Ruins of the theatre at Sparta, & the ancient agora

Phormio, known by his nickname melampygous for his tanned backside,[109] now enters the scene. He must have been nearing, if not over, 50 years of age in July 432, when he was granted command of reinforcements sent from Athens to persecute the amphibious expedition led by Callias who was then conducting the siege of Potidaea.[110] Diodorus says Phormio was sent to succeed Callias, thus assuming overall command of the operation, and stressing the close connection between Phormio and Pericles’ faction.[111]

Phormio’s orders were to deploy reinforcement to the Pallene isthmus, and thus completely isolate Potidaea. Phormio landed 1,600 hoplites on Pallene and established his base at Aphytis, setting out afterwards to attack Potidaea proper.[112] Demonstrating his experience at siege operations, Phormio had a wall built to cut off Potidaea, while the fleet blockaded the city from the Thermaic and Toronaic Gulfs.[113] The Corinthian commander in Potidaea, Aristeus, could see that defeat was only a matter of time, and so slipped out of Potidaea in a single ship hoping to continue operations from the mainland. The Corinthians and Megarians were soon attempting to induce the Spartans to declare war over the situation at Potidaea.[114]


Alliances and theatres of the Second Peloponnesian War

Phormio, with Potidaea surrounded but not yet secured, spent the rest of the campaign raiding the countryside, later capturing some towns belonging to the Chalcidians and Bottiaeans.[115] At this stage of the Chalcidian campaign (432/1) the Athenians were sustaining operations involving 4,600 hoplites and certainly more than 70 ships: a substantial amphibious expedition, although smaller than the Sicilian expedition of 415-413, which involved more than 200 triremes and over 10,000 soldiers (it is worth bearing in mind that Homer named 46 captains for the 1,186 ships of the Trojan expedition,[116] perhaps 83,000 men at a conservative 70 crew per ship, and that the hoplite force of 38,700 that defeated the Persians at Plataea in 479 must have required at least that number over again in helots and slaves to carry the armour and shields).[117] Each Athenian hoplite, when on campaign, was allowed two drachms per day to cover ration expenses for themselves and their servants.[118]

It is worth examining this question of manpower and finance in some detail, as the manpower allocation of the Athenian military provides some insight into Pericles’ maritime strategy, and indeed the future of Phormio’s career, as we shall see.

Athenian & Spartan Military Capacity


Colossal Zeus statue by Phidias, as it would have looked at the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, c. 435, from Nigel Spivey & Michael Squire, eds., Panorama of the Classical World (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2004).

The Athenian deployment during the Potidaean campaign of 433 – 430, as we have seen, involved up to 4,600 hoplites and at least 70 triremes, with 70 triremes representing perhaps a quarter of the total Athenian trireme force capacity of 300.[119] There were also 1,200 cavalry (the knights, commanded by hipparchs) and 1,600 archers.[120] This force was supported by at least 13,000 sailors (at 170 rowers per trireme crew of 200, including marines, archers and officers), making for an expeditionary force of perhaps 18,000 men, not counting transports, armourers, slaves (the hypaspistai who carried the hoplites’ weapons, armour and supplies),[121] and other logistical elements. Transport ship cargo capacities ranged anywhere between 50 to 140 tons, a ship at the lower end being capable of carrying 400 amphora, ships at the higher end capable of carrying as many as 3,000-4,000.[122]


Zeus Ceraunaeus, from the Sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona, 470-460 BC

Assuming every hoplite had at least one servant (or slave), this brings the minimum manpower of the expedition to 22,200 – a formidable expense, approximately valued at 23,200 drachm per day (9,200 drachm at two drachm per day for each hoplite-servant pair, plus another 14,000 drachm per day to maintain 70 triremes). The expedition, therefore, must have cost nearly 116 talents, about 70,000 decadrachm, every month.

Full scale operations (and especially naval operations), however, only took place for about two-thirds of the year: the winter was usually spent conducting sieges. A reasonable estimate for the Potidaean campaign, therefore is about 560 talents for eight months of naval operations, and another 552 talents to support the land force for a year, or 1,112 talents all told.


Various drachma from the eastern mediterranean 600-300 BC, from the British Museum’s collection, and the Berlin State Museum. Towards the end of the 5th century, a gallon of olive oil cost about three drachm, a cloak of wool cost anywhere from five to twenty drachm, and a pair of shoes might cost between six to eight drachm, from Strassler, ed., The Landmark Thucydides, Appendix J (Thomas R. Martin), p. 622. Soldiers (and servants) were paid from three obols to one drachma a day to cover their expenses.


The Athenian empire’s mid-5th century punitive expeditions were indeed both intricate and expensive. A rough way to calculate the cost of a year of the war for Athens is to figure about 1,000 talents for the defence of the city, including all other other government expenses (about half of the total budget), plus at least another 1,000 talents for each significant maritime operation underway. Pericles, in fact, made it policy to set aside a reserve of 1,000 talents, and 100 triremes, to cover precisely such eventualities.[123] The siege of Samos, 441/0 had cost 1,400 talents of silver over nine months (155 talents per month, 93,000 decadrachm, comparable to the 116 talents or about 70,000 decadrachm that the Potidaean campaign must have cost every month). The total costs associated with building the Parthenon have been estimated at between 470 talents to as many as 1,200-1,300 talents,[124] indicating the relative cost of a years’ worth of an any punitive maritime expedition. The construction cost of a trireme was one talent of silver (6,000 drachm), while it cost another talent to pay a crew of 200 for one month.[125]


Athenian treasury at Delphi, built on the Sacred Way after the Battle of Marathon c. 490, to house Athenian offerings to the Pythian oracle. Not to be confused with the treasury of the Delian League, located first at Delos and then on the Acropolis. From Spivey & Squire, Panorama of the Classical World (2004)

Keeping 35 triremes in commission cost about 420 talents for a year,[126] comparable to the contributions of the Delian League in 454 BC (490-500 talents). Large operations, involving perhaps 150 triremes, and numerous other transports and communications craft, could therefore cost as much 1,700 talents for a year’s worth of operations, necessitating significant state borrowing, on top of which it was necessary to pay, or support, the thousands of slaves and servants owned or retained by the state.


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Fragment of Athenian Tribute List from 440/39, from Strassler, ed., The Landmark Thucydides, & marble block describing financial accounts issued by the Athenian Treasury, 415/4 BC, Lord Elgin collection. Chief Athenian allies and colonies included Chios, Lesbos, Corcyra, Plataea, Naupactus, the Zacythians, the Acarnanians, Rhegium, Leontini, and the Thessalians.[15]

In 431, Athenian state expenses accounted for perhaps 885-900 talents, to which must be added the cost of the Potidaean campaign, 1,112 talents, for very nearly 2,000 talents total expenses. In fact, the Athenians were spending even more than this at the outset of the war, as they borrowed 1,370 talents in 431 from their sacred treasuries,[127] suggesting the total state expenses for that year was perhaps 3,000 talents: 600 talents in tribute, 400 talents in state revenue (recycled back to the public through pay), another 1,100 for Potidaea, and then 1,370 talents borrowed from the sanctuaries.[128]


The trireme ship sheds at the Piraeus, and the modern Olympias in its shed, from Strassler, ed., The Landmark Xenophon (2009).

Under peacetime circumstances, during the second half of the 5th century BC, the Athenian empire generated approximately 1,000 talents per annum (about 600,000 decadrachm). In 431, approximately 400 talents were generated in Attica through exports (pottery, wood, wine, iron, bronze, wool and textiles, plus financial and legal services), and Attic taxes paid by non-citizens and foreign merchants, duties (ateleia), court fess, transport fees,[129] plus anchorage and docking fees (the pentekoste, or 1/50th).[130] The rest, 600 talents, came in the form of the imperial tribute,[131] ostensibly to maintain the navy – but the surplus, plus the revenue from the silver mining of the Laurium veins (worked by between 10,000 to as many as 20,000 slaves – at the higher end producing close to 1,000 talents per annum, to make up shortfalls),[132] was piled into the Athenian treasuries, at various sacred oracles.[133]

persian empire

The Persian Empire

For comparative purposes, in terms of raw silver revenue, no Greek state could match the annual tribute of the Persian Empire: 14,560 Euboean talents at the time of Darius, according to Herodotus.[134] Egypt’s tribute alone accounted to 700 talents, nearly the revenue of the entire Delian League, in addition to producing 120,000 bushels of grain for the Persians, an invaluable resource that Athens attempted to annex on several occasions during the 5th century.[135]


Artifacts in the Piraeus museum

During the Thirty Years’ Peace the kingly sum of 9,700 talents (5.8 million decadrachm), had been amassed in the Athenian treasuries, of which 6,700 remained in the spring of 431 (3,000 talents had been spent improving the Acropolis and on the Potidaean campaign).[136] To finance military operations between 433 and 426, the Athenians borrowed 4,800 talents from their treasuries.[137] It can be seen, then, that the Athenians were carrying on the war at a loss, but had not yet exhausted their silver reserves after six years of incessant operations.


The 5th century BC Varna shipwreck from the Bulgarian Black Sea coast

Το ναυάγιο της Περιστέρας μετά τους καθαρισμούς και την απομάκρυνση των φερτών αντικειμένων.

The late 5th century BC Alonissos shipwreck, carrying at least 4,000 amphora, primarily wine, most likely had a total cargo capacity of 140-150 tons.


Amphora detailed and recovered from the wreck, and location of Alonissos.



Example sizes of ancient shipwrecks, from From Alain Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy (Princeton University Press, 2019), p. 87. The increasing size of bulk transports lowered the cost, with Athens exporting luxury and consumer goods en masse, outstripping the Corinthian trade.

The Athenian system of finance had evolved in tandem with the conduct and sustainment of these maritime operations, and – this is the key point – assuming operations were conducted biennially, or that there were sustained periods of peace or truces every six to eight years to allow the state coffers to refill, the war could in fact be sustained nearly indefinitely. On the other hand, the forthcoming loss of estate revenue to the Peloponnesian’s desolation of Attica would certainly strain Athenian finances, as would the ravishes of the plague during 430/29 and 427. What couldn’t be withdrawn from the state treasury would need to be borrowed, with interest, from the Attic religious sanctuaries, the hoards of treasure captured from the Persians and Peloponnesians, or even, in small quantities, from Athen’s domestic banking establishment (the latter estimated at 500 talents, plus another 40 in gold attached to the statue of Athena in the Parthenon).[138]


The Agora in the 5th century.



Ruins of Thissio, the Temple of Hephaistos overlooking the Agora

To summarize this rather arcane arithmetic: Athens could continue to function, and accumulate silver, while conducting minor seasonal expeditions, but would have to borrow annually from its limited reserves to finance the major operations required for the war against Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes. Nevertheless, so long as Athen’s artisanal exports and seaborne trade kept the League’s coffers filled with silver to pay troops and seamen, then the vital imports of staples and raw materials would continue to flow into the Piraeus, the location of the emporiom and a thriving urbanate in its own right. Charcoal from Delos,[139] timber from Euboea,[140] textiles manufactured in the Aegean, and fish and grain imported from producers around the Black Sea, in Sicily, Italy, and in Egypt, kept the city alive.[141] Athens was of course the largest single marketplace in the 5th century Mediterranean economy,[142] outstripping Syracuse, Carthage, Phaselis, and having already absorbed both Miletos on the Anatolian coast, and Samos in Ionia.


Attica and its environs, from The Histories by Herodotus, translated by Aubrey de Selincourt (London: Penguin Books, 2003 [1954])


Attica, Boeotia, Argolid, and the Corinthian Isthmus, showing Euboea, source of ship timber, and the silver mines at Laurium, from Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War (2020).

Indeed, as Peter Green has argued, the relative defensiveness of Pericles’ strategy, following the First Peloponnesian War, was the result of structural weaknesses in the Athenian economy, in particular, relating to the grain famine of 445 and the inability to secure grain supplies, first from Egypt (approximately 463-457),[143] and then under Cimon’s final command against Cyprus (451-450),[144] which meant importing from the Black Sea, Sicily and Italy at considerable expense.[145] Pericles’ democratic faction was constantly seeking alliances in Italy and Sicily from where grain could be imported,[146] and Pericles despatched colonists to Italy and Thrace to shore up Athen’s grain and timber supplies.[147] So long as the silver mines at Laurium remained active, however, the Athenians could continue to afford their seapower, and thus import grain to the polis.[148] These mines had paid for Themistocles’ fleet in 483/2, and, as Alcibiades recognized in 415, could be raided if the Spartans occupied the fortress at Decelea, thus interrupting the mining operations and stretching the Athenian economy to the breaking point.[149] In fact, everything hinged on the Laurium deposits, without which the intricate mechanisms of the Athenian empire would crumble one by one. The Spartans, until 413, ignored the critical fortress of Decelea for reasons relating back to the outstanding service of the Decelean Sophanes, who had fought heroically against the army of Mardonius at the battle of Plataea (479).[150]


Ruins of the Laurium silver mines, Attica

So much for the strategic implications of Athenian finance. In terms of manpower, the male adult citizen population of Athens proper has been estimated at between 30,000 and 40,000 during the 5th and 4th centuries,[151] with Xenophon (430-354), in the Memorabilia, counting some 10,000 houses in the city during his time.[152] The Theatre of Dionysus, after its expansion in the 4th century whence it became the seat of the Assembly, could seat 16,000 people.[153] Indeed, 18,000 or 20,000 men would have represented between 7% and 8% of Attica’s total pre-plague population of 250,000, of whom 150,000 were slaves,[154] and 20,000 foreigners (metics).[155] A lower estimate puts the total population at 150,000 – 170,000, in which case an expeditionary force of 18,000 represented 10.6% of the population, while a higher estimate puts Attica at 315,000 (5.7%).[156] It can be seen, therefore, that mounting expeditionary operations was a complicated and expensive logistical and military undertaking. Athens’ total hoplite capacity was 12,000-13,000, that is, citizens between the age of 18 and 60 trained and ready for deployment; although a further 16,000-17,000 men could be mobilized on short notice to defend the cities’ fortifications during the summer month when the Peloponnesians were actually raiding Attica.[157]

Theatre of Dionysus

The Theatre of Dionysus


Theatre of Dionysus as it would have appeared in the 5th century, from The Greek Plays, eds. Mary Lefkowitz & James Romm (New York: Modern Library, 2017)

In short, during wartime, especially when the Athenians were outfitting triremes and conducting expeditionary operations, or when the Peloponnesians were attacking Attica, nearly the entire male citizenry (and a considerable number of metics, slaves and servants) were mobilized for war. The Peloponnesian army, in contrast, was vast; when fully mobilized numbering anywhere from 90,000 to 100,000 men, although it was never deployed as such all at once.


Young Spartans exercising, by Degas, illustration for Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus, c. 1860

ancient sparta2

Map of ancient Sparta

If they were outnumbered on land, however, in their political-economic system of finance and seapower, the Athenians were far in advance of the Spartans: the Peloponnesian League, indeed, had no system of finance to speak of.[158] Lycurgus had created 39,000 fields to organize archaic Sparta,[159] but, as a result of the lengthy training process for Spartan hoplites, Sparta’s frontline military capacity was strictly limited. The elite spartiates, warriors between the age of 20 and 45, numbered 8,000 in 480,[160] but their numbers had fallen, especially after the great earthquake of 464, and by 418 there were no more than 2,500 remaining.[161] The Spartans also had their helots, like the Cretan Perioeci, serfs, who farmed for the Spartans and accompanied them on campaign as armour carriers. There were between five and ten helots for every Spartan citizen, making the risk of helot rebellion a constant concern for Spartan strategy.[162]

Delian League


The Delian League in 445, from Paul Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020), & Map of Greece showing the Peloponnesian League and the Delian League.

Peloponessian league

The Peloponnesian League, from Paul Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020) & The Landmark Thucydides

As the war progressed, and Sparta’s casualties increased, it became policy to liberate helots willing to serve as soldiers – the neodamodeis. The numbers in this middle-class increased significantly during the course of the war, and by the beginning of the 4th century, as Aristotle observed, the Spartan polis could mobilize as many as 30,000 hoplites and 1,500 cavalry.[163] In this sense, it can be seen that Spartan society was ultimately transformed into a kind of feudalism during the course of the 5th century. In terms of seapower, of course, the Athenians were unmatched: in 431 the Peloponnesian League possessed no more than 100 triremes, mainly Corinthian. The Spartans presently circulated orders for their fleet strength to be built up to 500 through contributions in kind or in credit from their allies, although this construction program would require many years, and longer still to acquire the requisite skill to match the Athenians.[164]

Athens, Corinth, Thebes and Sparta


Ruins of Ancient Corinth, the Lechaion road

As Francis Cornford has observed, the Second Peloponnesian War was less an inevitable struggle between two power blocs than, “a struggle between the business interests of Corinth and Athens” for control of commerce and oceanic trade in western and northern Greece.[165] Corinth’s relative maritime-economic power had been in decline vis-à-vis the expansion of Athen’s as a maritime power,[166] especially since the conclusion of the Persian Wars. During the Archaic period, when cargo ships were smaller and long voyages perilous, cargos were hauled across the Corinthian isthmus and thus between the port of Kenchreai, on the Saronic Gulf, and the port of Lechaion, on the Gulf of Corinth.[167]

templs of isis2


The partially submerged ruins of the temple of Isis at the port of Kenchreai, on the Saronic Gulf, and the ruins of the Lechaion port on the Gulf of Corinth

This transport corridor was vital for Corinthian and Megarian production.[168] The tracked diolkos crossing, capable of moving both cargo vessels and warships, had been built at the beginning of the 6th century by the Corinthian tyrant Periander.[169] Corinth, as Raphael Sealey observed, “was well placed for control of communications, and during much of the Archaic period pottery made in Corinth was exported more widely than that of any other Greek city.”[170]



The Corinthian diolkos, cargo and warship track crossing of the Corinthian isthmus & CGI depiction of an empty cargo vessel being hauled along the tracks.

By the 5th century, however, Athenian maritime trade around the Peloponnesus began to eclipse the transport value of the diolkos crossing, particularly in terms of grain and amphora exports.[171] Corinth, known for its high quality wool products, was being directly challenged by Athenian wool and textile production: the Athenians operated a quasi-industrial system, utilizing the Delian league itself as processing capacity for enormous quantities of textiles,[172] and as the source of strategic materials including everything from wool, timber, charcoal, dyes, to the ochre from Keos used for painting the triremes.[173] Foreigners (metics), in Athens, were thus highly regarded for their philosophical, architectural, industrial, mercantile, and financial, banking (trapezitai) prowess: Cephalus of Syracuse, the host of Plato’s Republic, was an arms manufacturer in possession of 120 slaves; the largest fish salting business in Athens was owned by the metic Chaerephilus; Hippodamus of Miletus was the architect of the Piraeus, and Miletus was likewise the polis of origin of Pericles mistress, Aspasia.[174] Furthermore, Athens was gradually cornering the market for slaves: the primary slave trade ran through Delos, Chios, Samos, Byzantium and Cyprus, with two in Attica itself, at Sunium – to supply the Laurium mines – and the other in the Athenian Agora (individual slaves sold for between two and six minas, that is, 200-600 drachm – Nicias, the famous general, owned 1,000 slaves, while someone of more bourgeoisie status might own 50).[175]




Photos of the Kyrenia ship reconstruction, a 4th century BC merchant ship capable of carrying about 50 tons (400 amphora) and the original wreck in its museum on Cyprus

Kagan describes a historiography that is critical of Pericles’ maritime strategy, considered too defensive given the considerable cost of the war, as outlined above.[176] Pericles was without doubt a defensive-minded leader, a careful strategist rather than thrusting commander, such as Cimon had been, but he was hardly implementing anything new. Rather, Pericles’ strategy was founded on the traditional Athenian maritime principles fostered by Themistocles. Furthermore, at the outbreak of the war, it was not yet clear what the Spartans would do, nor had the shape of the conflict emerged – the Theban advance against Plataea being a case in point. Pericles, who had fought against the Spartans at Tanagra (457) during the First Peloponnesian War, understood that Athens could not directly confront the Spartans, and thus had no intention of giving them the opportunity they desired to fight a pitched land battle on their terms.

Attica and Boeotiacorinth argos

The Thebes-Megera-Corinth corridor.

Indeed, despite Athens’ rising industrial, financial, and maritime power, so long as Corinth supported Sparta, and Thebes honoured the Peloponnesian alliance, the League possessed enough military power to challenge the Athenians, if not topple them. Corinth’s opposition to Athenian expansion, in particular, was guaranteed, given Pericles’ colonial expansion into Aetolia and Epirus in the north west, Chalcidice in the north east, and his effort to crush Corinth’s partner on the isthmus, Megara.

The Epidamnus and Corcyra incidents, 433 & the Megarian decree, 432

Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum on Corfu/Corcyra



Flashpoints at the opening of the Peloponnesian War, locations of Epirus and Corcrya.

Pericles was content to employ Athen’s significant military-economic influence to gradually strangle the Peloponnesian allies, first, by supporting Corcrya against Corinth during the Epidamnus affair, and then by restricting trade with Megara (excluding them from the markets and harbours of the Athenian empire),[177] and, most directly, by deploying an expeditionary force to Potidaea.[178] It can been seen then that geopolitical relations between the Peloponnesians and the Delians were declining decisively during the period 433-431. Athens had reached the limit of its expansion in the Aegean and Ionia, the only remaining areas of expansion being in the west, in Sicily, Italy, Gaul and Spain, or to the north, in Thessaly, Thrace and Macedonia. It was over colonial influence in these distant, resource rich, regions that Athenian expansion collided with Corinthian and Theban interests, and it was these polis that were ultimately responsible for engaging the Lacedemonians against Athens.


Partial gold wreath, crown for Macedonian king, late 4th century, possibly Philip II or III. Spivey & Squire, Panorama of the Classical World, 2004.

Indeed, the Athenians were still conducting operations against Perdiccas in Macedonia during 432/1, while the Potidaean campaign was underway. Perdiccas was presently brought onside through Athenian diplomacy, and then joined forces with Phormio.[179] These operations, as we have seen, were already absorbing at least a third of the total Athenian fleet, and another 100 triremes were soon activated for operations around the Peloponnese.[180]


Greco-Roman bust of Socrates, who fought together with Alcibiades under Phormio’s command during the Potidaean siege, c. 432/1

The expeditionary commanders themselves were often personally responsible for keeping logistics flowing, including paying out of their own funds, an exigency that veritably bankrupted Phormio during the Potidaean campaign.[181] Indeed, from the Symposium we learn of the great difficulty of the siege: Plato has Alcibiades vividly describe the biting cold over the winter of 432/1, and the privations caused by the logistical shortages that reduced morale, so effecting Alcibiades, but apparently not the transcendent Socrates son of Sophroniscus.[182] Westlake is critical of this phase of Phormio’s career, noting that he was recalled and superseded by former co-commander Hagnon, with whom Phormio had been involved suppressing the Samos rebellion in 441. Hagnon, however, had only to finalize the siege and conduct mopping up operations, and it still required until 430/29 before the city fell.[183] Phormio, for his part, had broken the bank provisioning the Potidaea siege, and with Pericles’ faction temporarily out of power (see below), he could not expect sympathy from the Council’s review (euthyna) of his role in the campaign.[184]


Thebes launched an assault on the small but historically significant polis of Plataea in March 431

When the affairs at Corcyra, Potidaea, and Megara were collectively raised with the Spartan assembly, late in 433/2,[185] the conclusion of the majority was that the Athenians, by their actions, had broken the Thirty Years’ Peace (after only 14 years), and so the Spartans prepared for war.[186] In the event, the Theban attack on Plataea in March 431 forced the issue, with Thebe’s ineptitude necessitating Spartan intervention.[187]


Key Athenian fortresses on the Attic borders of Megara and Boeotia

In the summer of 431, therefore, Spartan King Archidamus led two-thirds of the Peloponnesian army, perhaps 60,000 men all told – hoplites, light troops, cavalry, and servants – into Attica (the other third was kept in Laconia to counter Athenian coastal raids).[188] Archidamus proceeded to besiege the Attic-Boeotia frontier fort of Oenoe, one link in a chain of forts that protected the borders of Attica.[189]


Sanctuary of Asclpeius at Epidaurus. Epidaurus was raided in 430 by an amphibious expedition led by Pericles.

While the Peloponnesians were laying siege to Oenoe, Pericles’ faction (Phormio, Hagnon, Socrates son of Antigenes, Proteas son of Epicles, Callias, Xenophon son of Euripedes, Cleopompus, Carcinus, Eucrates, and Theopompus),[190] put into place their expected maritime strategy. Carcinus, Proteas, and Socrates set out with 100 ships (plus 50 triremes from Corcyra and handfuls from other members of the League),[191] carrying 1,000 hoplites and 400 archers, to raid Laconia, Elis, and the Corinthians in Acarnania, where they captured Sollium and Cephallenia.[192] This opening raid was a dry-run for the larger expedition Pericles personally led to Epidaurus the following year. Simultaneously, a fleet of 30 triremes under Theopompus was despatched to Opuntian Locris, from which the Peloponnesians could potentially interdict Athenian trade with Euboea. Theopompus captured Thronium and defeated a Locrian army at Alope.[193]


Theopompus, with 30 triremes, raided eastern Locris (highlighted in yellow) in the summer of 431

Having failed to capture Oenoe, Archidamus circumvented the fort and marched into Attica to ravage Acharnae (a particularly wealthy Athenian deme), but after about a month the Lacedaemonians exhausted their supplies and departed via Boeotia.[194] In response, the Athenians first expelled the Aeginetans from the island of Aegina,[195] and then Pericles marched 10,000 men, plus 3,000 metics and a number of light troops, into the Megarid and raided the land, a deployment the Athenians repeated twice ever year (once during the summer after the Spartans had departed, and once again in the fall when the grain was being planted),[196] until 424 when they captured the Megarian port of Nisaea on the Saronic Gulf.[197] The fleet of 100 Athenian triremes, lately abroad raiding the Peloponnesus and the Corinthian possessions in Acarnania, had just reached Aegina and thence sailed to the isthmus to support Pericles.[198]

The following year, 430, Archidamus again raided Attica, spending 40 days there while Pericles personally led the fleet to raid Epidaurus.[199] The plague, meanwhile, began to spread in Athens, by 427 ultimately killing 4,400 hoplites and 300 knights, not to mention perhaps one third of the city’s population.[200]


Pericles delivering the funeral oration from the Pynx (actually delivered at the public sepulchre outside the city walls, see Thuc. 2.34) at the conclusion of the first year of the war, 432/1, by Philipp Foltz (1852)

The Acarnanian Campaign, 429

Upon return to Athens from Potidaea in 431/0, Phormio found himself in trouble with the authorities for his conduct of the campaign: his supporters in Pericles’ faction were out of power; Pericles had been censured and fined in 430 and was out of office until the following spring (peace envoys were despatched to Sparta, but rebuffed),[201] and, as a result of his euthyna (debriefing), Phormio was fined or charged 100 sliver minas to settle his accounts.[202]

This narrative is based on the fragmentary history of Androtion, which Hale places in 430 – although Westlake, citing also Pausanias, places it after Phormio’s return from the Acarnanian campaign in 428, a reconstruction that was also favoured by Felix Jacoby.[203] Phillip Harding, however, strongly rejects this thesis.[204] The 100 minas fine was not substantial, but was symbolic for the distress the Athenian Assembly felt concerning the length and cost of the Potidaean campaign. When the generals Xenophon, Hestiodorus and Phanomachus returned from Potidaea, after concluding the siege during the winter of 430/29, they were likewise charged but acquitted (Thucydides says only that “the Athenians found fault with the generals for agreeing terms without their authority, as they thought they could have achieved the unconditional surrender of the city”).[205]


The modern cemetery at Paiania

Phormio, as the story goes, refused to pay his fine, and was deprived of his citizenship (atimia) and thus banned from the consecrated sites in Athens, including the Acropolis, Pnyx, and Agora. Phormio, thus sanctioned, impoverished, and closing in on 50 years of age, departed Athens to return to his ancestral estate in Paiania, east of Mount Hymettus.[206] Paiania had been raided by the Peloponnesian chevauchee that year, but Phormio was no stranger to adversity, and, importantly, he was outside Athens when the plague struck (and, in the event, the Peloponnesians did not raid Attica in 429 – as Archidamus was engaged against Plataea).[207]

Nevertheless, as the summer of 430 ended, a group of Acarnanians sought out Phormio in an attempt to enlist him once again in their defence.[208] The Athenian assembly, still led by the “war party” headed by Cleon,[209] recalled Phormio and, on condition that he “decorate the sanctuary of Dionysus”, canceled his debt of 100 minas.[210] This is the source of the poetic verse, “Phormio said, ‘I’ll raise three silver tripods!’ / Instead he raised just one – made out of lead.”[211] Phormio’s appointment was to command of the crucial Acarnanian region, an area he was familiar with, having suppressed the Ambraciots there some years before when he solidified the Acarnanian-Athenian alliance, as we have seen.[212]


The Acarnanian theatre of operations & details of the Crisaean Gulf, from The Landmark Xenophon, ed. Robert Strassler (2009)

Phormio was given 20 ships – the only crews that could be assembled, considering the sickness inflicted by the plague – whereas the Athenians had deployed more than 130 ships in 431.[213] Hale states that Phormio’s flagship was none other than the Paralus itself, one of the two state triremes (the other being the Salaminia), however, his citation to Polyaenus does not in fact identify the name of Phormio’s ship.[214] At any rate, Phormio, during the winter of 430/429, rounded the Cape of Rhium, and arrived without incident at the small harbour of Naupactus, a colony settled in part by liberated Messenian helots, who had been freed by the Athenians as a result of the helot rebellion of 464.[215] His mission was to intercept shipping, and prevent the Peloponnesians from making use of the Corinthian Gulf to move supplies and forces from Achaea to Aetolia.[216]


Modern marina at the harbour of Naupactus (Nafpaktos)

Not long after Phormio departed for his command, Pericles’s faction, about the spring of 429,[217] was restored to power – although Pericles, due to his bout with the plague, did not have long to live.[218]

The Spartans, meanwhile, focused their efforts during the 429 campaign season against Plataea, which the Thebans had thus far been unable to reduce.[219] The garrison of 400 Plataeans and 80 Athenians hoplites, plus 110 female servants, held out under the Peloponnesian siege – including an attempt to torch the city which was narrowly defeated by a timely thunderstorm.[220]

The Athenians simultaneously continued their operations on the Chalcidice peninsula. Xenophon, son of Euripides (neither the famous Socratic general-historian nor the tragic playwright), and Phanomachus, so recently acquitted by the Athenians now that Pericles was back in power, were sent back to Chalcidice with 2,000 hoplites and 200 cavalry.[221] Their mission was to build on the capture of Potidaea by suppressing the rebellious Thracians, starting with Bottian Spartolus.[222] This expedition, however, came to disaster, as the Olynthians reinforced Spartolus and forced a battle, in which their light troops and horse outmaneuvered the heavy Athenians hoplites and inflicted 430 fatalities. Both Xenophon and Phanomachus were killed.[223] The survivors fled to Potidaea and thence back to Athens.[224] The war was now shifting to the west, where Phormio was stationed at Naupactus in Aetolia.

The Megarians had steadily been expanding their trading influence in Aetolia,[225] and in the summer of 429 Acarnanian, a Delian League ally of Athens because of Phormio’s intervention after 440, was once again threatened by their rivals, the Corinthian-Ambraciots and the ‘barbarian’ Chaonians. For the Ambraciots and their allies the time was indeed opportune, as the Athenians were distracted elsewhere by the Theban-Spartan siege of Plataea, the disastrous operations in Thessaly, and the deprivations of the plague.

The Ambraciots, therefore, mobilized to invade Acarnania, and despatched diplomats to the Peloponnesian League to gain their support. The Spartans agreed, thoroughly supported by the Corinthians,[226] and arranged to send a fleet, and 1,000 hoplites, to conduct amphibious operations against Acarnania.[227]

Arcarnian theatre

The Acarnanian theatre of operations

The plan of campaign was to assemble their allies at the island of Leucas and then reduce the coastal Acarnanian settlements, capturing the Athenian colonies on the islands of Zacynthus and Cephallenia, and possibly even Naupactus itself. Success in all of these operations would have seriously damaged the Athenian maritime network, potentially cutting off contact with Athen’s vital Sicilian colonies and Illyrian allies.

The Spartan amphibious component was commanded by Cnemus, an aggressive but temperamental commander, who had conducted a raid against Zacynthus with a force of 1,000 hoplites the previous summer (430).[228] Cnemus was sent ahead with a small detachment, transporting his hoplite force, with orders to take command of the Leucadian, Anactorian and Ambracian ships, while the rest of the expedition assembled, including triremes from Corinth, Sicyon and others.[229] Cnemus’ vanguard eluded Phormio, who was presently observing the Corinthian preparations from his base at Naupactus.[230] The Peloponnesian fleet gathered at the island of Leucas, and Cnemus went over to the Aetolian mainland to mobilize his various Greek and tribal contingents.[231]

In Acarnania, Cnemus’ thousand Spartan hoplites were bolstered by the arrival of troops from Ambracia, Leucadia, Anactoria, 1,000 Chaonians under Photys and Nicanor, some Thesprotians, Molossians and Atintanians under Sabylinthus, Parauaseans under their King Oroedus, 1,000 Orestians, subjects of Antiochus, and 1,000 Macedonians who were marching to join them, the last an interesting development considering that Perdiccas (who had switched sides again) was simultaneously fighting the Athenians on the Chalcidice peninsula, as we have seen.[232] Cnemus thus had under his command a sizeable force, but mainly irregular tribal auxiliaries around a core of Spartan, Leucadian, and Ambracian hoplites. He divided the army into three columns.[233]

stratus theatre


Ancient theatre, and acropolis, at Stratus (Stratos)

Cnemus, believing he now possessed an overwhelming force, and, without waiting for the Macedonian or Corinthians reinforcements, started his march. The expedition quickly captured Amphilochian Argos, sacked the village of Limnaea, and advanced on Stratus, the Acarnanian capital.[234] The approach on Stratus was frustrated when the column led by the Chaonians rushed ahead of the main force, and were ambushed by the city’s defenders, including slingers. The Chaonians broke under this spoiling attack, falling back towards the Hellenic columns, where they continued to be harassed by the Acarnanian slingers.[235] Cnemus, having now encountered the first resistance, at once withdrew the entire army to the river Anapus, about nine miles from Stratus, and then to Oeniadae, which was the only polis in Acarnanian open to the Peloponnesians.[236] Here he disbanded his tribal contingents, and then withdrew with his 1,000 hoplites to Leucas. Westlake points out that this expedition accomplished little, but if this was only the vanguard of the Peloponnesian army, then Cnemus had done his job by testing the quality of the local combatants, thus preparing the way for the Corinthian and Macedonian armies to follow. But since his expected Corinthian reinforcements never arrived – having been intercepted by Phormio, as you shall see below – he then sailed back to the Peloponnesian port of Cyllene, in Elis.[237]


The river Evenus (Evinos)

Before their victory over Cnemus, the Acarnanians had despatched heralds to alert Phormio at Naupactus. Phormio, observing developments at Corinth, replied that he could not leave Naupactus, given the imminent deployment of the Corinthian and Sicyonian fleets.[238] When this combined fleet of 47 ships (mostly transports, commanded by Machaon, Isocrates and Agatharchidas) set sail, Phormio shadowed them. The Corinthians sailed close to the Achaean shore, while Phormio prepared to intercept the convoy if it attempted to cross over to Acarnania.[239] After both fleets had crossed the narrows at Rhium, the Corinthians attempted to sail from their anchorage when it was still night, cross over to Oeniadae or Kryoneri,[240] and thus avoid Phormio, but were detected leaving their base at Patrae.[241] Early that morning, therefore, Phormio sortied from his station at the mouth of the river Evenus, and closed with the Corinthians crossing from the opposite shore, thus compelling them to battle.[242]


Battle at Patrae, Phormio surrounds and captures a dozen of the Corinthian transports, but the Corinthians escape to rendezvous with Cnemus, from John R. Hale, Lords of the Sea

To protect their convoy, the Corinthian triremes formed into the well known wheel (kyklos) formation, prows outward, surrounding their transports and five reserves triremes, much as the Athenians had done at Artemisium in 480.[243] Phormio, imitating the technique of the tuna fishermen,[244] formed his squadron into a line, and proceeded to row around the Corinthian formation, forcing them to close ranks, while he waited for the wind to come up and sow confusion amongst the Corinthians.[245]

This was indeed what took place, as Phormio had expected: when dawn broke, the eastern wind picked up, and the transports and triremes collided in the swells, at which point Phormio made the signal to attack.[246] He was rewarded by the immediate sinking of one the Corinthian command ships (Diodorus says this was in fact their flagship).[247] The Corinthians panicked, and Phormio swept up twelve of the enemy’s vessels, made prisoner their crews, perhaps 2,000 men or more,[248] the rest fleeing to Patras. Phormio rowed into Molycreium with his captures, where, at Rhium, the Athenians set up a trophy and dedicated one of the captured ships to Poseidon, before retiring back to Naupactus.


Excavated acropolis at Molycreium (Molykreio), a district of Antirrio, with the modern Rion-Antirion bridge across the narrows visible.

The surviving Corinthian ships withdrew from Patras to Dyme in Achaea, and from there to the Cyllene dockyard on the western coast of the Peloponnesus, in Elis.[249] Cnemus, himself withdrawing from his fleet base at Leucas following the defeat at Stratus, now sailed to join the Corinthians at Cyllene.[250] As Kagan puts it, “the first major Peloponnesian effort at an amphibious offensive had resulted in humiliating failure.”[251] Appalled at this series of reversals, the Spartans despatched Timocrates, Lycophron, and Brasidas, the last a rising star in the Spartan pantheon (a general and diplomat, Che Guevera-like figure for Thucydides),[252] to Cyllene to browbeat Cnemus,[253] and to recruit additional ships from amongst the Peloponnesian allies to reinforce the fleet.[254]


Ruins of Elis, theatre visible at lower left, capital city of the Eleans.

Phormio had not been idle. While he waited for the Peloponnesians to again take the sea, he despatched messengers back to Athens requesting reinforcements. The Athenians sent twenty ships, but with complicated orders that involved first deploying to Crete to assist with the reduction of Cydonia.[255]

Phormio, as such, was hard pressed. Cnemus had by now gathered 77 ships, drawn from Sparta, Corinth, Megara, Sicyon, Pellene, Elis, Leucas, and Ambracia, and was ready to force the crossing to Aetolia.[256] The Peloponnesian army had thus marched to Panormus to await transport across the narrows at Rhium, once the Athenian squadron had been reduced. Phormio, likewise, deployed again with his 20 ships to Molycreium, to keep watch on the combined Peloponnesian fleet.[257] Westlake and Rahe alike consider Phormio’s insistence on cruising in the Gulf of Patras a significant error, in that he left Naupactus open to attack.[258] However, it is also clear that Phormio’s mission was to prevent the Peloponnesians from crossing to Aetolia, and he could not achieve that aim hiding in harbour. With Phormio thus stationed outside the narrows, and the Peloponnesians stationed within, the two fleets waited.

Battle of the Rhium Strait/Naupactus

For about a week the two fleets stood off, training, and preparing for the action that was certain to follow. Cnemus and Brasidas at last determined to attack, before Athenian reinforcements could arrive.[259] The Peloponnesian commanders made a speech to their force, declaring that their greater numbers, both on land and at sea, combined with their certain valour, under more experienced commanders, gave them the advantage – however, the uncertainty of this proclamation was exposed by their threats against cowardice.[260]


Gulf of Patrae (Patras)

Phormio, seeing the concern amongst his sailors given the great disparity of numbers, also delivered a speech, stating that the Peloponnesians would not have assembled so large a fleet if they were truly confident in victory, and that Sparta’s allies could not possibly hope to triumph except under Lacedaemonian compulsion. Phormio outlined his intention to force the Peloponnesians to fight in the open sea, and concluded with words rendered by Thucydides to the effect: “Be prompt in taking your instructions, for the enemy is near at hand and watching us. In the moment of action remember the value of silence and order, which are always important in war, especially at sea. Repel the enemy in a spirit worthy of your former exploits. There is much at stake; for you will either destroy the rising hope of the Peloponnesian navy, or bring home to Athens the fear of losing the sea. Once more I remind you that you have beaten most of the enemy’s fleet already; and, once defeated, men do not meet the same dangers with their old spirit.”[261]


Map showing the Gulf of Patras, narrows of Rhium, & Achaea and Elis

The Peloponnesians, however, had no intention of sailing into Phormio’s trap outside the narrows. Instead, they weighed anchor in the morning on the 6th or 7th day, and split the fleet into two divisions: the main force, in ranks four deep, sailed for the northern shore, while the right wing of 20 of the fastest ships, under Timocrates in a Leucadian trireme,[262] was to prevent Phormio from escaping should he retreat back inside the narrows to Naupactus.[263] Brasidas, and to a lesser extent Cnemus, have generally been credited with this plan.[264] Realizing that the Peloponnesians were preparing to make for Naupactus, and thus capture Phormio’s base, he deployed in single file, holding the middle of the line himself, and hugged the coastline back through the narrows, with his few hundred Messenian hoplites following along the shore.[265]


Battle of Rhium or Naupactus: Phormio is cut off by the combined Peloponnesian fleet, but then overcomes the over-confident Leucadians and crushes their main force, from John R. Hale, Lords of the Sea

Once Phormio was past the narrows, the Peloponnesians executed their plan, making full speed against the Athenian line, hoping to smash Phormio’s ships against the shore, while simultaneously cutting him off from his base.[266] Eleven of the Athenian ships, nevertheless, out-sailed Timocrates and the Peloponnesian right wing and escaped to Naupactus, but the remaining nine were caught and driven ashore.[267] The Athenian line had been cut, with Phormio’s trireme the last of the eleven to escape. Overwhelmed, crews of the nine trapped Athenian triremes swam for their lives – others were killed fighting. Thucydides, from this point on in the narrative, does not mention Phormio specifically,[268] however, other sources provide details that support his central role in what followed.

Phormio’s sent his ten ships into Naupactus, near the temple of Apollo, where they formed up, prows outwards, in preparation for a final defence. The twenty Peloponnesian triremes of Timocrates’ vanguard appeared, singing their victory paean, with Timocrates personally chasing Phormio, who intentionally straggled behind, baiting the over-eager Leucadians.[269] As so often in war, the premature celebration of one combatant exposed an opportunity to an alert commander: Phormio now committed a daring act that was in fact to change the entire course of the battle. By looping around an anchored merchant ship just outside the harbour,[270] the Athenian was able to get himself prow-on to the approaching Leucadian. “The hunter had become the prey,” wrote Hale of this moment.[271] Phormio immediately rammed Timocrates’ trireme, sinking the Leucadian. Timocrates, disgraced, his flagship sinking beneath him, drew his sword and committed suicide.[272] The loss of Timocrates caused the rest of Peloponnesians to pause, and, realizing that their squadron was over-extended, they halted rowing to wait for their formation to close up. As Kagan puts it, the Peloponnesians, “had given up all semblance of order in their pursuit, thinking the battle won.”[273] Some of the Peloponnesian ships, having gotten too close to the shore, ran aground. The pause soon gave way to panic, as the Peloponnesians “were thrown into complete confusion by this sudden setback at a moment when they believed themselves to be victorious.”[274]


Maneuvering and fighting a trireme, let alone a fleet of triremes, was a complicated and labour intensive task. Each warship was captained by a trierarch, and steered by a helmsman (kybernetes). A group of flutists and drillmasters kept time, and ensured the 170 oarsmen synchronized their rowing. Another 16 officers and men worked the sails. Ten marines and four archers filled out the warships’ offensive complement. Spartan fleets were commanded by navarchs, Athenian fleets by the strategoi.



The recreation trireme Olympias, line-schematic of trireme, & the oar layout of a trireme.

The ten Athenian triremes waiting at Naupactus, following Phormio’s lead, launched an immediate counter-attack, taking the dispersed and powerless Peloponnesian ships one at a time.[275] The Peloponnesians fled for their base at Panormus. The Athenians took six enemy triremes and recovered their captured vessels, which the Peloponnesians had been in the process of securing for towing when the Messenian hoplites arrived, wading into the shallows,[276] and, combined with Phormio’s division, drove off the Peloponnesians and recaptured eight of the Athenian warships, the Spartans getting away with only one.[277]

The Lacedaemonians set up their one remaining capture as a trophy at Rhium, on the Achaean side of the strait. Phormio established his own trophy at Naupactus.[278] The Peloponnesians, demoralized beyond further effort, retreated that night to Corinth with their remaining ships, minus the Leucadians who returned to their island.[279] Before the summer was over the 20 Athenian triremes sent as reinforcements, by way of Crete, arrived at Naupactus and bolstered Phormio’s fleet to 39, plus those captured from the Peloponnesians.[280]


The shipyard at Astakos

To conclude the story of Phormio at Naupactus, Thucydides carries forward the actions of Cnemus and Brasidas, who, upon arrival at Corinth, crossed the isthmus on foot to make a spoiling attack against the Piraeus with 40 vessels the Megarans were fitting out at their harbour of Nisaea. The Peloponnesians made a daring raid against Salamis, capturing the small squadron of three ships left there to blockade Megara. Alarmed, the Athenians at the Piraeus sortied to Salamis in response, and the Peloponnesians withdrew with their booty and the three captured triremes to Nisaea. As a result of this action, the fortifications at the Piraeus were strengthened.[281] Kagan points out that this raid had likely been invented by the Spartans in desperation to credit some small success to their effort following Phormio’s victory.[282]

pearius 2


Views of ancient Piraeus, the principal port of Athens, and the long walls

In the fall of 429 Phormio sailed to Arcanania, docked at the yards at Astacus (Astakos), from which he could repair his triremes, and then led the march to Stratus with 400 Athenian and 400 Messenian hoplites, to shore up the defences there and expel any elements of questionable loyalty.[283] Phormio proceeded thence to Coronta, where he installed Cynes as pro-Athenian oligarch, and then returned to Astakos. Since it was by now winter of 429/8, Phormio decided against attacking Oeniadae, the last hostile holdout in Arcanania, which in wintertime was surrounded by a floodplain.[284] Instead, Phormio took his squadron back to Naupactus, where he collected the prisoners and prizes (16-18 Peloponnesian triremes), and in the spring of 428 sailed for Athens,[285] where the prisoners were then ransomed man for man.[286]


Ruins and theatre at Oeniadae

Phormio’s victories came as a decisive tonic for Athenian moral. Some of the captured hoplite shields and bronze rams from the Peloponnesian fleet were dedicated to the oracle at Delphi.[287] The young playwright Eupolis wrote the comedy Taxiarchs, probably in 427,[288] to celebrate the Athenian naval triumph, with Dionysus, to whom Phormio had dedicated his unpaid debt before departing for Naupactus, descending from Olympus to experience seaman-like hard training, and learn tactics from Phormio.[289] “Don’t you know my name is Ares?” Phormio says to the god.[290]


Eupolis, who wrote the comedy Taxiarchs about Phormio

How long Phormio lived after his great victory is unknown. Upon his return from Naupactus he was likely past 50. When he had departed Athens in 429, bound westward, the polis was suffering from the ravages of the plague: Pericles himself succumbed while Phormio was fighting in the Gulf of Corinth. Phormio may have died of the plague not long after his return. Another possibility, as mentioned above, is that Phormio was in fact prosecuted for the losses sustained during the campaign, and was now expelled from Athens, a regular occurrence for commanders, defeated or victorious, under the often capricious Athenian democracy.[291]

Whichever the case, the Acarnanians did not wait long to request further Athenian support, and Thucydides records that, shortly before the summer of 428, they specifically requested “a son or relative” of Phormio for the unfinished job of capturing Oeniadae.[292] Phormio’s son, Asopius, named after his grandfather, was despatched that summer with 30 ships, to resume operations in Acarnania. Asopius raided the Laconian coast on his way to Naupactus, but was forced to send 18 of his triremes back to Athens, no doubt because he received notification of the fleet of 100 being assembled to blockade the isthmus.[293] Continuing with 12 ships, Asopius arrived in Acarnania with the intention of completing operations against Oeniadae. From his base at Naupactus he assembled a large tribal army, but was unable to force the surrender of Oeniadae. Instead, he redeployed to Leucas and seized Nericum (Nericus) after landing. But on returning to their ships, Asopius was ambushed and killed by the Leucadians.[294] The bodies of Asopius and the others were brought back to Athens when the 12 triremes returned.[295]



Modern trireme Olympias

As Donald Kagan and others have observed, the strategic impact of the victory at Naupactus was profound, if not decisive.[296] Had the Delian League lost control of Acarnania, the Athenian economy would have been crippled as the Peloponnesians could then have interdicted Athenian trade around western Greece.[297] By preventing the Corinthians from intervening in the Acarnanian campaign, moreover, Phormio assured Cnemus’ defeat and withdrawal from the theatre. By scattering the Peloponnesian fleet, and preventing the Spartans from capturing Naupactus, Phormio then solidified the Delian League’s control over Aetolia and handed the tempo in the west to the Athenians right at the outset of the war.[298] By the end of 427 Athens was recovering from the plague, being then capable of manning 250 ships: 100 triremes to guard Salamis, Attica and Euboea, another 100 to raid the Laconia coast, plus additional contingents at Potidaea and Lesbos.[299]

Westlake may be correct to say Phormio, the strategoi, had no political ambitions, however, he certainly had political influence. This is demonstrated by his repeated interventions in Acarnania – where it is not to be forgotten that he brought about the Acarnanian alliance with Athens. He was fighting alongside Pericles at Samos in 441, and reducing the Olynthian league during the Potidaean campaign in 432. These operations attest to a close relationship with Pericles, and Phormio’s growing influence as a commander. Even the story of the 100 minas fine, and the lead tripod, attest to connections with a network, both legal, financial and influential.


Marble relief dedicated to Athenians killed during the first year of the war, c. 430, from Strassler, ed., The Landmark Thucydides (2008)

Diodorus, on the other hand, based on Ephorus’ history, is critical of the outcome of this battle, noting that “though [Phormio] sank some [of the enemy], he also lost a number of his own, so that the victory he won was dubious.”[300] Likewise, Westlake states that the twin battles, “did not produce immediate results of any great consequence” and goes on to criticize Phormio, along the lines of Diodorus, writing that the Athenians had “lost a considerable number of highly skilled men, and some of their ships had been reduced to wrecks, while the losses inflicted on the enemy were not heavy in relation to the size of the Peloponnesian fleet.”[301]

Moreover, as Westlake notes, Thucydides’ point in the telling of this battle seems to be to demonstrate that Phormio had been outmaneuvered by the Peloponnesian dash for Naupactus, and that the Athenians were saved only by a combination of fortitude and luck.[302] As Westlake concedes, however, the Athenians were in need of a victory to sustain their moral during the plague, if nothing else, and Phormio’s victories at Naupactus delivered precisely that.[303] Furthermore, the defeat of the Spartans in Acarnania, although achieved on land at Stratus, and especially for the Corinthians, meant the strategic focus of the war shifting back to the east: the Mitylenaeans on Lesbos had joined the Peloponnesian League, and Archidamus was preparing the Lacedaemonians for the 428 campaign – but that veteran campaigner, who rallied Sparta after the disastrous earthquake of 464, and, in 431 had opposed war with Athens, died in 427 and was succeeded by his son Agis.[304] With Athen’s naval superiority firmly established at the outset, the war would be much more difficult for the Peloponnesians than they had been willing to admit.[305] It was for this reason that the Lacedaemonians were busy at Corinth preparing to haul the entire Corinthian fleet across the diolkos, and into the Saronic Gulf.[306]


Although Athen’s strategic situation was improving, despite the plague, with Pericles and Phormio gone it was now that Cleon’s faction solidified its power and extended the war into Boeotia and Thessaly. This opening phase of the war dragged on until the terrible battles at Pylos, Delium, and Amphipolis, culminating in the fragile the Peace of Nicias in 421.

The Athenians placed a statue of Phormio on the Acropolis, and his ashes were buried in the state cemetery, as Kagan puts it, “on the road to the Academy near the grave of Pericles.”[307]


Aristophanes, who wrote a tribute to Phormio into his Knights (424).

Phormio’s legacy was written into the Lysistrata, where Aristophanes compared him to Myronides, the great Athenian champion of the First Peloponnesian War; and in the Knights of 424,[308] Aristophanes included a tribute to Phormio, in praise of Poseidon:

Poseidon, master of the horse

And thrill of the ring of the iron hoof,

The neighing steed and the fast sloop

Nuzzled in blue to ram through,

And the well-paid crew…

This and the lusty zest of youth:

Charioteers on the eternal course

Towards fame or put off the dead-

Come to our dancing, come to us here,

Lord of the Dolphins under the head

Of Sunium, son of Cronus and

Phormio’s favorite god

And Athens’, too, in time of proof

When it comes to war

And taking a stand.

cape-sounion-temple-of-poseidona-afternoon-tour (1)

Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion

Appendix I: Units of Measure


Currency, weights, measures and units of length, from Strassler, ed., The Landmark Thucydides, & The Histories by Herodotus, translated by Aubrey de Selincourt

Appendix II: Currencies

metals value


 Value of metals in drachm, and the sources of silver, from Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy

Appendix III: Dialects & Regions

greek dialects

Map of Greek dialects c. 5th century


Regions of ancient Greece

Appendix IV: Rainfall


Rainfall in the Aegean. The Ionian islands receive significantly more precipitation (in Ioannina, 1,082 mm), resulting in more humid conditions. Athens receives exceptionally little precipitation (360 mm). From Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy, p. 37

Appendix V: Athenian Grain Supply

Athenian Grain

Sources of Athenian grain, 4th century. Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy


[1] John R. Hale, Lords of the Sea: How Trireme Battles Changed the World, Kindle ebook (Viking, 2009)., chapter 11; Donald Kagan, The Archidamian War, vol. 2, 4 vols. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996)., chapter 4; and H. D. Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968)., chapter 4.

[2] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 108

[3] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 44

[4] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2632

[5] Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean in the Ancient World, ed. Roselyne De Ayala and Paul Braudel, trans. Sian Reynolds, Kindle ebook (London: Penguin Books, 2001)., p. 318

[6] Braudel., p. 314

[7] Braudel., p. 314. Alain Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy: Institutions, Markets, and Growth in the City-States, trans. Steven Rendall (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2019)., p. 356-7

[8] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 190, 193. Braudel, The Mediterranean in the Ancient World., p. 316

[9] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 303

[10] George Grote, History of Greece, V, Kindle ebook, vol. 5, 12 vols. (London: John Murray, 1846)., chapter 45, loc. 4112

[11] Donald Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, vol. 1, 4 vols. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013)., p. 80

[12] Grote, History of Greece, V., chapter 45, loc. 4103

[13] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 198

[14] Raphael Sealey, A History of the Greek City States, ca. 700-338 B.C. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976)., p. 246, 250. Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 19, 25

[15] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 25

[16] Plutarch (Waterfield), Greek Lives, trans. Robin Waterfield, 2008 reissue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998)., p. 152. See also, Thucydides (Jowett), The Peloponnesian War, trans. Benjamin Jowett, vol. 1, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1881),, 1.116, 1.108

[17] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., 1.116, 1.112; Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 104

[18] Diodorus Siculus (Green), The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens, Books 11-14.34 (480-401 BCE), trans. Peter Green (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)., p. 97-8. Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., 1.116, 1.114

[19] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., 1.116, 1.115

[20] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 251. See also, Plutarch (Waterfield), Greek Lives., p. 136-7, 152-3

[21] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 244, Braudel, The Mediterranean in the Ancient World., p. 331

[22] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 85

[23] Paul A. Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War: The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta, 446-418 B.C., vol. 3, 3 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020)., p. 11

[24] Plutarch (Waterfield), Greek Lives., p. 98-9. Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 85

[25] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 39

[26] Aristotle (Rackham), Aristotle: The Athenian Constitution, The Eudemian Ethics, On Virtues and Vices, trans. H. Rackham (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1935)., p. 19-25


[28] Braudel, The Mediterranean in the Ancient World., p. 327

[29] Robert Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles, trans. Peter Green (London: Pheonix, 2002)., p. 31-2

[30] Flaceliere., p. 36, 50


[32] Aristotle (Rhodes), The Athenian Constitution, trans. P. J. Rhodes (London: Penguin Books, 2002)., p. 66

[33] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 203. Cornelius Nepos (Rolfe), Lives, trans. J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984)., p. 19-21, 23. Herodotus (de Selincourt), The Histories, trans. Aubrey de Selincourt (London: Penguin Books, 2003)., p. 408-10, 6.135. Diodorus, 10.30,

[34] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 203-4.

[35] Aristotle (Rhodes), Athenian Constitution., p. 65

[36] Aristotle (Rhodes)., p. 65

[37] Plutarch (Waterfield), Greek Lives., p. 99, 102

[38] Aristotle (Rhodes), Athenian Constitution., p. 68

[39] Cornelius Nepos (Rolfe), Lives., p. 61. Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 146

[40] Aristotle (Rhodes), Athenian Constitution., p. 67

[41] I. F. Stone, The Trial of Socrates, Anchor Books Edition (New York: Doubleday, 1989)., p. 18

[42] Aristotle (Rhodes), Athenian Constitution., p. 64

[43] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 320

[44] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 7, loc. 1733. Aristotle (Rackham), The Athenian Constitution., p. 19. Braudel, The Mediterranean in the Ancient World., p. 320-1. Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles., p. 40-2

[45] Aristotle (Rhodes), Athenian Constitution., p. 68-9

[46] Aristotle (Rhodes)., p. 62-3

[47] Aristotle (Rhodes)., p. 70

[48] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 7, loc. 1765; Aristotle (Rhodes), Athenian Constitution., p. 70

[49] Peter Krentz, The Battle of Marathon (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010)., p. 20.


[51] Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles., p. 38-9

[52] Flaceliere., p. 38-9

[53] Braudel, The Mediterranean in the Ancient World., p. 327

[54] Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles., p. 38

[55] Flaceliere., p. 39

[56] Braudel, The Mediterranean in the Ancient World., p. 327

[57] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 307, 313. Androtion (Harding), Androtion and the Atthis, trans. Phillip Harding (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006)., p. 104

[58] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 320

[59] Bresson., p. 308

[60] Bresson., p. 333

[61] Bresson., p. 334

[62] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 117

[63] Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles., p. 11-2, 39

[64] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 149

[65] Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles., p. 39-40

[66] Aristotle (Barker), The Politics of Aristotle, trans. Ernest Barker (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976)., Appendix IV, p. 378

[67] Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles., p. 50

[68] Thucydides (Crawley), The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, ed. Robert B. Strassler, trans. Richard Crawley (New York: Free Press, 2008)., Appendix A, p. 577

[69] Xenophon (Marincola), The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika, ed. Robert B. Strassler, trans. John Marincola (New York: Anchor Books, 2009)., Appendix K, p. 389

[70] Braudel, The Mediterranean in the Ancient World., p. 326

[71] Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles., p. 40

[72] Flaceliere., p. 40

[73] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 7, loc. 1733

[74] Jonathan M. Hall, A History of the Archaic Greek World, ca. 1200-479 BCE, 2nd ed. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014)., p. 75

[75] Herodotus (de Selincourt), The Histories., p. 378-9

[76] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 28

[77] Kagan., p. 27-30. See also, Diodorus Siculus (Green), The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens., p. 55fn

[78] Paul A. Rahe, The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta: The Persian Challenge, vol. 1, 3 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015)., prologue, loc. 477-535

[79] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., 1.116, 1.117. Thucydides (Warner), History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. Rex Warner (New York: Penguin Books, 1980)., p. 103

[80] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 170-1

[81] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., 1.37-1.44, p. 24-28

[82] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 174

[83] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., 310.

[84] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 233-4, 384-6. Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 318

[85] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 43. Thucydides, 2.68

[86] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 38. Peter Krentz, “Hoplite Hell: How Hoplites Fought,” in Men of Bronze: Hoplite Warfare in Ancient Greece, ed. Donald Kagan and Gregory F. Viggiano (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013), 134–56., p. 136

[87] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., 1.25 et seq

[88] Polyaenus, Stratagems, 3.4.2, as cited by Hale, Lords of the Sea., notes, loc. 5718. See Polyaenus (Shepherd), Stratagems of War, trans. R. Shepherd, 2nd ed. (Harvard: ECCO Print Editions, 1796)., p. 97-8

[89] Polyaenus (Shepherd), Stratagems of War., p. 97-8

[90] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 129-30, 2.68

[91] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 159, 272, 309

[92] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., 4.108, p. 282. George Grote, History of Greece, II, Kindle ebook, vol. 2, 12 vols. (London: John Murray, 1846)., chapter 1, loc. 247. Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 354

[93] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 315

[94] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 359

[95] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 274-5

[96] Kagan., p. 277

[97] Kagan., p. 273, 279

[98] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 315

[99] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 280

[100] Kagan., p. 280-1

[101] Kagan., p. 277-8

[102] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 315, Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 281, Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 39, 1.63

[103] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 277

[104] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 315

[105] Sealey., p. 316

[106] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 37

[107] Kagan (2013) says November, Freedman (2013) says August.

[108] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 278, 315-6, & Appendix K. Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History, Kindle ebook (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013)., p. 32-3

[109] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2624

[110] Thucydides (Warner), History of the Peloponnesian War., p. 72

[111] Diodorus Siculus (Green), The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens., p. 121

[112] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 316

[113] Thucydides (Warner), History of the Peloponnesian War., p. 72

[114] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 41, 1.67

[115] Thucydides (Jowett)., p. 40, 1.65

[116] Homer, The Iliad, trans. Caroline Alexander, Kindle ebook (HarperCollins Publishers, 2016)., book 2, p. 39-46


[118] Appendix 2, Thucydides (Warner), History of the Peloponnesian War.

[119] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 7, loc. 1733, 1796. Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 25

[120] Adam Schwartz, “Large Weapons, Small Greeks,” in Men of Bronze: Hoplite Warfare in Ancient Greece, ed. Donald Kagan and Gregory F. Viggiano (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013), 157–75., p. 167, Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 27

[121] Schwartz, “Large Weapons, Small Greeks.”, p. 168

[122] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 86-7

[123] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 37, 57

[124] Appendix 2, Thucydides (Warner), History of the Peloponnesian War.

[125] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., book 6, p. 366 & Thucydides (Warner), History of the Peloponnesian War., Appendix 2

[126] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 303

[127] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 39

[128] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 278; Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 39-40

[129] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 292, 297

[130] Bresson., p. 307-8

[131] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 103, 2.13

[132] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 278

[133] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 26

[134] Kurt Raaflaub, “Archaic and Classical Greece,” in War and Society in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds: Asia, the Mediterranean, Europe, and Mesoamerica, ed. Kurt Raaflaub and Nathan Rosenstein (Washington, D.C.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 129–62., p. 142. & Herodotus (de Selincourt), The Histories., p. 213

[135] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 7, loc. 1843

[136] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 26. Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 103, 2.13

[137] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 39

[138] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 279. Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 103, 2.13

[139] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 315

[140] Donald Kagan, The Fall of the Athenian Empire, vol. 4, 4 vols. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991)., p. 8

[141] See for example, Alfonso Moreno, Feeding the Democracy: The Athenian Grain Supply in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries BC (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 94, 186, 293. Braudel, The Mediterranean in the Ancient World., p. 316, 332

[142] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 320

[143] Diodorus Siculus (Green), The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens., p. 73-9. See also Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., 1.110; Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 82

[144] Plutarch (Waterfield), Greek Lives., p. 137

[145] Diodorus Siculus (Green), The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens., p. 97 fn

[146] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., 308-10; Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 68-9

[147] Plutarch (Waterfield), Greek Lives., p. 154

[148] Herodotus (de Selincourt), The Histories., p. 464, 7.144; Kagan, The Fall of the Athenian Empire., p. 3. Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles., p. 48

[149] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 415, 6.91

[150] Herodotus (de Selincourt), The Histories., p. 584, 679

[151] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 66. Aristotle (Barker), Politics of Aristotle., Appendix IV, p. 378 fn

[152] Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles., p. 16


[154] Jason Douglas Porter, “Slavery and Athens’ Economic Efflorescence: Mill Slavery as a Case Study,” Mare Nostrum 10, no. 2 (2019): 25–50.

[155] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 55. Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles., p. 41

[156] Braudel, The Mediterranean in the Ancient World., p. 327

[157] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 103, 2.13. See also, Diodorus Siculus (Green), The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens., p. 124

[158] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 21-22

[159] The Legislation of Lycurgus and Solon by Friedrich Schiller, Jena University, August 1789

[160] Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War., p. 7

[161] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 321 fn

[162] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 26, & Rahe, The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta: The Persian Challenge., prologue, loc. 213

[163] Aristotle (Jowett), Aristotle’s Politics, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908)., p. 85

[164] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 21. Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 93, 2.7. The principal Lacedemonian dry dock was at Gytheio, where triremes were manufactured.

[165] Francis MacDonald Cornford, The Republic of Plato, trans. Francis MacDonald Cornford (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945)., p. xvi

[166] Thucydides (Jowett), The Peloponnesian War, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 2nd ed., revised, vol. 1, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1900)., p. 10-11

[167] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 93

[168] Bresson., p. 357


[170] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 17

[171] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 94

[172] Bresson., p. 192-3, 352

[173] Bresson., p. 358

[174] Flaceliere, Daily Life In Greece At The Time of Pericles., p. 43-4

[175] Flaceliere., p. 45-6, 49-50

[176] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 27-35

[177] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 256. Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 317

[178] Thucydides (Hammond), The Peloponnesian War, trans. Martin Hammond (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009)., 1.67, p. 32-3

[179] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 63. Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 113, 2.29

[180] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 37-9

[181] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2617

[182] Plato, Symposium (Nehamas), trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis & Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1989)., p. 72-3

[183] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 97.

[184] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 43

[185] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 37-48. 1.66-1.87

[186] Sealey, A History of the Greek City States., p. 316, Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 280. Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 77, 1.125

[187] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 317; Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 104

[188] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 48. Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War., 86. Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 100, 2.10

[189] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 49

[190] Kagan., p. 54

[191] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 111, 2.25

[192] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 58. Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 111, 114, 2.25, 2.30

[193] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p.112, 2.26

[194] Thucydides (Jowett)., p. 107-8, 2.18-20

[195] Thucydides (Jowett)., p. 112, 2.27

[196] Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War., p. 97

[197] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 39, 63-4. Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 114, 2.31

[198] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 114, 2.31

[199] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 71-2

[200] Kagan., p. 71

[201] Kagan., p. 92-3, 96. Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 36

[202] Androtion (Harding), The Atthis., p. 101

[203] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 54-5. Androtion (Harding), The Atthis., p. 102-3

[204] Androtion (Harding), The Atthis., p. 103

[205] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 98-9. Thucydides (Hammond), Thucydides (Hammond)., p. 109, 2.70

[206] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2617

[207] Hale., chapter 11, loc. 2632. Thucydides (Hammond), Thucydides (Hammond)., p. 109, 2.71

[208] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2648. See Androtion (Harding), The Atthis., p. 63

[209] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 96-7

[210] Androtion (Harding), The Atthis., p. 63. See also, Pausanias (Levi), Guide to Greece 1: Central Greece, trans. Peter Levi, vol. 1, 2 vols. (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1979)., p. 67

[211] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2655

[212] Hale., chapter 11, loc. 2662, 2648

[213] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 148, 2.80, Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2662.

[214] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2670; see also, Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 174 fn, 3.33. Polyaenus (Shepherd), Stratagems of War., p. 98.

[215] Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War., p. 24.

[216] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 44. Androtion (Harding), The Atthis., p. 100

[217] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 101

[218] Kagan., p. 102

[219] Kagan., p. 102

[220] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 146, 2.78

[221] Diodorus Siculus (Green), The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens., p. 131

[222] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 105-6

[223] Kagan., p. 106; Diodorus Siculus (Green), The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens., p. 131

[224] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 147, 2.79

[225] Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy., p. 356

[226] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 107

[227] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 137. Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 107

[228] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 128. Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 136

[229] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 137

[230] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 44. Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 108

[231] Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War., p. 105

[232] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 137-8. Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 108

[233] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 149, 2.81

[234] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 139.

[235] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 150, 2.81. Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 138

[236] Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War., p. 106

[237] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 150, 2.82. Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 138

[238] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 149, 2.81; see also, Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 108; Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2678

[239] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 151, 2.83, see also Thucydides (Warner), History of the Peloponnesian War., p. 177; Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 140

[240] Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War., p. 108-109

[241] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2685

[242] Thucydides (Warner), History of the Peloponnesian War., p. 177

[243] Herodotus (de Selincourt), The Histories., p. 504-5. Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 151, 2.83, see also Thucydides (Warner), History of the Peloponnesian War., p. 178, Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2685. Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 109-10

[244] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2693

[245] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 151, 2.84

[246] Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War., p. 109

[247] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 152, 2.84; Diodorus Siculus (Green), The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens., p. 132. Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2709

[248] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2709

[249] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 111

[250] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 152, 2.84

[251] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 111

[252] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 136

[253] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2731. Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 139. Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War., p. 110

[254] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 152, 2.85

[255] Thucydides (Jowett)., p. 153, 2.85. Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 112

[256] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2731-9

[257] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 153, 2.86

[258] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 51-3. Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War., p. 113

[259] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 153, 2.86

[260] Thucydides (Jowett)., p. 154-5, 2.87-8

[261] Thucydides (Jowett)., p. 155-7, 2.89

[262] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2767

[263] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 157, 2.90

[264] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 140

[265] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2746, 2774

[266] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 49

[267] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 158, 2.90

[268] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 50

[269] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 158, 2.91. Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2798. Rahe, Sparta’s Second Attic War., p. 114

[270] Polyaenus (Shepherd), Stratagems of War., p. 98

[271] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2813

[272] Hale., chapter 11, loc. 2830

[273] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 114

[274] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2830. Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 49

[275] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 158-9, 2.92

[276] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2838

[277] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 158, 2.90. Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2845

[278] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 159, 2.92

[279] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 50

[280] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 159, 2.92

[281] Thucydides (Warner), History of the Peloponnesian War., p. 186

[282] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 116-7

[283] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 53. Thucydides (Hammond), Thucydides (Hammond)., p. 129, 2.102

[284] Thucydides (Hammond), Thucydides (Hammond)., p. 129, 2.102

[285] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2853

[286] Thucydides (Hammond), Thucydides (Hammond)., p. 129-30, 2.103

[287] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2853

[288] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 58 fn. Androtion (Harding), The Atthis., p. 104

[289] Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2861


[291] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 55

[292] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 172, 1.7.

[293] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 53 fn

[294] Thucydides (Crawley), Landmark Thucydides., p. 161

[295] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 173, 3.8

[296] Kagan, The Archidamian War., p. 115

[297] Donald Kagan, The Peloponnesian War (London: Penguin Books, 2004)., p. 95-6

[298] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 59

[299] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p.178, 3.17

[300] Diodorus Siculus (Green), The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens., p. 132

[301] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 43, 50

[302] Westlake., p. 51-3

[303] Westlake., p. 50

[304] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 173, 177, 3.15

[305] Westlake, Individuals in Thucydides., p. 50

[306] Thucydides (Jowett), Thucydides (Jowett), 1881., p. 177, 3.15

[307] Kagan, The Peloponnesian War., p. 96. See also, Hale, Lords of the Sea., chapter 11, loc. 2876

[308] Aristophanes (Roche), Aristophanes: The Complete Plays, trans. Paul Roche (New York: New American Library, 2005)., p. 92-3.

Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1917 – 1918


The day is coming! Unterseeboot before London. Lithograph print.
Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1917 – 1918


As Marc Milner recently explained in the context of the Second World War, ‘the first line of defense of trade was always the main battle fleet.’[i] What was true in 1939 was true in 1914. Germany’s High Sea Fleet, able to sortie from its protected anchorages only at significant risk, was reduced to relying on its destroyers, submarines, merchant raiders and naval air service to carry on the naval offensive. Britain’s Grand Fleet, although successful at confining the High Sea Fleet to the North Sea, was in turn unable to protect Britain’s far-flung merchant shipping. The two dreadnought fleets of the great naval antagonists were thus mutually immobilized. Flotilla craft, seaplanes and submarines became the primary instruments in the vast battle over oceanic trade. As British Prime Minister David Lloyd George prosaically described the situation, ‘When the last roving German cruiser had been beached in a mangrove swamp in Africa, in order to escape capture, the German Admiralty put more faith in the little swordfish which had already destroyed more enemy ships in a month than the cruiser had succeeded in sinking during the whole of their glorious but short-lived career. When they realized the power of this invention they set about building submarines on a great scale and constructing much larger types.’[ii]

While the Grand Fleet’s 10th Cruiser Squadron carried out the blockade of Germany, slowly strangling the Central Powers’ access to overseas trade, Germany’s U-boats, seaplanes and destroyers from the High Sea Fleet (HSF) and Flanders Flotillas attempted to circumscribe the blockade and attack Britain’s oceanic supply lines. The U-boats, like the Zeppelins and Gothas in the air, were new technological threats against which Britain’s traditional wooden walls provided no protection. To produce strategic effect with the aerial bomber and submarine, however, it was necessary to violate the laws of civilized warfare as they had been agreed upon by the European powers at the Hague conferences of 1899 and 1907.[iii] For the Zeppelins and Gothas this meant bombing British cities from the air without regard for civilian casualties, and for the U-boats at sea this meant violating the rules for prize capture and indiscriminately sinking enemy and neutral merchant shipping without warning.

The new Admiralty building, from N. A. M. Rodger, The Admiralty (1979)

After a trepidatious start in February 1915, when the ‘War Zone’ was established around Britain, by the spring of 1917 the U-boats were well on their way to wiping out Britain’s merchant fleet. During the months of March, April, May, June, July, and August, British shipping losses were always above 350,000 tons, with losses peaking at 550,000 tons in April, and 498,500 tons in June.[iv] The Admiralty, under the leadership of First Sea Lord Sir John Jellicoe and First Lord Edward Carson, had computed the loss rate and expected that, if no solution were found to the submarine crisis, Britain would soon be reduced by starvation and thus forced to abandon the war long before the yearend of 1918.[v]

London, c. early 20th century, by William Wyllie

The Royal Navy undertook a herculean effort to reduce shipping losses and increase Anti-Submarine (A/S) capabilities. Steadily improved counter-measures, reorganization at the Admiralty and in particular of the Naval Staff, and the gradual implementation of escorted convoys during the summer of 1917, began to alleviate the crisis. Although shipping losses remained high, frequently above 200,000 tons per month until the end of the war, this loss rate was not enough to cripple Britain’s supply lines. Furthermore, U-boats were now forced to attack defended convoys, raising the risk of counter-attack and eventually resulting in the development of wolf pack tactics, as were seen a quarter century later during the Second World War.[vi]


The Eye at the Periscope aboard a Royal Navy submarine, Francis Dodd collection

Although the implementation of escorted convoys curtailed shipping losses, and forced the otherwise ephemeral U-boats to attack prepared warships, the inability of the Royal Navy to attack and destroy the High Sea Fleet meant that any operation aimed at capturing or destroying the U-boat bases themselves, or attempts to mine the U-boat areas of operations, could potentially prompt a fleet action in the enemy’s thoroughly mined waters: raising the prospect of catastrophic losses for the Royal Navy.


Convoy in rough seas, 1918, by John Everett

Later in 1918 the famous ZO operation was conducted in an attempt to block the bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend, while a redoubled aerial bombing campaign was additionally carried out. Finally, in October 1918, with the One Hundred Days offensive systematically rolling back the German army and liberating Belgian,[vii] the Royal Navy commissioned HMS Argus, an aircraft carrier system that included the Sopwith T1 ‘cuckoo’ capable or launching aerial torpedoes and thus opening the prospect for a torpedo strike against the High Sea Fleet in harbour – guaranteeing the defeat of Germany’s main fleet. And without the main fleet to protect the bases, the U-boats, minesweepers and flotilla destroyers carrying out the anti-shipping war would quickly find operations extremely difficult under the guns of Grand Fleet warships.

smoking-roomThe Smoking Room, HMS Ambrose, Francis Dodd collection

This blog examines the multidomain nature of the unrestricted U-boat campaign of 1917 – 1918, and demonstrates the unpreparedness of the Royal Navy to combat the submarine threat, but also the extensive reforms undertaken that eventually defeated the U-boats. By November 1918 the Royal Navy had devised a comprehensive and effective A/S and trade defence system, to which Germany’s raiders could not respond with any hope of success.

Various British warships sunk by U-boats and mines, 1914 – 1915, three armoured cruisers, three pre-dreadnought battleships, two light cruisers and HMS Audacious a 28,000 ton super dreadnought, completed in 1913, which struck a mine.

For both the Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine), the First World War began with a flurry of surface and submarine activity. After the demise of Admiral von Spee at the Battle of the Falkland Islands, Admiral Souchen’s arrival in Istanbul, and the Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank engagements of August 1914 and January 1915, the surface threat, beyond a few isolated light cruisers and merchant raiders, had been broadly curtailed.[viii]

Germany’s U-boats, for their part, destroyed a series of high-profile targets early in the war, from the seaplane carrier HMS Hermes, to the scout cruiser HMS Pathfinder, and the three armoured cruisers: HMS Crecy, Hogue and Aboukir. The new dreadnought HMS Audacious was lost to a mine on 27 October 1914, and the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Formidable was torpedoed by U24 on New Years Day 1915. To add insult to injury, HMS Majestic and Triumph were both torpedoed at the Dardanelles by U21 during the May crisis of 1915.

The submarine and mine threat had a significant impact on Britain’s strategic position. The Grand Fleet required not only a protected and submarine-proof anchorage from which to operate, but also a large force of destroyers to escort it while at sea. The submarine’s emergent role as a commerce destroyer caught the Allies off guard. The decision in January 1915 by the Kaiser to authorize the designation of a ‘War Zone’ around Britain, in which British merchant shipping would be destroyed as part of a counter-blockade strategy, seemed a barbaric example of German ‘frightfulness’.

The strategic situation in the North Sea, 1917 – 1918, Map 9 from Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (1998), p. 248

Although shipping losses increased, Germany’s U-boats were not yet plentiful enough to seriously impact the war, and the embarrassing sinking of the liners Lusitania in May and Arabic in August 1915, both with loss of life for American and other neutral citizens, encouraged the Kaiser to restrain the anti-shipping war. The new doctrine of surface battle, promulgated by Admiral Reinhardt Scheer, necessitated the withdrawal of the U-boats during 1916 to combine with the Navy’s Zeppelins for fleet operations. The singular result of the Battle of Jutland on 31 May, followed by the aborted August sortie, convinced Scheer that the British blockade could not be cracked by the High Sea Fleet.[ix] The new German war leadership under Ludendorff and Hindenburg, as such, made the decision late in 1916 to gamble on the U-boats sinking enough British, Allied and neutral tonnage to cripple Britain’s war effort and thus tip the war in Germany’s favour.

Various Francis Dodd drawings from 1918, done from Royal Navy submarines, trawlers, launches and merchant ships. The machine world successor to its wooden counterpart a century before.

On the Western Front, meanwhile, the Allied offensive in France was to be renewed under Generalissimo Joffre’s replacement, General Neville. This was to be an offensive the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) would support at Arras, and included the plan to capture Vimy Ridge.[x] The Allies, to supply this offensive, required huge quantities of material. The cross-Channel coal trade in particular was crucial for fuelling the French war effort: 800 coal transports crossed the English Channel in November 1916 alone.[xi] Other seaborne trade, such as food, shells, and especially fodder for the BEF’s horses, likewise required transshipment across the Channel by merchant ships. Critical supplies of metal and ore were delivered across the North Sea from Scandinavia, goods and commodities were imported across the Atlantic from America and out of the Mediterranean through the Gibraltar Straits. This cornucopia of merchant shipping was exposed, defenceless, and ready-made prey for the unleashed U-boats.

Merchant shipping tonnage sinking by submarines and other means June 1916 to October 1918, from Duncan Redford and Philip Gove, The Royal Navy, A History Since 1900 (2014)

U-boat Offensive, January – March 1917

From the perspective of the German high command the clear weakness in the Western Allied armies was their exposed seaborne logistics. High Seas Fleet C-in-C Admiral Reinhard Scheer, in his 4 July 1916 report on the Jutland battle to the Kaiser, stated his belief that the only way to defeat Britain would be through economic means, meaning “setting the U-boats against the British trade routes.”[xii]


Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer, Commander-in-Chief of the High Sea Fleet & Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff, Chief of the Admiralty Staff (Admiralstab), photograph by Hanse Hermann, Leipzig, 1918

On 22 December Admiral Holtzendorff accepted this view and advocated, in a fateful paper, for the destruction of all shipping approaching Britain.[xiii] Holtzendorff was convinced that if 600,000 tons of merchant shipping could be sunk each month, and sustained for a period of five months, the British would give in.[xiv] The renewed unrestricted submarine campaign commenced at the Kaiser’s order on 1 February 1917.[xv]

Commodore Andreas Michelsen, author of the book Submarine Warfare, 1914-1918, CO North Sea U-boats, Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote, June 1917 – November 1918. He replaced Fregattenkapitan Hermann Bauer.

Early in 1917 there were 111 U-boats available, 49 with the HSF at Wilhelmshaven, 33 at Zeebrugge and Ostend, with another 24 at Pola in the Mediterranean, two at Constantinople and three in the Baltic.[xvi] The Flanders Flotilla (coastal) U-boats alone had managed to sink enough shipping to reduce the cross-Channel coal trade by 39% during the final quarter of 1916.[xvii] This was enough of a threat to the French armaments industry that the Royal Navy’s Auxiliary Patrol, on 10 January 1917, commenced escorting large convoys of 45 ships across the Channel, 800 ships every month.[xviii]

April 1917: the catastrophic increase in Atlantic shipping losses, combined with a spike in Mediterranean losses, seemed to defy all of the Admiralty’s efforts. The potential for disaster seemed overwhelming. By this point, the French coal trade was being escorted across the English Channel, and the Dover barrage was being rebuilt with more effective mines. Despite this, nearly 100,000 tons of shipping had been lost in the Channel by the end of April. From Newbolt, Naval Operations, vol. IV, p. 382-3

With the restrictions on neutral shipping lifted, the U-boats began the slaughter. 35 merchant ships were sunk in the Channel and Western approaches the first week of February 1917 alone.[xix] By the end of February the U-boats had accounted for half a million tons, making more than a million cumulative when another 560,000 tons were sunk in March. The campaign high point was reached in April when 860,000 tons of Allied, British and neutral ships were destroyed.



Allied shipping losses in Channel and Western Approaches for 1914-15 and 1916

These figures represented the destruction of 1,118 Allied and neutrals in the first four months of 1917: 181 in January, 259 in February, 325 in March and 423 in April.[xx] Between 1 February and the end of April 1917, 781 British merchant ships had been attacked, another 374 torpedoed and sunk, plus 154 sunk specifically by U-boat cannons.[xxi] The United Kingdom exported 122,600,000 tons of goods in January, a value that fell to  93,200,000 in February.[xxii] Only nine U-boats, including accidents, were destroyed between February and April.[xxiii]

The Imperial War Cabinet, Jellicoe is standing at the back, second from left. First Lord of the Admiralty Edward Carson is third.

In Britain the new parliamentary coalition under former Munitions and then War Minister and now Prime Minister David Lloyd George was faced with an unprecedented crisis. In early December 1916 Admiral Sir John Jellicoe had been promoted out of the Grand Fleet and advanced to First Sea Lord (1SL), with the explicit objective of curtailing the submarine threat.[xxiv] There were many ideas about what to do, and it was not initially clear what the correct response was, and opinion in the Royal Navy was split. Captain Herbert Richmond believed convoy escort to be the obvious solution,[xxv] a subject he had studied in his historical work with Julian Corbett on 18th century naval warfare (published after the war as The Navy In The War of 1739-48).[xxvi] Both historians noted the importance of trade interdiction and convoy protection efforts in the Caribbean, and Corbett added the Korean peninsula experience in his staff history of the Russo-Japanese War.[xxvii]

Old Waterloo Bridge from South Bank by William Wyllie

Traditionally, Britain had indeed managed the threat from corsairs and privateers by convoying its merchant shipping. On 29 December Jellicoe, however, expressed his skepticism that convoy was the appropriate solution to the U-boat problem. The First Sea Lord’s position, in general, was that the historical analogy of convoy protection was no longer valid, given the vast increase in oceanic shipping, the supposed delays in loading, offloading, and assembling the convoys, coupled with limitations on available escorts.[xxviii] The reality was that the First Sea Lord perceived convoys as sitting targets, and was unable to transcend the tactical paradigm whereby the escorted convoy not only “reduced the number of targets” and thus increased the number of successful sailings, but also forced the U-boats to carry out attacks from positions where they would be exposed to destroyer counterattack.[xxix]

Furthermore, the figures the Admiralty estimated would be required for Atlantic merchant convoy escort were excessively high: 81 escorts for the homeward-bound Atlantic trade, and another 44 for the outward-bound trade.[xxx] Since the requirements of the western approaches had been minimized to increase destroyer numbers at Dover, Harwich, Rosyth and Scapa Flow, Jellicoe foresaw a situation in which the battle fleet’s escorts would be precariously reduced to endlessly feed requirement for merchant shipping escorts, as did in fact occur during Admiral Sir David Beatty’s second year as Grand Fleet C-in-C.


Photograph of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe as C-in-C Grand Fleet

When Jellicoe arrived, and until the April crisis, Britain’s trade defence policy was one of patrolling a series of shipping lanes, combined with aerial patrols over the coasts.[xxxi] The Admiralty had adopted an ‘approach route’ system, by which, rather than using its anti-submarine vessels as convoy escorts (convoys being believed to be large, slow moving, targets), the A/S vessels would patrol various approach ‘cones’ of which there were four, hoping to sweep them clean of enemy submarines.

Approach A: Apex at Falmouth, shipping from South Atlantic and Mediterranean, destined for London, English Channel, and East Coast Ports.

Approach B: Apex at Berehaven, shipping from North and South Atlantic, destined for Bristol Channel, London and English Channel and Mersey.

Approach C: Apex at Inishtrahull, shipping from North Atlantic for Clyde, Belfast, Irish Sea and Liverpool.

Approach D: Apex at Kirkwall, shipping from North Atlantic for North-East ports to the Humber.[xxxii]

The Admiralty’s initial Western Approaches ‘zone’ scheme, as established at the beginning of 1917, and the corresponding locations of sunk merchant ships. The unescorted approach lanes were ideal prey for the patient U-boat commander.


Allied shipping losses in the Channel and Western Approaches for 1917

In practice this system proved disastrous, effectively funnelling in and outbound shipping into dangerously crowded and exposed lanes. Although the actual lane utilized was random, the need for a great number of destroyers to patrol the approach area still made U-boat contact unlikely and trade defence precarious. The approach-lane program, as Henry Jones put it, had the effect of ‘concentrating great numbers of ships along the patrol routes off the south coast of Ireland and in the Bristol Channel.’[xxxiii]

The Western approaches were at first starved for resources: only 14 destroyers stationed at Devonport for use ‘escorting troopships and vessels carrying specially valuable cargoes through the submarine danger zone,’[xxxiv] in addition to 12 sloops at Queenstown.[xxxv] Jellicoe transferred an additional ten destroyers from Admiral Beatty to the Senior Naval Officer (SNO) Devonport, at least partly with the intention of increasing the number of escorts available for providing escort to troop or munitions ships.[xxxvi]  Aircraft and airship bases had not yet been constructed to cover these approaches,[xxxvii] and the Dover Barrage, meant to prevent the Flanders U-boat flotillas from crossing the Channel, proved totally ineffective. Worse, there were only enough depth-charges to equip four per destroyer at the beginning of 1917, and as late as July, only 140 charges were being produced each month. By the end of 1917 this number had increased to 800, sufficient to equip destroyers with 30 to 40 charges.[xxxviii]

Although Jellicoe implemented strong reforms meant to improve all areas of the A/S patrols, from increased depth-charge production, to building new RNAS bases on the coast; the crisis continued to worsen. Shipping losses increased in March and by early April 1917 had reached an apex. The officers responsible for the particularly exposed Scandinavian sea route met at Longshope, in the Orkneys, on 3 April and determined in favour of implementing convoys to protect North Sea sailings.

Motor Launch in the Slipway at Lowestoft, Francis Dodd, April 1918

As we have seen, convoys – or protected sailings – had already been implemented to cover the Channel crossing, and they were far from a novel concept. The War Cabinet secretary, Colonel Maurice Hankey, had in fact prepared a paper for David Lloyd George on the subject of ASW on 11 February 1917.[xxxix] This paper outlined the flaws in the current patrol system and unequivocally advocated the adoption of convoy and escort as the correct solution. Hankey’s observations regarding the benefits of convoys were particularly cogent:

The adoption of the convoy system would appear to offer great opportunities for mutual support by the merchant vessels themselves, apart from the defence provided by their escorts. Instead of meeting one small gun on board one ship the enemy might be under from from, say, ten guns, distributed among twenty ships. Each merchant ship might have depth charges, and explosive charges in addition might be towed between pairs of ships, to be exploded electrically. One or two ships with paravanes might save a line of a dozen ships from the mine danger. Special salvage ships… might accompany the convoy to salve those ships were mined of torpedoed without sinking immediately, and in any event save the crews. Perhaps the best commentary on the convoy [escort] system is that it is invariably adopted by our main fleet, and for our transports.[xl]

Two days later, at an early morning 10 Downing Street meeting, Lloyd George, Carson, Jellicoe and the Director of the Anti-Submarine Division (DASD) of the Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Alexander Duff, spent several hours during breakfast discussing Hankey’s convoy paper. Jellicoe objected on the grounds that the lightly escorted convoys would make vulnerable targets and that merchant captains would not be capable of the complex station keeping required, or indeed zig-zag maneuvering, objections that did not convince Lloyd George, as Hankey described in his diary.[xli]

“The Pool” view of River Thames, by William Wyllie

The following week Jellicoe prepared a War Cabinet paper describing the progress of A/S measures so far taken by the Admiralty.[xlii] Jellicoe’s primary recommendation was merely to reduce the total maritime traffic, notably by abandoning supply for the Salonika front. This was a dismal situation, as Jellicoe put it, ‘the Admiralty can hold out little hope that there will be any reduction in the rate of loss until the number of patrol vessels is largely increased or unless new methods which have been and are in process of being adopted result in the destruction of enemy submarines at a greater rate than that which they are being constructed…’. At this time, Jellicoe illustrated mechanical thinking in his belief that an additional 60 destroyers, 60 sloops, and 240 trawlers would be needed for a patrol scheme of ultimately unspecified final scale, citing the case of the English Channel where auxiliary patrol vessels formed a complete lane through which traffic passed. His third recommendation was the destruction of the submarine bases themselves.[xliii]


The expansion of A/S measures was above all else the priority for Jellicoe as soon as the new Admiralty administration was settled. The new First Sea Lord immediately set about re-organizing the staff and mobilizing naval logistics to supply new bases, improve torpedoes and mines, and create a host of flotilla and auxiliary craft for A/S purposes. DASD Rear Admiral Duff soon recognized the need for aerial patrol over the western approaches. In December 1916 Duff had requested that Director Air Services Rear Admiral Vaughan Lee implement a patrol schemes at Falmouth, the Scillies, Queenstown, Milford Haven, Salcombe, and Berehaven, to cover the exposed approach lanes.[xliv] In February three H12 flying boats were flown out to the Scillies to patrol the Plymouth approach.[xlv]

The U-boats were not alone in their exertion during February. The Kaiserliche Marine’s Zeebrugge force conducted raids against the Dover straits as the U-boats worked up towards maximum effort. The destroyer situation in the Royal Navy at this time was scattered: there were nominally 99 destroyers available with the Grand Fleet, 28 deployed with the Harwich Force, 37 with the Dover Patrol, 11 attached to the Rosyth, Scapa, Cromarty area, 24 at the Humber and Tyne, 8 at the Nore, 32 at Portsmouth, 44 at Devonport and 8 at Queenstown, although this includes ships refitting or being repaired, and not therefore the true operational strength.[xlvi] This great dispersion of force meant it was possible for Germany’s high-speed torpedo boat destroyers to sortie and conduct night raids with good chances of success.

Map showing the simplified Channel Barrage, the main Folkestone – Gris Nez line and the outer Channel explosive mine net at the end of 1917, Dunn, Securing The Narrow Sea (2017)

To test the Channel defences, Admiral Scheer, early on 25 February, ordered the Zeebrugge destroyers to conduct a raid on the Dover coast with three groups, the first comprised of six boats of the First Half-Flotilla (G95, G96, V67, V68 and V47, Lieutenant Commander Albrecht in G95), the second comprised of four boats of the Sixth Flotilla (Lieutenant Commander Tillessen in S49, with V46, V45, G37, V44 and G86), plus a small diversion force of three boats from the Second Half-Flotilla.[xlvii] Albrecht was to target the Downs while Tillessen attacked the Barrage itself. HMS Laverock, a destroyer armed with three 4-inch guns under the command of Lieutenant Henry Binmore, encountered one of the approaching flotillas around 10:30 pm on the 25th.[xlviii]

SMS V43, 1913-class torpedo boat destroyer & Representations of Zeebrugge flotilla destroyers, V67 & G37

After a brief encounter the two sides slipped into the darkness, contact was lost and Tillessen turned back to base. The diversion force found no targets near the Maas, while the First Half-Flotilla carried out a brief shore bombardment of North Foreland and Margate, with no military consequence. Admiral von Schroder, in command of the naval and marine forces in Flanders, considered the operation a success in so far as it was a worthwhile distraction, drawing RN assets away from submarine hunting.[xlix]


HMS Paragon

A second raid on the Dover defences was organized for the night of March 17-18, during which 16 Flanders destroyers sortied under Tillessen’s command. On this occasion, the Dover destroyer HMS Paragon was torpedoed and sank, with the loss of 75 members of the crew, by boats from Germany’s Sixth Flotilla.[l] HMS Llewellyn was badly damaged by a torpedo attack when it came to assist the sinking Paragon.[li] The Second Half-Flotilla, for its part, sank the anchored merchant ship Greypoint and damaged a drifter near Ramsgate, which they also shelled without effect. Another raid on 24 March, this time against Dunkirk, destroyed a another pair of merchant ships.[lii] While these surface raids kept pressure on the Dover Strait defences, the shipping crisis itself was spiralling out of control.

U-boat Crisis, April – June 1917

On Saturday 24 March 1917, the London Times reported on Mr. J. M. Henderson’s parliamentary speech. On Friday the MP from Aberdeenshire stated that, due to the hardships suffered by the poor during the harsh winter of 1916, it would be necessary that ‘the Government should issue regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act directing the local authorities throughout the country to establish depots for the sale and delivery of coal, sugar, and other necessaries.’[liii] The creeping realization amongst the commons that the supply situation was deteriorating was not lost on the Lloyd George government. Indeed, the War Cabinet had already recognized, notably in a series of meetings during the second half of February, that food stockpiling and public rationing were both imperative and imminent.[liv]

Loading torpedoes aboard a coastal U-boat (UB-type), maintained at the Bruges base, 1917

By 21 March the situation was so serious that Arthur Balfour, then the Foreign Secretary, had been forced to convey to the Netherlands that the UK was likely going to begin requisitioning their shipping.[lv] On 2 April the War Cabinet considered the situation ‘most serious’.[lvi] The desperate nature of the shipping losses, and the inability of the Admiralty to resolve the crisis, can be seen in the War Cabinet’s consideration that smaller merchant ships should be built, thus compelling ‘the enemy to expend as many torpedoes as possible in his submarine campaign.’ It was also considered at the 2 April meeting that compulsory mercantile service may be required due to the potential collapse of crew morale.[lvii] All this chaos was being caused by roughly 50 U-boats, an unsustainably high figure that dropped to 40 in May as a result of the exhausting operational tempo the preceding month.[lviii]

Jellicoe, as First Sea Lord, could imagine only material solutions: strengthening merchant ships with bulkheads, or building enormous 50,000 ton ‘unsinkable’ ships for transporting wheat – further indications of the desperate situation.[lix] Indeed, some of the measures recommended to reduce losses were so desperate that had they been implemented the result would have ultimately had a negative impact on the anti-submarine war, such as the War Cabinet suggestion that the Admiralty reduce construction of airship sheds to save steel (airships proved to be ideal platforms for escorting convoys).[lx]

UB III type costal submarine, 500 tons displacement, crewed by three officers and 31 men, armed with four bow and one stern firing torpedoes, plus a single 8.8 or 10.5 cm gun


By 4 April figures provided by Sir Leo Chiozza Money, the Shipping Controller, indicated that by February 1918 merchant shipping tonnage would increase by 850,000 tons from building in Britain, plus 312,000 tons abroad, to which could be added the 720,000 tons of German shipping then seized in American ports. At this time it was believed that this new construction, combined with other efficiencies, would be enough to see the United Kingdom through only until the end of the year.[lxi]

On 1 January 1917 the British Empire possessed 16,788,000 tons (gross) of shipping. By 1 May this figure had fallen to 15,467,000 tons, despite new construction.[lxii] At the height of the crisis in April it was expected that the total would likely fall to around 12,862,000 by the end of the year, in other words, that 3.9 million tons would be erased during 1917. In fact, a staggering 9,964,500 tons were destroyed, globally, during the year, of which 3,729,000 had been British, almost matching the Admiralty estimate in April 1917.

Merchant shipping losses, British and World, to all causes. Gibson and Prendergast, German Submarine War., Appendix III, section O, p. 381-2

The British Army needed to import 428,000 tons a month. The Ministry of Munitions imported another 1,400,000 tons monthly. For comparison, Britain imported one million tons of cotton, 70,000 tons of tobacco and 400,000 tons of fertilizers on a monthly basis. It was believed that a minimum of 553,000 tons of goods were required every month to sustain the civilian population.[lxiii] According to Jellicoe’s calculations, 8,050,000 tons of shipping were required for the Navy and Army, and on 1 January 1917 there were 8,394,000 tons available for vital imports. By 31 December 1917 the latter figure would therefore have been reduced to 4,812,000 tons, or a loss of 2.78 million tons of civilian imports per month.[lxiv]

The degree of the crisis is told by these statistics, implying a monthly loss rate of between 300,000 and 500,000 tons for the remainder of 1917. The final, and potentially decisive, result was that civilian imports would fall from three million tons in January to 1.6 million tons by the end of the year. Certainly strong economy would be necessitated, in addition to rationing that if continued unchecked would result in the extinguishing of non-military trade by the summer of 1918.[lxv]

Top scoring U-boat ‘aces’ based on proven tonnage destroyed, from Michelsen, Submarine Warfare, p. 218

While the debate carried on at the Admiralty and in the War Cabinet, the district commanders and SNOs were beginning, on their own accord, to form proto-regional commands and implement convoys. As we have seen, the Scandinavian mineral trade and the Channel food and coal trade. had both been placed under convoy with good results.

Some relief occurred on 3 April when the United States joined the war, a momentous event that was welcomed by the War Cabinet three days later. Diplomatic efforts were crucial if the American and Allied war efforts were to be united for maximum impact. Balfour therefore traveled to the United States aboard RMS Olympic while Rear Admiral William Sims, USN, crossed over to Britain in exchange.[lxvi] When Sims, who had traveled across the Atlantic in civilian disguise – in fact, aboard a merchant ship that struck a mine during the voyage – arrived in London and met with Jellicoe, the message Jellicoe had to convey, as Prendergast and Gibson put it, was dire: ‘the German submarines were winning the war.’[lxvii] On Monday, 9 April, Jellicoe reported to the War Cabinet that Admiral Sims would make the utmost efforts to mobilize American support for the anti-submarine campaign.[lxviii]

US Ninth Battleship Division, showing USS New York & USS Texas off Rosyth by William Wyllie.

Close coordination with the Americans brought immediate returns as it would now be possible for American imports to Britain to be carried in American merchant ships, freeing British vessels for other duties.[lxix] Auxiliary ships in the form of the 10th Cruiser Squadron (25 armed merchant cruisers and 18 armed trawlers), that patrolled the Shetlands and Faeroes line intercepting American contraband, was no longer required and its ships were redirected to more fruitful purposes until the squadron itself was abolished on 29 November 1917, shortly prior to the arrival in European waters of the United States Navy’s Battleship Division Nine under Rear Admiral Hugh Rodman.[lxx]

Francis Dodd artwork from 1918 showing RN submarine L2 engaging aircraft with its deck cannon.

As part of Jellicoe’s material strategy, Royal Navy aircraft were expanded alongside A/S flotilla craft. Flying boats stationed at Yarmouth and Felixstowe were equipped to locate and attack submarines, making possible large-scale A/S patrols supported by surface vessels. As the patrol system evolved the U-boats adjusted their tactics.

By March 1917 Jellicoe could inform Beatty that the Staff believed between 11 and 21 U-boats had been destroyed so far that year.[lxxi] Three German torpedo boat flotillas, between 30 and 40 destroyers were deployed to support U-boat operations.[lxxii] German seaplanes were engaged in a significant battle with the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) for control of the North Sea, as well as carrying out anti-shipping missions, occasionally with success. April was a particularly busy month for the east coast air stations, the Felixstowe H12 flying boats being assigned to conduct ‘spider web’ patrols off the Kentish coast.

H-12 type Felixstowe flying boats on patrol, from Theodore Douglas Hallam, The Spider Web (2009) & ‘Spider Web’ style octagonal patrol areas for NAS Felixstowe.

In fact, the situation at Dover, since the raids in February and March, had resolved into an intense destroyer and seaplane conflict in its own right. The War Cabinet was informed on 26 March that 30 German destroyers had been massed at Zeebrugge.[lxxiii] Another destroyer raid was shortly organized, taking place on 20 April. The Fifth Half-Flotilla (V71, V73, V81, S53, G85 and G42) under Korvettenkapitan Gautier was to conduct an attack against Dover, while boats from the Sixth and First Half-Flotilla (Commander Albrecht in V47, with G95, V68, G96, G91 and V70) raided Calais.[lxxiv] Although in the event little damage was caused, the raid alerted Dover forces which sortied to intercept the retiring German destroyers. About 12:45 am the 21st, HMS Swift, commanded by Commander Ambrose Peck, with HMS Broke in support, spotted an unknown torpedo boat to the port bow. Swift attacked the boat, torpedoing G85 and disabling it, while Broke, under Commander Edward ‘Teddy’ Evans, rammed G42 and disabled the torpedo boat in hand-to-hand action.[lxxv] Broke was damaged by S53’s 105 mm cannon, but still managed to sink G85 with a torpedo after the German flotilla retreated. 89 sailors were recovered from G42 and G85.[lxxvi]

HMS Broke, from Steve Dunn, Securing The Narrow Sea (2017)

The temporary defeat of the Flanders raiders, the introduction of the Felixstowe flying boats, and above all else, the introduction of the United States, made a powerful tonic for the Admiralty’s ailing morale. Jellicoe, however, still faced a mounting crisis. He turned to the Naval Staff for answers.

Organization of the Naval Staff, 1905 – 1917 (May), from Nicholas Black, The British Naval Staff In The First World War (2011)

In April 1917 the Anti-Submarine Division (ASD) of the staff was composed of 15 officers and two civilians, spread across seven offices located in the Admiralty Building, Block III.[lxxvii] The U-boat threat plot was kept in a Chart Room within the Convoy Section of the Naval Staff. The Chart Room was managed by Commander J. W. Carrington.[lxxviii] this room, known as the ‘X’ room, displayed a 6’ by 9’ map of all of the known information on submarines, convoys and their most recent locations or sightings.[lxxix] The ASD thus controlled a centralized hub for collecting from the Intelligence Division and disseminating to the Operations Division, U-boat data on the approaching Atlantic convoys. U-boat signal intercepts detected by the Direction Finding (D/F) stations along the coast alerted the Director of Intelligence to submarine activity. The cryptanalysts in Room 40 could then triangulate the location of a transmitting U-boat to within 50 or 20 miles and send this information, via pneumatic tube, instantly to the Chart Room.[lxxx]

Naval Staff2.5

It was imperative that Jellicoe be in the closest touch with the Staff, and in May 1917 he was promoted to Chief of the Naval Staff, uniting that position with the office of the First Sea Lord.[lxxxi] These reforms resulted in Admiral Duff’s promotion to Assistant Chief of the Staff, with Henry Oliver becoming the Deputy Chief.[lxxxii] By assigning duties to the assistant and deputy the Chief of Staff was, in Winston Churchill’s words, relieved of ‘a mass of work.’[lxxxiii] The Director of Operations, Captain Thomas Jackson and, after June 1917, Captain George W. Hope, were to prepare a weekly appraisals of the naval situation, with specific attention to submarines, for the First Sea Lord and the War Cabinet.[lxxxiv]

Organization of the Naval Staff and Admiralty Board, c. September 1917, from Jellicoe, Crisis of the Naval War (1920), p. 20

Captain William Fisher, playing a part in Jellicoe’s reforms, replaced Admiral Duff as DASD. Fisher took a direct interest in operational aspects, orchestrating Jellicoe’s broader mission to centralize methods and material; he would communicate directly with the district commanders, such as on 21 July when he wrote a letter to Plymouth commander Admiral Bethell, proposing the use of kite balloons as a screen for convoys in his Area of Responsibility (AOR).[lxxxv]


The Decision for Convoys

The First Sea Lord, as we have seen, was initially skeptical of the possibilities of convoys.[lxxxvi] Early interest in convoy formation, not only in the English Channel and across the North Sea, but also in the Mediterranean, was ignored.[lxxxvii] Jellicoe’s initial blindness to convoy adoption hinged primarily on the scale of the endeavour. As he pointed out in 1934, the convoy system as had evolved by November 1917 for the Atlantic and English Channel required 170 escort vessels of all kinds (of which, 37 were USN destroyers), plus another 32 escorts covering the northern crossing with Norway, and a another 30 escorts in the Mediterranean for a total of 232 vessels, with another 217 escorts working with the fleet units.[lxxxviii] In practice, assembling, directing and communicating with the convoys proved a strenuous task, atmospheric conditions, enemy jamming, battle damage to communications equipment, all had an impact on a convoy’s, or squadron’s, ability to communicate. An officer was assigned to each arrival/departure terminus to manage assembly and coordinate with the escorts and merchantmen. In any given convoy the convoy itself was under the command of the convoy Commodore, while supporting warships were under the authority of the Senior Officer, Escort.[lxxxix]


Jellicoe as First Sea Lord, attending the Inter-Allied Conference in Paris, 27 July 1917, Rear Admiral Alexander Duff, the Director of the Anti-Submarine Division of the Naval Staff to his right

In early April the Scandinavian trade began to be convoyed, and with success. This was done at the insistence of the Norwegian government, who urged that the Admiralty do more to protect Norwegian merchant ships in the North Sea, of which 27 were sunk during March, and another 27 in April, plus six Danish and two Swedish neutrals.[xc] Of these ships, as Steve Dunn observes, nine were torpedoed by a single U-boat, U30, over the period 10 to 15 April.[xci]  Losses in the Lerwick – Bergan route, between the Shetland Islands and the Norwegian coast, were running at 25% per month since inception.

Although cross-Channel trade was by now routinely convoyed, the scale of crossing the North Sea, and the importance of the trade, including vitals such as ‘nitrates, carbide, timber, iron and steel,’ now necessitated new tactics.[xcii] Vice Admiral Frederick Brock, in command of the Orkneys and Shetlands, and on his own authority, was sharing destroyers for escort work with the C-in-C East Coast of England, and the C-in-C Rosyth: a plan they initiated on 3 March.[xciii]

Greenwich and the Thames, by William Wyllie

Jellicoe could see that this was the best option, given the dismal results from all other efforts.[xciv] Still, the First Sea Lord was wary about depleting the Grand Fleet’s destroyer flotillas, and was skeptical the convoy system would succeed in the long run.[xcv] In April, however, with the success of the Channel coal trade, where ‘controlled sailings’ had been implemented since 10 February with correspondingly dramatic reduction in losses such that, between then and the end of August, only 16 of the 8,871 ships convoyed across the Channel had been sunk.[xcvi] Jellicoe was just beginning to come around to the implementation of Admiral Duff’s comprehensive recommendation for convoying ‘all vessels – British, Allied and Neutral – bound from North and South Atlantic to United Kingdom’.[xcvii]

The pivot, from the perspective of the War Cabinet, occurred on Monday 23 April, when Lloyd George decided upon an upcoming visit to the Admiralty. The PM’s objective was certainly to put pressure on the Admiralty, but also simply to discover the details of whatever trade protection schemes the Navy was working on. Jellicoe had so far not suggested arranging convoys as the solution, rather relying on a multitude of measures, some more effective than others. In this case, DASD Rear Admiral Duff was in agreement with Grand Fleet C-in-C Admiral Sir David Beatty, as well as Admiral Sims, that convoy should be universally adopted. Jellicoe was still skeptical, having been convinced, in the weeks following the 13 February debate with Hankey, by interviews with a number of merchant ship captains who testified that station-keeping and convoy assembling, in particular, of inbound traffic, would be exceedingly difficult if not impossible.[xcviii] Jellicoe also clung to the dearth of destroyers, as well as an apparently deficient convoy trial that Beatty had conducted as counter-arguments. Under pressure from the PM, however, Jellicoe stated that he would reconsider Duff’s convoy proposal.[xcix]

Merchant convoy maneuvering with air support

Duff produced his report three days later, suggesting a program for convoying all Atlantic trade. The DASD observed that, in fact, contrary to Jellicoe’s perspective that convoys were merely larger targets, ‘it would appear that the larger the convoy passing through any given danger zone, provided it is moderately protected, the less the loss to the Merchant Services; that is, for instance, were it feasible to escort the entire volume of trade which normally enters the United Kingdom per diem in one large group, the submarine as now working would be limited to one attack, which, with a Destroyer escort, would result in negligible losses compared with those new being experienced.’[c] Jellicoe approved the scheme the next day, 27 April 1917, that is, three days before the PM arrived at the Admiralty.[ci]

Under Duff’s scheme, the Atlantic trade would be assembled into convoys at four key depots, where they would be joined by escorts and then shuttled into British harbours. Every four days 18 vessels would depart Gibraltar, escorted by two vessels outward and inward bound (requiring six escorts altogether – the other two being spares). Every five days 18 merchants would depart Dakar, protected by three escorts out and in, (nine escorts total). Every three days between 16-20 vessels would leave Louisburg, escorted by four destroyers both ways (12 total), and lastly, every three days 18 ships would depart Newport News, to be escorted by six destroyers (18 total), for a total program of 45 escorts. A further 45 destroyers would provide protection for the final leg of the inbound convoys, with six destroyers meeting each incoming convoy and escorting it to one of the pre-arranged collection points, either St. Mary’s, the Scillies, Plymouth, Milford Haven or Brest.[cii]

130 ton armed lighter X222, one of the armada of light vessels constructed or converted during PM Asquith’s wartime ministries. Originally designed for amphibious landings, these support craft were in converted to A/S patrol and convoy escort duties in 1917


Lloyd George and Hankey did indeed visit the Admiralty on 30 April, and had lunch with Carson, Jellicoe and his family, plus Duff, Captain Webb of the Trade Division and several Assistant Directors from the Naval Staff.[ciii] Jellicoe, the pessimist, considered the Prime Minister ‘a hopeless optimist’ who could not be swayed from his opinions regardless of the 1SL’s cold calculations.[civ] As Hankey phrased it, the meeting ‘set the seal on the decision to adopt the convoy system’.[cv] As significant as the decision in favour of convoys had been, another important decision was made at the next War Cabinet meeting: Lloyd George and Jellicoe agreed that Eric Geddes should be appointed as a civilian naval controller to administer all shipbuilding and supply for naval purposes.[cvi] Geddes strong hand ensured the delivering of the mass of material needed for ASW, with vessels available for A/S duty ballooning from 64 destroyers, 11 sloops and 16 P-boats in July 1917 to 102 destroyers, 24 sloops and 44 P-boats by November, a standard that was maintained well into 1918 when in April there were 115 destroyers, 35 sloops and 45 P-boats available for ASW.[cvii]

Various Francis Dodd artwork detailing shipboard convoy and patrol routine

It was still early in May when in Washington meanwhile, Sims and Balfour had convinced the Americans to supply 36 destroyers for RN use, a welcome development that would fill half of Jellicoe’s destroyer requirements.[cviii] Indeed, on the 22nd Jellicoe reported to the War Cabinet that the general situation was, ‘for the moment, more reassuring.’[cix] During May the loss rate fell significantly: 106,000 tons of shipping had been destroyed in the Mediterranean, with another 213,000 tons – 78 British ships – lost in all other theatres.[cx] 

Furthermore, the RN and RNAS were conducting more frequent engagements with U-boats, suggesting that the A/S measures were having some impact, although as yet there were few concrete results. Of the seven U-boats destroyed during May, only three were attributable to RN efforts: U81, torpedoed by RN submarine E54, UC26, rammed by the destroyer HMS Milne, and UB39 which blew up on Dover Strait mines.[cxi] Significantly, the nature of the U-boat attacks had changed. In March, only 69 ships approaching Britain from the North or South Atlantic had been attacked, with only 32 ships attacked leaving British ports for the same destinations (this was in addition to 62 fishing vessels that were attacked, and another 60 ships in the Channel). By May the figure for import ships attacked had climbed to 100, while the export number had fallen to 20 (only 38 vessels in the Channel attacked, and only 20 fishing vessels).[cxii] Whereas 100,333 tons had been sunk in the Channel during May, only 32,000 tons were sunk in June 1917, a major success.[cxiii]

HMS Fawn, a 380 ton destroyer armed with one 12 pdr and five 6 pdr guns plus two torpedo tubes, on convoy escort duty & a Japanese destroyer escorting the Alexandria – Tarento convoy, 1918

By the end of May 1917, as Henry Newbolt observed, it was the unescorted import trade that was now at the greatest risk of attack: ‘five times as vulnerable as the export trade’.[cxiv] Experimental Atlantic convoys were tested late in May and, by the end of July 1917, 21 Atlantic convoys had run successfully. Of the 354 ships escorted across that ocean, a mere two were sunk by U-boats. Of all convoys run during this period, of 8,894 ships convoyed, only 27 were destroyed by enemy submarines. The statistics demonstrated that convoys were the best method for protecting merchant shipping. Although ships traveling in convoys were relatively safe, there was still a great mass of unescorted traffic that was easy prey for the U-boats. During the May to July period, 910,133 tons of the total 1,868,555 tons sunk was destroyed by High Sea Fleet U-boats operating in the Atlantic.[cxv]

U-boats operating in 1917, and British tonnage sunk per submarine. Newbolt, Naval Operations, vol. V, 1931, p. 195

Shipping losses were heavy and Jellicoe reported that, up to 20 May, 185 ships had been sunk by U-boats (105 British, 36 Allied and 44 neutrals), for 239,816 tons of British shipping lost: a cumulative total of 362,183 tons destroyed.[cxvi] Jellicoe estimated this number would likely climb to 500,000 tons before the end of the month. In the event, 616,316 tons (or 596,629)[cxvii] were indeed sunk by the end of May, 352,596 tons of which were British.[cxviii] There were 126 U-boats in Germany’s possession that May, with 47 the average number at sea on a daily basis that month. A month later the figure was 55, falling to 41 in July. 15 boats were lost during that three-month period, equating to 53 merchants ships (124,750 tons) sunk on average for each U-boat lost, which was down from the rate of 86 ships (194,524 tons) during the previous period, February to April.

In terms of U-boats lost or destroyed versus new commissions, September was the costliest month for the German submarine force. From Marder, FDSF, IV, p. 278

Unfortunately for the Allies, U-boat losses were more than made up for by the 24 new U-boats constructed during May and July.[cxix] In James Goldrick’s phrase ‘the navy admitted reality’ as more U-boats were urgently required, and an order for 95 boats, mainly UB and UC types but including ten U-cruisers, was placed in early June. At the peak of new construction, after another 220 boats were ordered in June 1918, some 300 U-boats of varying types were on order, 74 were completed in the ten months before the armistice, 1.85 per week.[cxx] Besides the battlecruiser SMS Hindenburg, and three further light cruisers, these would be amongst the last warships completed for the Kaiserliche Marine.[cxxi]


Convoy Implementation, July to September 1917

The improvements in air support, war material, American destroyers, the rolling adoption of convoys, combined with fatigue amongst the U-boats and loss of some experienced crews, was having an impact on the spiralling shipping loss rate. Import trade, which was now generally convoyed, was well protected so once again the U-boats concentrated their efforts against outbound shipping, which so far had not been incorporated into the convoy system.[cxxii] Jellicoe was now convinced of the need to implement a total convoy system, and outward-bound ships began to be convoyed on 13 August, the needed escorts being removed from the Grand Fleet. The results were excellent: during August, only three of the 200 ships convoyed in outbound convoys were lost, a figure that increased to 789 ships convoyed with only two losses during September. Likewise, 1,306 ships were convoyed inbound across the Atlantic, with only 18 lost that month.[cxxiii]

When the system was fully operational, as Arthur Marder described, there were ‘on the average, sixteen homeward convoys at sea, of which three were in the Home Submarine Danger Zone (Western Approaches, Irish Sea, of English Channel), under destroyer escort. There was an average of seven outward convoys at sea, of which four to five were in the Home Danger Zone. It is worth emphasizing that the convoy system protected neutral as well as British and Allied shipping’.[cxxiv]

The effectiveness of the U-boats had been crippled by this comprehensive convoy system, although the Mediterranean, where convoys had not yet been implemented, remained fertile hunting grounds, albeit with too few submarines operating there to represent a serious impediment to Allied supplies. Regardless, between October and November 1917 a convoy system was arranged for those waters, and by the end of November 381 ships, or 40% of all the Mediterranean traffic, had been successfully convoyed with the loss of only nine vessels.[cxxv]

Depth charge attack, by William Wyllie.

One of the key material improvements was in the quality and quantity of Britain’s undersea weapons, from torpedoes to depth charges and mines. During 1915 and 1916, 6,177 not very effective mines were laid in the Heligoland Bight. In 1917 the Allies reverse-engineered the more effective German mine, and production numbers increased significantly. Jellicoe was an aggressive advocate of mine operations and he championed the introduction of the German ‘horned’ type over the defective British ‘lever’ mines, specifically for the Dover Barrage,[cxxvi] while also advancing the technical and quantitative refinement of aerial bombs and escort depth-charges.[cxxvii] 12,450 mines were produced between October and December 1917,[cxxviii] with 10,389 laid in the Heligoland Bight and Dover Strait. Marder states that 20,000 mines were laid in the Dover Strait and Bight between July and December 1917, of which 15,686 were laid (in 76 fields) in the Bight during 1917.


‘Horned’ mines carried aboard a minelayer.

British mine counter-measures also improved, with 726 vessels counted in the sweeping force, or paravane equipped, so that only ten British vessels, less than 20,000 tons, were sunk by mines during 1918, compared to more than 250,000 tons lost in the first ten months of 1917.[cxxix]

Six U-boats were in fact destroyed by mines between September and the end of the year.[cxxx] At the beginning of 1918 the increased lethality of the Dover, Bight and Zeebrugge minefields meant that U-boats wishing to reach the Atlantic approaches had to exit the North Sea via the Orkney’s passage, or risk running the Channel nets and minefields. A vast effort was decided upon to mine the North Sea exit (250 miles, requiring 100,000 special ‘antenna’ mines),[cxxxi] and plans were examined to block the U-boats’ bases at Zeebrugge, Ostend, and Kiel. Another 7,500 mines would cut-off the Danish strait.[cxxxii]

A scheme to deploy 21,000 mines from Wangeroog to Heligoland to Pellworm, thus attempting to block the base of operations for the High Sea Fleet’s U-boats, was also considered. Actually executing these plans once again raised problems exposed by the schemes of Winston Churchill (Borkum) and Sir John Fisher (Baltic), that had not been resolved in 1914-15. The operation would require a vast armament, success was not guaranteed, and the potential for a catastrophic defeat was real.[cxxxiii]


RNAS Million based Coastal airship C23A escorting a convoy early in 1918 (C23A was wrecked on 10 May near Newbury)

The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) had not been neglected in this vast expansion of military hardware. Indeed, the coastal patrol and convoy escort roles supplied by the naval aviators were essential and had been significantly expanded, with 324 seaplanes, flying boats, and airplanes on duty, plus around 100 airships of various types.[cxxxiv]

Felixstowe F3, N4230, IWM photograph.

During 1917 the majority of these aircraft were involved in air patrol missions, in June 1917 only 46 airplane and 46 airship convoy escort missions were flown, but the figure rose to 92 and 86 respectively in September before poor weather curtailed flying.[cxxxv] By April 1918 the figure was 176 and 184, jumping to 402 and 269 in May. Airships provided the convoy with a constant deterrent to submarine attack, except during night, while flying boats and airplanes could fly in advance of the convoy on look-out, or counter-attack any located U-boats with bombs, which increased in potency from 230 lb delayed-fuse bombs introduced in May 1917 to the 520 lb bombs in use by 1918.[cxxxvi]


RNAS and RAF coverage of the Atlantic approaches by the SNO Plymouth and Queenstown. The RNAS South West Group under Wing Captain E. L. Gerrard implemented sweeping ‘spider-web’ flying-boat patrols off the coast of England and Wales, while Vice Admiral Bayly at Queenstown worked with Captain Hutch Cone, United States Navy, to develop flying-boat bases in Ireland.

Although convoy escort and improved A/S methods and material reduced the potential for a starvation defeat, shortages were still a serious problem. Oil imports to the UK were falling drastically as tankers were destroyed. On 11 June Jellicoe reported that he intended to form weekly oil convoys to relieve the situation.[cxxxvii] Two days later Jellicoe reported to the War Cabinet that the implementation of the convoy system was ‘nearly complete.’[cxxxviii]

Convoys were highly successful in 1917, as this figure from Marder indicates. Of the 26,404 ships that sailed in convoys during that year, only 147 were lost. The Scandinavian and Atlantic convoys were the most susceptible targets for convoy interdiction missions, while the sparsely escorted Mediterranean had the highest loss rate that year.

Effects of Ocean Convoys, with the losses vs successful convoy sailing ‘cross-over’ point at August – September 1917, from Tarrant, The U-Boat Offensive, p. 73

By the end of 1917 26,404 ships had sailed in organized merchant convoys: 4,484 across the Atlantic, 6,155 between Scotland and Scandinavia, and 15,684 in the French coal trade, with a total loss of only 147 vessels.[cxxxix] 32.5% and 42.5%, respectively, of those ships that were lost while being convoyed, were sunk while entering or leaving a convoy, when confusion was at its greatest.[cxl] These results were significant, as compared with June 1917 when 122 British merchant ships were sunk with a loss of 417,925 tons in a single month. Although loss rates dropped significantly by November, 85 ships were still lost to mines (8) and U-boats (76) at loss of 253,087 tons of British merchant shipping in December.[cxli] Allied tonnage losses, that is, non-British shipping losses, plummeted from 72 ships at 111,683 tons in July to only 46 ships at 86,981 tons in December.[cxlii]

By August 1917 the convoy system had been systematically implemented in all three maritime theatres, the North Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean

The Flanders UB and UC flotillas were, however, continually destroying Channel shipping at an average of 50,000 tons a month for the entire period and the Third Ypres offensive had failed to capture Passchendaele, and critically, the U-boat bases along the Belgian coast. Despite these set-backs there was room for hope. In the Atlantic the tonnage loss rate fell from 550,000 tons in April, to only 165,000 tons in November. 37 U-boats were destroyed during the second half of 1917, 16 by mines, the total equivalent to 7.4 boats a month, nearly matching the commission rate for new U-boats, 8.8 per month.[cxliii]

Counter-blockade submarine U151, 1,500 tons displacement, first of seven initially designed for use as blockade runners and in April 1917 converted to an Atlantic battle submarine, entering service in July 1917.

In September there were 139 submarines operating, the wartime peak, allowing for an increased daily average of 56 U-boats in October, more than the 39 at sea in November or the 48 in December.[cxliv] With nearly fifty U-boats continuously at sea every day, and new long-endurance U-boat cruisers plumbing the Atlantic to the tune of 52,000 tons per three month cruise, as U155 achieved in the fall of 1917 (10 steamers & seven sailing ships), the submarine war was far from over.[cxlv]

Daily average of U-boats at sea & total (Allied, Neutral & British) tonnage sunk on average per boat. The sinking rate was cut almost in half between March and December 1917. Furthermore the average daily number and size of vessels sunk was falling: whereas in March 889 tons of British shipping was on average destroyed each day, by August that number had fallen to 485 tons, & half again to 284 tons by December. In March – June the average size of each ship sunk was 5,084 tons gross, falling to 4,342 tons in July – October. Tarrant, The U-Boat Offensive, p. 58


Convoy Battles, October – December 1917

From Jellicoe’s perspective, the Royal Navy was engaged in an unprecedented destroyer and submarine action with the German Navy, with the possibility for a High Sea Fleet sortie at any time. Early in the morning of October 17, German light cruisers raided a west-bound Scandinavian convoy of 12 (two British, one Belgian, one Danish, five Norwegian, three Swedish) that had departed Marstein in the company of two destroyers, HMS Strongbow and Mary Rose.[cxlvi] Just after 6 am on the 17th, Strongbow spotted two unidentified vessels on a converging course. In fact, these were the 3,800 ton German minelaying cruisers SMS Brummer and Bremse, with orders to mine the Scandinavian convoy routes.


SMS Brummer, minelaying cruiser that along with sistership SMS Bremse, attacked a Scandinavian convoy on 17 October 1917 & HMS Strongbowdestroyed by SMS Brummer & Bremse at the action of 17 October 1917

The light cruisers proceeded to make short work of Strongbow and Mary Rose with their 15 cm guns.[cxlvii] The trawlers Elise and P. Fannon, armed with only one 6 pdr gun apiece, along with three unarmed steamers, managed to escape and retrieve Lieutenant Commander Brooke, CO of the Strongbow and others, from the water.[cxlviii] The enemy cruisers destroyed the remaining nine merchants in the convoy.[cxlix]

Locations of major minefields, Tarrant, The U-boat Offensive, p. 62 & The chaotic minefield situation in the Heligoland Bight, 17 November 1917, from Newbolt, Naval Operations, vol. V, p. 168-9

On 17 November the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight took place when the First Battle Cruiser Squadron, under Rear Admiral Phillimore, a component of Admiral Pakenham’s Battle Cruiser Force, intercepted a group of High Sea Fleet minesweepers that were attempting to clear the edge of the Bight minefields.[cl] Rear Admiral Phillimore’s HMS Repulse group pursued the minesweepers, but the Germans deployed a large smoke screen that successfully covered their escape.[cli]

HMS Repulse or Renown at steam, by William Weyllie. & Second Battle of Heligoland Bight, 17 November 1917, also by Wyllie

On 11 December Admiral Scheer ordered Commander Heinecke’s Second Flotilla (Torpedo Boat Flotilla II), comprising the largest and fastest destroyers in the fleet,[clii] to raid Britain’s merchant convoys. The Fourth Half-Flotilla was to attack shipping near Newcastle, while the Third Half-Flotilla raided the Scandinavian Bergen-Lerwick line. During the winter darkness early on 12 December, the Fourth Half-Flotilla destroyers (B97, B109, B110 & B112), moving north up the coast, encountered the stragglers from a southbound coastal convoy out of Lerwick, Shetlands, and torpedoed two transports, the Danish Peter Willemoes and the Swedish Nike and sank a third small coastal steamer shortly afterwards.[cliii] The Fourth Half-Flotilla then withdrew for its rendezvous with the light cruiser SMS Emden at 5:15 pm.[cliv]

German destroyers in formation, from Goldrick, After Jutland (2018), photo 9.1

The complexities of night-time communication in crowded sea-lanes meant that no clear indication of what was happening reached the Admiralty. Furthermore, the poor weather conditions and dearth of coastal lighting (suppressed except at specific times at Admiralty orders) resulted in the Third Half-Flotilla becoming lost and eventually approaching the Norwegian coast.[clv]


G101-type German destroyer, c. 1916

So it was with complete surprise that the daily convoy from Lerwick to the Marstein lighthouse, escorted by destroyers HMS Pellew and HMS Partridge, plus four armed trawlers, at 11:30 am south-west of Bjorne Fjord, encountered the German destroyers of the Third Half-Flotilla, under the command of Korvettenkapitan (Lieutenant-Commander) Hans Kolbe, a powerful force composed of SMS G101, G103, G104 & V100.[clvi] Lieutenant-Commander J. R. C. Cavendish of the Pellew, when the unknown destroyers approaching the convoy did not answer his signals, transmitted a warning notice to Beatty informing the C-in-C of the expected enemy contact (a signal actually received by the armoured cruiser HMS Shannon and its group, about sixty miles away), and then ordered the convoy to scatter.[clvii]

A RN destroyer and three armed drifters escorting a convoy of merchant ships, c. 1917-18

The 12 December 1917 convoy action, from Scheer’s High Sea Fleet, p. 383

Pellew and Partridge placed themselves between the German destroyers and the convoy hoping to buy time.[clviii] Kolbe’s force destroyed Partridge with gunfire and torpedoes until it sank. Pellew, partially disabled by gunfire, was lost in a storm and LTC Cavendish was able to navigate the destroyer towards the Norwegian coast while Kolbe turned on the convoy (six merchants, four trawlers) and annihilated it.[clix] Although the Partridge distress report was received by HMS Rival and then transmitted to the HMS Birkenhead group (3rd Light Cruiser Squadron) south of Norway, Kolbe’s force managed to slip east past the picket line shortly after sunset.[clx]

Chart of 12 December 1917 destroyer raid on the Scandinavian convoy route, from Marder, FDSF, IV

While this example demonstrated that Germany’s surface assets were very much still a risk to the convoy system, another encounter a week later with U-boats operating near a convoy assembly point highlighted the multidimensional nature of the battle.

A convoy of 17 departed Falmouth in stormy weather at 11 am on 18 December, screened by several trawlers. When the convoy was clear of the Channel and off Prawle point at 1:30 pm, the SS Riversdale was torpedoed. At noon the C-in-C Devonport, receiving reports of sunk merchant ships, ordered all merchant traffic between Plymouth and Portland to be halted, a condition that remained in force until 8 pm, and then again from 5:15 am.[clxi]

The 7,046 ton Cunard liner SS Vinovia was the next to be torpedoed, off Wolf Rock an hour later, with nine lives lost.[clxii] The Rame Head wireless-telegraphy (W/T) station reported a sighting, and the C-in-C Devonport ordered the trawlers in F section to investigate. These were the Mewslade and Coulard Hill. These hydrophone equipped vessels established a hydrophone picket, but did not locate any submarines.[clxiii] Meanwhile, airship C23, which had been despatched to investigate the Rame Head W/T contact, discovered that the French steamer St. Andre had also been torpedoed, sometime around around midnight.[clxiv]

UC100, UCIII-type coastal minelayer submarine, from Tarrant, The U-boat Offensive (2000)

Lieutenant John Lawris RNR, in the sailing ship Mitchell, encountered a U-boat surfacing in windy weather off the north Devon coast. When, at 10:10 am, a submarine surfaced in front of the Mitchell Lt. Lawris opened fire, multiple shell hits causing the U-boat to dive. Although the trawler Sardius raced to support the Mitchell, the submarine was already gone.[clxv] Mitchell relayed this information to the Trevose Head W/T station at 10:25, and the report was broadcast around the region, where it was received at Penzance, Falmouth, Newlyn and elsewhere.[clxvi] The rush of W/T communication amidst the flurry of sighting reports caused communication delays. One Falmouth flotilla, carrying out hydrophone investigations of sightings, did not receive a sinking report until five and half hours after the event.[clxvii]

UB148 at sea

At 4:00 pm the Prince Charles de Belgique, a Belgian steamer, was attacked by a submarine eight miles from the Lizard. Luckily the torpedo missed, whence the U-boat was spotted by a Newlyn NAS seaplane cruising overhead at 500 ft. The seaplane carried out a bombing attack but was unsuccessful. Simultaneously at 4 pm, the trawler Take Care, while protecting the Brixham fishing fleet, spotted a submarine near Berry Head, although no further sightings were made. Several hours later trawler Lysander was picking up the survivors of the torpedoed Norwegian steamer Ingrid II, which had been enroute to Cardif for repairs.[clxviii] The Alice Marie was sunk next, sometime before midnight, then the Warsaw at 1:20 am, and then at 4 am the Eveline. The trawlers Rinaldo and Ulysses could do nothing to intervene, dashing between reports and unable to make firm detections with their hydrophones.[clxix]

A significant score of ships destroyed, and no submarine caught in the act. The impact of A/S measures continued to be essentially random, thus when UB56 crashed into a mine in the English Channel it became the only German casualty associated with the 18 December action.[clxx] Ten merchant ships of three nations had been lost, but the convoy, reduced to 16, still crossed successfully.

St. Paul’s and Blackfriars Bridge, by William Wyllie.

These battles and others like them demonstrate that as 1917 came to a close the Royal Navy had to strengthen and refine its procedures for convoy escort and ASW. Outside of the Mediterranean, the English Channel, Irish Sea and the Scandinavian corridor were all vulnerable to attack, especially near the as yet unescorted coastal routes.


Resolution: Attacks on the Belgian Submarine Bases & the Defeat of the U-boats in 1918

When 1918 opened the convoy system had been widely adopted and plentiful resources were being supplied to the regional commanders. The coastal space, however, had become highly contested. A German surface raid attack near Yarmouth on 14 January involved 50 vessels of various kinds, but was driven off by Commodore Tyrwhitt’s Harwich Force.[clxxi] Despite the ongoing surface and submarine battle, crucially, merchant sinkings were well below crisis levels and falling.[clxxii] In December 1917 the German Admiralty made Vice Admiral Ritter von Mann-Tiechler head of a dedicated U-boat office, recognition of ad hoc nature of the previous year of unrestricted submarine warfare.[clxxiii]

Sir Eric Campbell Geddes as Vice Admiral and First Lord of the Admiralty, 1917, photograph by Walter Stoneman

Naval Staff reforms c. January 1918, from Nicholas Black, The British Naval Staff In The First World War (2011)

The Naval Staff as organized in January 1918 for the Geddes – Wemyss administration, from Jellicoe, Crisis of the Naval War (1920), p. 27


Jellicoe, in a controversial decision by Lloyd George and Geddes, was removed from office in December, and then replaced by his Deputy, Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss.[clxxiv] Vice Admiral Sir Herbert L. Heath became the Second Sea Lord, Rear Admiral Lionel Halsey retained the Third Sea Lord position, and Rear Admiral Hugh H. D. Tothill became the Fourth Sea Lord. Duff stayed on as ACNS, and Rear Admiral Sydney R. Fremantle became Deputy DCNS and Rear Admiral George P. W. Hope of the Naval Staff’s Operations Division the Deputy First Sea Lord.[clxxv] Geddes now reformed the staff again, delegating home operations and air to the DCNS, the ASD and other trade protection elements to the ACNS, while the Deputy 1SL assumed responsibility for foreign operations.[clxxvi]


Next to fall from the famous Geddes axe was Vice Admiral Bacon, the long serving SNO Dover. Wemyss appointed Rear Admiral Roger Keyes in his place on 1 January 1918. Captain Wilfred Tomkinson became Captain of the Dover Destroyers.[clxxvii] The arrangement of the Dover Barrage, as it had been under Bacon, was expanded with a new system of illumination, authored by Wing Commander F. A. Brock (RNAS), son of the Brock of Brock’s firework (and explosive bullet) manufacturer, coinciding with a new patrol scheme, whereby 80 to 100 destroyers and auxiliaries were constantly patrolling the Straits by day and night.[clxxviii]

The positions of the Channel mine net and Folkestone – Gris Nez minefields in 1918, from Tarrant, The U-boat Offensive, 1914-1915 (2000)

Between 19 December 1917 and 8 February 1918 four U-boats were mined in the Channel, and UB35 was depth-charged by HMS Leven.[clxxix] The increased danger was so significant that Commodore Michelsen was forced to prohibit the use of the Channel route and instead endorse the northern route around Scotland, effectively adding five days of transit to the U-boats’ cruise.[clxxx]

Drifter net-mine deployment

The Flanders command launched another anti-shipping sortie on 14 January with 14 destroyers, although in the event no merchant ships were encountered.[clxxxi] A month later, on 13 February, Commander Heinecke’s Second Flotilla was despatched to attack the Dover – Calais barrage, in particular, the lights that since December 1917 had drastically increased the risk to transiting U-boats.[clxxxii] Heinecke’s destroyers departed in thick fog, and anchored overnight north of Norderney.

Dover trawlers and motor-launches, from Steve Dunn, Securing The Narrow Sea (2017)

After working around to the English coast the attackers, eight in total, split into two half-flotillas and waited until night, and then, around 12:30 am on the 15th, began their raid against the well lit and heavily defended cross-Channel barrage. Attaining complete surprise, Heinecke’s force (Fourth Half-Flotilla) destroyed, according to Scheer, a searchlight vessel, 13 drifters, a U-boat chaser, a torpedo boat and two motor-boats, while the other half-flotilla (Third Half-Flotilla), working the southern end of the barrage, sank 12 trawlers and two motor-boats. Steve Dunn and James Goldrick give the accurate figure of seven drifters, one trawler sunk, with three drifters one paddle steamer damaged.[clxxxiii]

Zeebrugge raid of 22 April 1918, showing location of harbour assault force and canal blockships, from Cecil Aspinall-Oglander, Roger Keyes (1951)

Dover’s new C-in-C Admiral Roger Keyes now conducted the long-planned Flanders coast raid on 22 April.[clxxxiv] Although the blockships meant to obstruct the Zeebrugge harbour were only effective for a few days, the daring raid was described as a triumph by the press, with eight Victoria Crosses being awarded to the participants.[clxxxv] A further attempt to block the Ostend canal was attempted on 9-10 May, with likewise limited results.[clxxxvi]

On 23 April 1918 the High Sea Fleet launched a planned raid against the Scandinavian convoy route.[clxxxvii] This was a major operation involving the battlecruisers of the Scouting Group under Admiral von Hipper, in addition to light cruisers and destroyers, supported by Scheer’s main force. As the advanced group cleared the Heligoland minefields, however, SMS Moltke threw a propeller and suffered a turbine failure that ultimately damaged the engines and caused a breach in the hull. The battlecruiser had to be taken in tow by SMS Oldenburg.[clxxxviii]

24 April 1918 High Sea Fleet sortie, from James Goldrick, After Jutland (2018), map 13.1

The Grand Fleet was notified by Room 40 that the High Sea Fleet was out of harbour and Beatty prepared the fleet for sea,[clxxxix] although there was no chance the British could catch the Germans before they returned to harbour.[cxc] Later that evening, after being restored to its own power, Moltke was torpedoed by RN submarine E42, but managed to return safety of the Jade.[cxci] The fleet operation had failed to locate any convoys and the High Sea Fleet would not sortie again until it sailed for internment on 24 November 1918.

The bomb-proof U-boat pens at Bruges.

While the U-boats’ areas of operation were slowly being squeezed by increasingly comprehensive convoys and sophisticated hydrophone and aerial sweeps, the bombing campaign by RNAS Dunkirk, and after 1 April 1918, RAF No. 5 Group, against the Flanders U-boat bases was renewed.  Wing Captain Charles Lambe’s 27 May operating orders called for the No. 5 Group (Dunkirk) to bomb the Bruges docks twice a day, both day and night.[cxcii] Indeed, 70 tons of bombs were dropped on Bruges and Zeebrugge during May 1918.[cxciii]


Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) naval air, airship, and training establishment map, March 1918, and Royal Air Force (RAF) Home Defence Groups.

From mid-June until the end of August, 86 tons of bombs were dropped on Zeebrugge, Ostend and Bruges by No. 5 Group, with another 49 tons dropped by other RAF squadrons.[cxciv] Between February 1917 and November 1918 the various Allied bombing forces (the US Northern Bombing Group had been forming since June 1918),[cxcv] managed to drop 524 tons of bombs on Zeebrugge, Ostend and Bruges, and, although the Bruges electrical works were destroyed and the Zeebrugge lock gates targeted, only three submarines were damaged by the bombing programme.[cxcvi]

The U-boats, for their part, had been forced once again to change tactics, focusing on the lightly escorted outbound traffic returning across the Atlantic to America. During the summer of 1918 the U-boats, by expanding their area of operations into the western and southern Atlantic, scored a series successful sinkings.

Powerful 2,000 ton U139 – U141 ‘cruiser’ type developed for long-range operations in the Atlantic, armed with two 150 mm cannons and 19 torpedoes for its six torpedo tubes. & U140, double-hulled 12,000 nm range 2,000 ton submarine crewed by six officers and 56 men, armed with 8.8 cm and 10 cm guns and six torpedo tubes, four bow and two stern, from Eberhard Moller and Werner Brack, Encyclopedia of U-boats from 1904 to the Present (2004), p. 39


Allied shipping losses in the Channel and Western Approaches for 1918

However, as the return voyage traffic was empty of supplies or troops the impact on the war was marginal in comparison to the 1.5 million American soldiers that successfully crossed the Atlantic.[cxcvii] Although shipping losses remained in the 300,000 ton/month range for the first eight months of 1918, with a high of 368,750 tons sunk in March, followed by a low of 268,505 tons in June, the sinking rate was not high enough to cripple Allied shipping.[cxcviii]


convoy01Convoys in 1918, by John Everett


32,000 ton White Star liner Justicia, sunk 19 – 20 July 1918, despite escort, by the combined efforts of UB64, U54, with UB124 in support (damaged by escorts and then scuttled).

A notable footnote is the 10 – 25 May 1918 concentration, wherein eight U-boats grouped against the western approaches off the Irish coast. Luckily for the Admiralty, this concentration was known and cleared through careful routing of approaching convoys, thus, as Newbolt phrased it, the Royal Navy had avoided the ‘the most methodical and elaborate attempt that the Germans Staff had as yet made to interfere with the convoy system.’[cxcix]

Meanwhile, the monthly loss rate for U-boats climbed significantly during 1918, from Gibson & Prendergast, German Submarine War

The U-boats certainly needed some change in method, as during 1918 69 U-boats were destroyed, a figure that matched new construction.[cc] As Lawrence Sondhaus concluded, ‘the balance sheet of Allied tonnage sunk versus German submarines lost clearly tipped from favoring the Germans in 1917 (6.15 million tons at a cost of sixty-three U-boats) to favoring the Allies in 1918 (2.75 million tons at a cost of sixty-nine U-boats).’[cci] The implementation of air-escorted coastal convoys for the East Coast of Britain and the Irish Sea – the two remaining areas of highest shipping losses – closed the final weakness in the trade defence system, and, as Tarrant phrased it, ‘all hopes of the U-boats forcing a decision finally evaporated’.[ccii]

Sinking locations, February to October 1918, from Tarrant, The U-boat Offensive, 1914-1915 (2000)

In August 1918, with the submarine war failing and the Allies preparing for their final Western Front offensive, Admiral von Holtzendorff resigned, being replaced by Admiral Scheer.[cciii] At a meeting between Scheer and senior German industrialists held 1 October 1918 it was determined that every effort should be made to increase submarine construction, first to 16 per month and eventually up to 30 per month.[cciv] This was too little too late, however, as the submarine war was winding down as Germany’s military situation on the continent collapsed.

Decline in global merchant sinking, May – November 1918, from Tarrant, The U-boat Offensive (2000)

The Flanders U-boat bases were liberated during October 1918, a decisive event in the Allied Hundred Days offensive. The Germans evacuated Ostend on 17 October, and then Zeebrugge and Bruges two days later. On 21 October the U-boat command issued the order to cease attacks on passenger ships, followed by the recall of all U-boats to Wilhelmshaven, from which the expected final sortie of the High Sea Fleet was to take place.[ccv] The naval mutiny following the 28 October order for the suicidal final sortie, and resulting capture of the fleet bases at Wilhelmshaven, Cuxhaven and Kiel by revolutionaries on 3 November, at last terminated the submarine threat.[ccvi]

Approximate locations of U-boats destroyed during the First World War, from Gibson & Prendergast

“The Archaeology of First World War U-boat Losses in the English Channel and its Impact on the Historical Record,” Innes McCartney, Mariner’s Mirror, vol. 105, no. 2, May 2019, p. 183-201
UB131 beached near Hastings, 9 January 1921, from Tarrant, The U-Boat Offensive, p. 65

The RAF memorial, Victoria Embankment, c. 1923 by William Wyllie


As Stephen Roskill observed of the British experience with ASW during the Second World War, the immediate lesson was the complete failure of hunting groups, and the superior nature of escorted convoys, in particular with destroyer and air support. The old argument of offensive versus defensive measures masked the aggressive naval officer’s distaste for the rigors of convoy duty.[ccvii] The advantages of convoys were undeniable: the total space the convoy occupied was marginal when compared to the visibility of thousands of independently sailing vessels, which in effect acted as a screen for the convoys, until controls were tightened as losses continued into 1918.

First World War Royal Navy officers, by Sir Arthur Stockdale Cope, 1921.

Fast attack forces able to slip through the Royal Navy’s blockade, such as minelayers and destroyers, produced decisive results against convoys, as they were able to overwhelm the escorts. The U-boats, by concentrating against the coasts and the convoy dispersion points, and attacking the thinly escorted Atlantic and Norwegian convoy routes, were still able to inflict serious losses. The Admiralty did arrive at the essential formula for success – vastly improved A/S escorts, convoys, qualitative and quantitative improvements in material and technology from mines, depth-charges, bombs and shell, plus flying boats, airships, Q-ships, hydrophones, minesweepers and paravanes. So long as as the High Sea Fleet did not escalate the scale of its counter-blockade operations, the crucial merchant supplies would get through, while peripheral attacks, such as by the Zeppelins and Gothas against London and the coastal bases and arsenals, could not decide the outcome of the war.

The German naval command had gambled on an uncertain weapon, and come close to success. As the U-boat war evolved during 1917, both sides were forced to dramatically adjust their operations and tactics. For the Allies, restricting the movement of, and eventually counter-attacking the U-boats became the new paradigm, whereas Germany abandoned main fleet battle to focus completely on submarine construction and flotilla deployment. The historical parallel with 18th century convoy and the guerre de course was proven correct,[ccviii] and by the end of the war the tools to effectively locate and destroy U-boats had been invented, tested and operationalized. For the U-boats the lessons were clear: strength lay in numbers, and safety at night, far away from air patrols. The Second Battle of the Atlantic, twenty years later, would prove which side had truly grappled with the crisis, and mastered it.

After the War: UB77 in Portsmouth harbour with HMS Victory, from Tarrant, The U-Boat Offensive, p. 55

HMS Renown departs Portsmouth, 16 March 1920, with HMS Victory and UB77 at left, by William Wyllie.
Francis Dodd drawing of the crew cabin aboard Royal Navy ML558 & sketches of U-boats surrendering, 20 November 1918, & Square-rigged sailing ship at sea, by William Wyllie


[i] Marc Milner, “The Atlantic War, 1939-1945: The Case for a New Paradigm,” in Decision in the Atlantic, ed. Marcus Faulkner and Christopher M. Bell (University of Kentucky: Andarta Books, 2019), 5–19.

[ii] David Lloyd George, War Memoirs of David Lloyd George, Vol. I, Kindle ebook, vol. 1, 2 vols. (Arcole Publishing, 2017)., chapter 40, loc. 14420

[iii] Hague Convention on Land Warfare, July 1899,

 & Hague Convention on Neutral Powers in Naval War, October 1907,

[iv] Henry Newbolt, Naval Operations, vol. V, 5 vols., History of the Great War Based on Official Documents (Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 1931)., p. 195

[v] V. E. Tarrant, The U-Boat Offensive, 1914-1945 (London: Cassel & Co, 2000)., p. 50

[vi] Donald Macintyre, The Battle of the Atlantic (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military Classics, 2006)., p. 73-7

[vii] Nick lloyd, Hundred Days: The End of the Great War, Kindle ebook (New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2013)., Chapter 13, loc 4088

[viii] See for example, Nick Hewitt, The Kaiser’s Pirates, Hunting Germany’s Raiding Cruisers in World War I, Kindle ebook (New York: Pen & Sword Books, Ltd., 2013)., also, Julian Corbett, Naval Operations, vol. I, V vols., History of the Great War Based on Official Documents (Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 1920).

[ix] Nicolas Wolz, From Imperial Splendour to Internment: The German Navy in the First World War, trans. Geoffrey Brooks, Kindle ebook (Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2015)., chapter 7, loc. 2730-5

[x] Gary Sheffield, “Vimy Ridge and the Battle of Arras: A British Perspective,” in Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment, ed. Geoffrey Hayes, Andrew Iarocci, and Mike Bechthold (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2010), 15–30., p. 15-6

[xi] John Terraine, Business in Great Waters: The U-Boat Wars, 1916-1945, Kindle ebook (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2009)., part I, chapter 3, loc. 1297

[xii] Wolz, From Imperial Splendour to Internment: The German Navy in the First World War., chapter 7, loc. 2735

[xiii] Holger Herwig, The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914-1918, Kindle ebook (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014)., p. 308

[xiv] Edwyn A. Gray, The U-Boat War, 1914-1918, Kindle ebook (London: Leo Cooper, 1994)., chapter 10, loc. 2443

[xv] Gray., chapter 10, loc. 2451

[xvi] H. A. Jones, The War In The Air, Antony Rowe Ltd. reprint, vol. IV, VI vols. (Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 1934)., p. 47

[xvii] Tarrant, U-Boat Offensive., p. 51

[xviii] Tarrant., p. 51

[xix] Jones, WIA, IV., p. 47

[xx] Winston Churchill, The World Crisis, 1915, Kindle ebook, vol. 2, 4 vols. (New York: RosettaBooks, LLC, 1923)., chapter 15, loc. 5209

[xxi] Tarrant, U-Boat Offensive., p. 48

[xxii] ‘”Blockade” Effect in U.S. Trade,’ 19 March 1917, London Times, p. 7

[xxiii] Tarrant, U-Boat Offensive., p. 49

[xxiv] Gray, The U-Boat War, 1914-1918., chapter 10, loc. 2443

[xxv] Arthur Marder, ed., Portrait of an Admiral, The Life And Papers Of Herbert Richmond. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952)., p. 228

[xxvi] Daniel A. Baugh, “Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond and the Objects of Sea Power,” in Mahan Is Not Enough: The Proceedings of a Conference on the Works of Sir Julian Corbett and Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond, ed. James Goldrick and John B. Hattendorf, Naval War College Historical Monograph 10 (Newport, Rhode Island: Naval War College Press, 1993), 13–49., p. 18 fn. See also in particular, Herbert Richmond, The Navy In The War of 1739-48, Volume III, vol. 3, 3 vols., Cambridge Naval and Military Series (London: Cambridge University Press, 1920)., p. 52 et seq

[xxvii] Julian Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy (London: The Folio Society, 2001)., p. 267-80; & Julian Corbett, Maritime Operations in the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905, Volume I, Kindle ebook, vol. 1, 2 vols. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015)., p. 290, 359

[xxviii] Arthur Marder, From The Dreadnought to Scapa Flow: The Year of Crisis, vol. 4, 5 vols. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1969)., p. 120-1

[xxix] Terraine, Business in Great Waters., Part 1, Chapter 3, loc. 1314-21. See also, Winston Churchill, The World Crisis: Volume III, 1916 – 1918, Kindle ebook, vol. 3, 4 vols. (New York: RosettaBooks, LLC, 2013)., Chapter 15, loc. 5253-60

[xxx] Marder, FDSF., p. 122

[xxxi] John J. Abbatiello, “The Myths and Realities of Air Anti-Submarine Warfare during the Great War,” Air Power Review 12, no. 1 (2009): 14–31., p. 14

[xxxii] Norman Leslie, “The System of Convoys for Merchant Shipping in 1917 and 1918,” Naval Review 5, no. 1 (1917): 42–95., p. 43

[xxxiii] Jones, WIA, IV., p. 45

[xxxiv] John Jellicoe, The Submarine Peril (London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1934)., p. 16

[xxxv] R. H. Gibson and Maurice Prendergast, The German Submarine War, 1914-1918, Reprint (London: Naval & Military Press, 1931)., p. 160

[xxxvi] Jellicoe, The Submarine Peril., p. 17-8

[xxxvii] Alexander L. N. Howlett, “The Royal Naval Air Service and the Evolution of Naval Aviation in Britain, 1914 – 1918” (PhD thesis, King’s College London, 2019)., p. 125-9

[xxxviii] Jellicoe, The Submarine Peril., p. 14

[xxxix] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., p. 10-14

[xl] Newbolt., p. 14

[xli] Marder, FDSF., IV p. 156

[xlii] War Cabinet paper by Jellicoe, 21 February 1917, ADM 1/8480, #33 in A. Temple Patterson, ed., The Jellicoe Papers, 1916-1935, vol. 2, 2 vols. (London: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne and Co. Ltd., 1968)., p. 144-9

[xliii] War Cabinet paper by Jellicoe, 21 February 1917, ADM 1/8480, #33 in Temple Patterson., p. 146-8

[xliv] Jones, WIA, IV., p. 45-6

[xlv] Jones., IV p. 47

[xlvi] Marder, FDSF., IV p. 123

[xlvii] Henry Newbolt, Naval Operations, vol. IV, 5 vols., The Naval History of the Great War (Antony Rowe Ltd., Eastbourne: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 1928)., p. 353; James Goldrick, After Jutland: The Naval War in North European Waters, June 1916 – November 1918, Kindle ebook (Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2018)., chapter 9, loc. 3018. Goldrick says Tilleson.

[xlviii] Steve Dunn, Securing The Narrow Sea: The Dover Patrol, 1914-1918 (Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2017)., p. 134

[xlix] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 9, loc. 3036-45

[l] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1928., p. 360-68

[li] Dunn, Securing The Narrow Sea., p. 134; Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 9, loc. 3126-41

[lii] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 9, loc. 3149-58

[liii] ‘Distribution of Coal and Sugar,’ 24 March 1917, London Times, p. 8

[liv] Paul Guinn, British Strategy and Politics, 1914 to 1918 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1965)., p. 228; see also, Stephen Roskill, Hankey: Man of Secrets, vol. I: 1877-1918, 3 vols. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1970). p. 359-60

[lv] War Cabinet meeting 100, 21 March 1917, CAB 23/2/18, p. 2

[lvi] War Cabinet meeting 110, 2 April 1917, CAB 23/2/28, p. 3

[lvii] War Cabinet meeting 110, 2 April 1917, CAB 23/2/28, p. 3

[lviii] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., p. 42

[lix] War Cabinet meeting 117, 11 April 1917, CAB 23/2/35, p. 4; see also, War Cabinet meeting 125, 23 April 1917, CAB 23/2/43, p. 4

[lx] War Cabinet meeting 125, 23 April 1917, CAB 23/2/43, p. 4

[lxi] War Cabinet meeting 113, 4 April 1917, CAB 23/2/31, p. 2-3

[lxii] War Cabinet meeting 125, 23 April 1917, CAB 23/2/43, p. 2

[lxiii] War Cabinet meeting 125, 23 April 1917, CAB 23/2/43, p. 3-5

[lxiv] War Cabinet meeting 125, 23 April 1917, CAB 23/2/43, p. 2

[lxv] War Cabinet meeting 125, 23 April 1917, CAB 23/2/43, Appendix II, p. 8-9

[lxvi] Jellicoe to Beatty, 12 April 1917, #42 in Temple Patterson, Jellicoe Papers, Vol. II., p. 156

[lxvii] Gibson and Prendergast, German Submarine War., p. 159

[lxviii] War Cabinet meeting 116, 9 April 1917, CAB 23/2/34, p. 5; War Cabinet meeting 117, 11 April 1917, CAB 23/2/35, p. 2-3; see also Jellicoe to Rear-Admiral W. S. Sims, 7 April 1917, #41 in Temple Patterson, Jellicoe Papers, Vol. II., p. 155.

[lxix] War Cabinet meeting 115, 6 April 1917, CAB 23/2/33, p. 1

[lxx] Marder, FDSF, IV, pp. 274-5. See also, William Sims, The Victory at Sea (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2016)., p. 352-3

[lxxi] Jellicoe to Beatty, 17 March 1917, #36 in Temple Patterson, Jellicoe Papers, Vol. II., p. 153

[lxxii] Jellicoe to Beatty, 24 March 1917, #37 in Temple Patterson., p. 153

[lxxiii] War Cabinet minutes 104, 26 March 1917, CAB 23/2/22, p. 3

[lxxiv] Dunn, Securing The Narrow Sea., p. 135-41. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1928., p. 373

[lxxv] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1928., p. 377-8. Dunn, Securing The Narrow Sea., p. 137-8

[lxxvi] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 9, loc. 3221-50

[lxxvii] The Naval Who’s Who, 1917 (Polstead: J. B. Hayward & Son, 1981). p. 273

[lxxviii] Nicholas Black, The British Naval Staff In The First World War (Rochester: Boydell & Brewer Inc., 2011), p. 301

[lxxix] Marder, FDSF, IV, pp. 264. Patrick Beesly, Room 40: British Naval Intelligence 1914-1918 (London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 1982)., p. 254

[lxxx] Marder, FDSF, IV, pp. 264. Beesly., p. 254fn

[lxxxi] War Cabinet meeting 130, 2 May 1917, CAB 23/2/48, Appendix, p. 5

[lxxxii] Black, British Naval Staff., p. 34

[lxxxiii] Churchill, The World Crisis, 1915., chapter 15, loc. 5231

[lxxxiv] War Cabinet meeting 130, 2 May 1917, CAB 23/2/48, Appendix, p. 5; see also, Black, British Naval Staff., p. 248-9

[lxxxv] DASD Fisher to C-in-C Portsmouth, 21 July 1917, Bethell Papers (VII), LHCMA. See also, Abbatiello, Anti-Submarine Warfare, p. 113.

[lxxxvi] Jellicoe, The Submarine Peril., p. vii

[lxxxvii] Marder, FDSF., p. 118-9

[lxxxviii] Jellicoe, The Submarine Peril., p. xi

[lxxxix] Marder, FDSF, IV, pp. 268

[xc] Temple Patterson, Jellicoe Papers, Vol. II., Chapter 10, loc. 1977

[xci] Temple Patterson., Chapter 10, loc. 2002

[xcii] Temple Patterson., Chapter 10, loc. 1984

[xciii] Temple Patterson., Chapter 10, loc. 1977-93

[xciv] Jellicoe to Beatty, 25 April 1917, #43 in Temple Patterson., p. 157 fn

[xcv] Jellicoe to Beatty, 25 April 1917, #43 in Temple Patterson., p. 157

[xcvi] Terraine, Business in Great Waters., Part 1, Chapter 3, loc. 1305

[xcvii] Duff to Jellicoe, 26 April 1917, #44 in Temple Patterson, Jellicoe Papers, Vol. II., p. 157

[xcviii] Report of Admiralty meeting 23 February 1917, #34 in Temple Patterson., p. 149-51 & Jellicoe to Admiral Sir Frederick Hamilton, C-in-C Rosyth, 25 April 1917, #43 in Temple Patterson., p. 157

[xcix] War Cabinet meeting 124, 23 April 1917, CAB 23/2/42, p. 3; see also, Holger H. Herwig and Donald Trask, “The Failure of Imperial Germany’s Undersea Offensive Against World Shipping, February 1917 – October 1918,” The Historian 33, no. 4 (August 1971): 611–36., p. 614

[c] Rear-Admiral Duff to Jellicoe, 26 April 1917, #44 in Temple Patterson, Jellicoe Papers, Vol. II., vol. 2, p. 158

[ci] Marder, FDSF, IV, p. 160

[cii] Rear-Admiral Duff to Jellicoe, 26 April 1917, #44 in Temple Patterson, Jellicoe Papers, Vol. II., vol. 2, p. 159p.

[ciii] Marder, FDSF, IV, p. 159, 164

[civ] Jellicoe to Beatty, 12 April 1917, #42 in Temple Patterson, Jellicoe Papers, Vol. II., p. 156

[cv] Maurice Hankey, The Supreme Command, 1914 – 1918, Kindle ebook, vol. 2, 2 vols. (New York: Routledge, 2014)., chapter 62, loc. 4257

[cvi] War Cabinet meeting 130, 2 May 1917, CAB 23/2/48, p. 3

[cvii] Marder, FDSF., IV, p. 275

[cviii] War Cabinet meeting 128, 1 May 1917, CAB 23/2/46, p. 2; War Cabinet meeting 130, 2 May 1917, CAB 23/2/48, p. 2

[cix] War Cabinet meeting 142, 22 May 1917, CAB 23/2/60, p. 2

[cx] War Cabinet meeting 156, 6 June 1917, CAB 23/3/3, p. 3

[cxi] Tarrant, U-Boat Offensive., p. 54

[cxii] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., p. 43

[cxiii] Newbolt., V, p. 57-8

[cxiv] Newbolt., p. 43

[cxv] Tarrant, U-Boat Offensive., p. 52-3

[cxvi] War Cabinet meeting 144, 23 May 1917, CAB 23/2/62, p. 7

[cxvii] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., p. 42

[cxviii] Tarrant, U-Boat Offensive., p. 53

[cxix] Tarrant., p. 52

[cxx] Andreas Michelsen, Submarine Warfare, 1914-1918 (Miami: Trident Publishing, 2017)., p. 76, 78; see also, Herwig and Trask, “The Failure of Imperial Germany’s Undersea Offensive Against World Shipping, February 1917 – October 1918.”, p. 635

[cxxi] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 12, loc. 4190

[cxxii] Marder, FDSF, IV, p. 259

[cxxiii] Marder, FDSF, IV, p. 260-1

[cxxiv] Marder, FDSF, IV, p. 263

[cxxv] Marder, FDSF, IV, p. 261-2

[cxxvi] Jellicoe to Beatty, 2 April 1917, #39 in Temple Patterson, Jellicoe Papers, Vol. II., p. 154-5

[cxxvii] John Jellicoe, The Crisis of the Naval War (London: Cassell and Company, Ltd, 1920)., Chapter III, p. 53-101

[cxxviii] Jellicoe, The Submarine Peril., p. 13

[cxxix] Marder, FDSF. IV, p. 286-7

[cxxx] Marder., IV, p. 226

[cxxxi] Marder., IV, p. 227-8

[cxxxii] Marder., IV, p. 233

[cxxxiii] Marder., IV, p. 228-9

[cxxxiv] Marder., IV, p. 271

[cxxxv] Howlett, “The Royal Naval Air Service and the Evolution of Naval Aviation in Britain, 1914 – 1918.”, p. 140; see also, John J. Abbatiello, Anti-Submarine Warfare in World War I: British Naval Aviation and the Defeat of the U-Boats (New York: Routledge, 2006)., Appendix I, p. 174

[cxxxvi] Dwight Messimer, Find and Destroy: Antisubmarine Warfare in World War I (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001)., p. 134; Howlett, “The Royal Naval Air Service and the Evolution of Naval Aviation in Britain, 1914 – 1918.”, p. 116; see also, H. A. Williamson, “Employment of aeroplanes of Anti-Submarine Work”, 14 August 1918, AIR 1/642, #267 in Stephen Roskill, ed., Documents Relating to the Naval Air Service. Volume I, 1908-1918 (London: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne and Co. Ltd., 1969)., p. 703-4

[cxxxvii] War Cabinet minute 160, 11 June 1917, CAB 23/3/7, p. 2

[cxxxviii] War Cabinet minute 162, 13 June 1917, CAB 23/3/9, p. 4

[cxxxix] Marder, FDSF., IV, p. 282

[cxl] Marder., IV, p. 283,

[cxli] Marder., IV, p. 277

[cxlii] Marder., IV, p. 277

[cxliii] Tarrant, U-Boat Offensive., p. 59

[cxliv] Marder, FDSF., IV, p. 276

[cxlv] Marder., IV, p. 276

[cxlvi] Steve R. Dunn, Southern Thunder: The Royal Navy and the Scandinavian Trade in World War One, Kindle ebook (Barnsley,: Seaforth Publishing, 2019). chapter 13, loc. 2882

[cxlvii] Reinhard Scheer, Germany’s High Sea Fleet in the World War, Kindle ebook (Shilka Publishing, 2013)., p. 378-81

[cxlviii] Dunn, Southern Thunder. chapter 13, loc. 2873-968

[cxlix] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., V, p. 153-5

[cl] Newbolt., V, p. 168, et seq

[cli] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 12, loc. 4407-27

[clii] Scheer, High Sea Fleet., p. 381. Dunn says this is Commodore Heinrich.

[cliii] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 12, loc. 4499

[cliv] Scheer, High Sea Fleet., p. 383

[clv] Scheer., p. 383

[clvi] Dunn, Southern Thunder. chapter 14, loc. 3199, 3249;  Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., V, p. 184-8.

[clvii] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 12, loc. 4518

[clviii] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., V, p. 189.

[clix] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 12, loc. 4518; Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., V, p. 190-2

[clx] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 12, loc. 4525

[clxi] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., V, p. 198, 200-1

[clxii] Gibson and Prendergast, German Submarine War., p. 231

[clxiii] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., V, p. 198

[clxiv] Newbolt., V, p. 198

[clxv] Newbolt., V, p. 199

[clxvi] Newbolt., V, p. 199

[clxvii] Newbolt., V, p. 200

[clxviii] Newbolt., V, p. 200

[clxix] Newbolt., V, p. 200

[clxx] Eberhard Moller and Werner Brack, The Encyclopedia of U-Boats From 1904 to the Present Day, trans. Andrea Battson and Roger Chesneau (London: Greenhill Books, 2004)., p. 47

[clxxi] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., V, p. 208

[clxxii] Newbolt., V, p. 205

[clxxiii] Herwig and Trask, “The Failure of Imperial Germany’s Undersea Offensive Against World Shipping, February 1917 – October 1918.”, p. 622

[clxxiv] Stephen Roskill, “The Dismissal of Admiral Jellicoe,” Journal of Contemporary History 1, no. 4 (October 1966): 69–93.

[clxxv] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., V, p. 204

[clxxvi] Figure 7.2 in Black, British Naval Staff., p. 230

[clxxvii] Arthur Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow: Victory and Aftermath: 1918-1919, vol. 5, 5 vols. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014)., p. 39-50.

[clxxviii] Marder., V, p. 41

[clxxix] Marder., V, p. 41

[clxxx] Marder., V, p. 41-2

[clxxxi] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 13, loc. 4822

[clxxxii] Scheer, High Sea Fleet., p. 386

[clxxxiii] Scheer., p. 387-8; see also, Dunn, Securing The Narrow Sea., p. 171-4, Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 13, loc. 4879

[clxxxiv] Cecil Aspinall-Oglander, Roger Keyes (London: The Hogarth Press, 1951)., p. 222-53; see also, Lawrence Sondhaus, German Submarine Warfare in World War I: The Onset of Total War at Sea (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2017)., p. 179-80

[clxxxv] Dunn, Securing The Narrow Sea., p. 191

[clxxxvi] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 13, loc. 5123; see also Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., p. 241-77

[clxxxvii] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 13, loc. 5186

[clxxxviii] Scheer, High Sea Fleet., p. 393

[clxxxix] Beesly, Room 40: British Naval Intelligence 1914-1918., p. 284-9

[cxc] Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 13, loc. 5232

[cxci] Scheer, High Sea Fleet., p. 396, Goldrick, After Jutland., chapter 13, loc. 5269

[cxcii] Howlett, “The Royal Naval Air Service and the Evolution of Naval Aviation in Britain, 1914 – 1918.”, p. 164

[cxciii] Abbatiello, Anti-Submarine Warfare., p. 75

[cxciv] Abbatiello., p. 76-7

[cxcv] Geoffrey Rossano and Thomas Wildenberg, Striking the Hornets’ Nest (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015)., p. 140-1

[cxcvi] Howlett, “The Royal Naval Air Service and the Evolution of Naval Aviation in Britain, 1914 – 1918.”, p. 164-5

[cxcvii] Gibson and Prendergast, German Submarine War., p. 298. See also, Sondhaus, German Submarine Warfare., p. 168-9

[cxcviii] Sondhaus, German Submarine Warfare., p. 173-4

[cxcix] Newbolt, Naval Operations, 1931., V, p. 278-82

[cc] Sondhaus, German Submarine Warfare., p. 174

[cci] Sondhaus., p. 175

[ccii] Tarrant, U-Boat Offensive., p. 69

[cciii] Tim Benbow, Naval Warfare 1914-1918, Kindle ebook, The History of World War I (London: Amber Books Ltd, 2011)., chapter 6, loc. 3344-8

[cciv] Michelsen, Submarine Warfare, 1914-1918., p. 78-9

[ccv] Gibson and Prendergast, German Submarine War., p. 324-5

[ccvi] Gibson and Prendergast., p. 328-9

[ccvii] Stephen Roskill, War at Sea, 1939 – 1945, Volume II: The Period of Balance, Kindle ebook, vol. 2, 4 vols., History of the Second World War (London: HMSO, 1956)., chapter IV, loc. 2353-95

[ccviii] Richard Woodman, “The Problems of Convoys, 1914-1917,” in Dreadnought to Daring: 100 Years of Comment, Controversy and Debate in The Naval Review, ed. Peter Hore (Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2012), 53–66., p. 55-6

Master of the Seas of the Two Indies: the Naval Career of Admiral Sir George Pocock

national portrait gallery

Early 19th Century oil painting of Sir George Pocock, based on a c. 1761 painting by Thomas Hudson.

The Career of Admiral Sir George Pocock

A distant figure in our time, Sir George Pocock was a consummate naval officer, with victories in both the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, responsible in the latter for securing command of the Indian Ocean during 1759, and for Britain’s greatest maritime operation of the 18th century – the capture of Havana in 1762. Closely associated with controversial figures such as Lord Clive, John Byng and the Earl of Albemarle, Pocock was marginalized in the historiography during the 19th century in comparison to the towering figures of Anson, Rodney, Hawke and Boscawen. Pocock nevertheless played an integral role in several of Britain’s most important maritime operations and his well deserved reputation for courage, steadfastness and imperturbability encourage modern reappraisal.

The Young Gentleman

George Pocock was born on 6 March 1706 at Thames Ditton, Surrey, the son of the Reverend Thomas Pocock and his wife Joyce Master. Thomas was a Royal Navy chaplain who ministered to the Royal Hospital at Greenwich.[i]


HMS Superb, captured French Superbe of 1710, flagship of Admiral George Byng, Pocock’s first posting in 1718

Pocock’s naval career began in 1718 at the age of twelve when he joined HMS Superb (64), the captured French warship then the flagship of Admiral George Byng (Viscount Torrington) – himself married to one Margaret, Joyce’s sister. Superb’s flag captain was Streynsham Master, Pocock’s uncle. Pocock was accompanied to sea by his cousin John Byng (of eventual Minorca infamy) who was also beginning his career aboard the flagship of the Admiral, his father.[ii] Pocock’s path was thus smoothed by his close association with senior officers and his extended network of relatives and relations.

Both Byng and Pocock were aboard Superb when it fought at the battle at Cape Passaro, Sicily, 11 August 1718.[iii] From here Pocock spent three years aboard the hospital ship Looe and a further four years aboard the warships Prince Frederick (70) and Argyle (50).


HMS Namur, 90 gun 2nd rate in which Pocock was made First Lieutenant in August 1732.

The Portrait of a Naval Officer, from Lieutenant to Post Captain

Pocock made Lieutenant on 19 April 1725 (other sources say December 1726), and was stationed aboard HMS Burford (70), followed by Romney (54), and then Canterbury (60).[iv] Pocock was next appointed to HMS Namur (90) the flagship of Admiral Sir Charles Wager, and in August 1732 he was promoted to First Lieutenant. Pocock’s first command was the fireship Bridgewater, to which he was appointed on 26 February 1733.

1719 frigate.jpg

1719 establishment frigate similar to the 1727 rebuilt 20 gun 6th rate HMS Aldborough, Pocock’s first command in 1738.

Pocock made Commander in February 1734,[v] and after four years of service was promoted, on 1 August 1738 at the age of 32, to Post Captain with command of the frigate Aldborough (20), first built in Pocock’s birth-year of 1706, then rebuilt in 1727.[vi] Thus, Pocock was stationed in the Mediterranean under Rear Admiral Haddock. The squadron in which Pocock served secured several lucrative Spanish captures following the declaration of war in 1739.[vii] Pocock continued in the Mediterranean until 1741, and then he returned to England.


HMS Woolwich in 1677 as a 54 gun 4th rate, by Willem van de Velde, rebuilt in 1702 and again in 1736 as a 50 gun ship, to which Captain Pocock was appointed in 1742.

In August 1742, now 36, Pocock was appointed to the Woolwich (50), a heavily rebuilt 4th rate originally completed in 1675.[viii] He was transferred briefly to the Shrewsbury and then in 1744 (or January 1743) he was appointed to the Sutherland (50) a new 4th rate only three years out of the yards, in command of which he was despatched to the East Indies, convoying British East India Company (BEIC) ships. These 4th rates of the 1733 and 1741 establishment were designed by Sir Jacob Acworth, the Surveyor of the Navy between 1715-1749. Although plentifully armed,[ix] they were nevertheless under-gunned due to a shortage in heavier ordnance that prevailed in Britain during the 1730s, and have further been criticized as cramped and overly expensive.[x]


Lines of the ‘Sutherland’-type 50 gun 4th rates built in 1741, Pocock’s command in 1744.


Block model of HMS Preston a 1733 establishment 50 gun cruiser built in 1742. The 853 ton 4th rate was crewed by 300 men and equipped with 22 18-pounders, 26 12-pounders, 14 6-pounders on the quarterdeck and four 6-pounders on the forecastle.


Model of 50-gun cruiser circa 1725, similar to the newer Sutherland commanded by Captain Pocock in 1744.

Pocock was ordered to the African coast in October 1744, but his sailing from Plymouth was delayed due to trouble fitting and manning the Sutherland and the operation was not carried out until April 1745 (Pocock arrived at Madeira on the 27th of that month).[xi]


The eastern Caribbean during the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the principle convoy assembly points at Antigua (British – red), and Martinique (French – blue) circled.


Map of Antigua made in 1780 and drawn from late 1740s surveys, base of Britain’s Leeward Island Station during the 18th century

Pocock was eventually assigned to the Barbadoes and Leeward Islands station under Commodore Edward Legge, who had been appointed to the Leeward Island station command on 24 October 1746.[xii] The Sutherland, arrived at Antigua on 28 April 1747. Under Legge’s command, Pocock’s Sutherland was employed on trade defence, convoy protection and shipping interdiction missions, working with the other cruisers on station in pairs. Sutherland worked alongside HMS Captain (70), Suffolk (70), Dragon (60), Sunderland (60), Dreadnought (60), Gosport (44), and assorted frigates and sloops against the French convoys sailing from Martinique.[xiii]



Second Battle of Cape Finisterre, 14 (25) October 1747, Rear Admiral Hawke’s action scattered a large French convoy that proceeded to the West Indies where it was intercepted by Pocock’s Leeward Island’s squadron in November.

Pocock was thrust into command when Commodore Legge became seriously ill in August and then died on 18 or 19 September 1747 at the age of 37. Pocock, the senior captain, now succeeded Legge as C-in-C.[xiv] Pocock’s singular achievement came in November with the capture of a scattered French convoy, the result of Rear Admiral Hawke’s action off Cape Finisterre, 14 (Julian, 25, Gregorian) October 1747.[xv] Pocock’s small squadron of cruisers, frigates, sloops and privateers captured as many as 40 merchant ships – and 900 prisoners – although a further 66 merchant ships from the original convoy of 252 made it to Martinique.[xvi]

Pocock returned to England, having been relieved in the Caribbean in May 1748 by Rear Admiral Henry Osborne. Shortly afterwards, on 18 October 1748, the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the War of Austrian Succession.

Pocock, now a wealthy – although not yet rich – man as the result of his shipping captures, moved into an apartment on St. James Street, London. In 1749, at the age of 43, Pocock was painted by Thomas Hudson.

Hudson, Thomas, 1701-1779; Admiral Sir George Pocock (1706-1792)

Commodore George Pocock, 43, painted by Thomas Hudson in 1749

Pocock had no command until 1754 when he was appointed to the Cumberland (66) for home duty, before being transferred to the Eagle (60) – although this ship was badly damaged in a storm, and Pocock returned to the Cumberland – to sail on 24 March with Rear Admiral Charles Watson and 400 troops, destined for the East Indies.[xvii]


Admiral in the Indian Ocean

The Seven Years War with France provided Pocock with the opportunity he needed to resume his naval career. Cumberland arrived in the Indian Ocean in September 1754 and Pocock’s role in the global conflict began at sea on 6 January (or 4 February) 1755 when he was advanced to the rank of Rear Admiral of the White.


Maps of India, showing European trade stations during the Seven Years War, and prevailing annual weather during.


Pocock sails for India in early 1755 aboard HMS Cumberland


The capture of Geriah, 12 – 13 February 1756, by Dominic Serres in 1771. Rear Admiral Watson’s flagship, HMS Kent is in the centre, with Pocock’s Cumberland to its right, facing backwards.

Cumberland reached Bombay on 10 November 1755. Watson and Pocock were soon engaged fighting the pirate Tugalee Angria, who sortied from his base at Geriah near Goa. Rear Admiral Watson in Kent, with Pocock as his second in command in Cumberland, transported a detachment of troops under Lieutenant Colonel Robert Clive to Geriah, arriving on 12 February 1756. Clive’s soldiers were landed in the evening while Watson’s force put Angria’s pirate flotilla to the torch and bombarded his base. Although Angria himself escaped, the pirate’s base and treasure (including £130,000 of spices, jewels, and other valuables) were captured. Watson returned to Madras at the end of April, and Pocock was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red on 4 June 1756.

Almost two weeks later Suraj-ud-Daula, the nineteen year-old nawab of Bengal, deployed 30,000 men to surround Calcutta, where Britain’s Fort William was garrisoned by a mere 500 soldiers. The fort fell on 20 June, the captured British prisoners suffering their ignominious fate in the notorious Black Hole of Calcutta – more than half dying from suffocation.[xviii]

News of this disaster reached Madras on 16 August, where Watson and Pocock were stationed. A relief expedition was organised but it was unable to sail until October when the prevailing winds made progress tortuously slow. Pocock’s mission, working with C-in-C Watson, was to escort a landing force to Calcutta, but the squadron did not arrive until 8 December,[xix] while Pocock’s Cumberland had became separated from the attacking squadron and was running short on supplies. By the time Pocock reached Calcutta, in January, Calcutta and the surrounding forts had already been recaptured by Watson’s landing force of 700 regulars, 600 sailors and marines, and 1,200 sepoys, commanded once again by Colonel Robert Clive. Nevertheless, Pocock was promoted to Vice Admiral of the White in February 1757 (or possibly earlier on 8 December 1756).

Clive, after defeating Suraj-ud-Daula in open battle and securing his cooperation through a peace treaty on 9 February, was eager to advance on towards the French trade post at Chandernagore. Conveniently, it was now that news arrived from Europe that war had indeed been declared between France and Britain, so Clive and Watson set off upriver.[xx]


Rear Admiral Watson’s force – KentTiger (under Pocock) and Salisbury – bombarding Chandernagore on 23 March 1757, by Dominic Serres, 1771

Pocock, arriving at Calcutta shortly after this, followed up the Hooghly river in a boat and barge flotilla. He arrived on 22 March 1757 and immediately took command of the warship Tiger (60), which along with Kent (70) and Salisbury (50) had managed to work themselves upriver. The bombardment was opened the following day. In this violent action Pocock himself was wounded when he was hit by flying splinters (Salisbury failed to get into position while Tiger suffered 13 killed and 54 wounded; Kent another 19 killed and 74 wounded).[xxi] Following the surrender of Chandernagore, Clive went on to defeat Suraj-ud-Daula – who had once again turned against the BEIC – in the famous battle at Plassey, 23 June 1757.[xxii]

On 15 or 16 August 1757 Rear Admiral Watson died of fever at Calcutta and Pocock assumed command of the entire East Indies squadron. Also at this time, Pocock learned of the court martial and execution of his cousin, Admiral John Byng, stemming from the latter’s failure to recapture Minorca (20 May 1756).


Royal Navy reinforcements arrive in 1757 & Pocock becomes C-in-C East Indies. Note the loss of Kent.

The Duel

Early in 1758 Pocock left Bengal for Madras, where he was met by Commodore Charles Steevens with reinforcements: four ships-of-the-line and a frigate,[xxiii] and on 5 February (or 31 January) Pocock was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Red.[xxiv]  The essence of fleet strategy in the Indian Ocean revolved around securing trade from the west coast of the sub-continent between April and September, before the monsoon season began, and no doubt the French would do what they could to interdict this trade.

Indeed, intelligence soon arrived that the French were sending reinforcements to counter-attack. A small force led by the skilled Anne Antoine Comte d’Ache de Serquigny had been despatched from Brest on 3 May 1757 (although three of d’Ache’s four ships-of-the-line had to be diverted to Louisburg).[xxv]


Build up of forces in the Indian Ocean during 1758, Pocock battles the Comte d’Ache for control of the East Indies.


Pocock’s East Indies squadron after being reinforced by Commodore Stevens in early 1758. Note Captain Richard Kempenfelt’s presence as Commodore Stevens’ flag-captain aboard HMS Elizabeth.

Pocock flew his flag from HMS Yarmouth (70) and put to sea on 17 April, passing Negapatam and Fort St. David, and on 28 April Pocock’s squadron of seven intercepted the Comte d’Ache’s squadron of nine (eight total owned by the French East India Company, some acquired enroute at Mauritius) near Cuddalore.[xxvi] D’Ache had previously arrived at Fort St. David where he forced two of Pocock’s detached frigates to run aground, whence the British crews torched the ships to prevent capture.[xxvii]

D’Ache was escorting 1,200 French reinforcements (four battalions) under the command of the Comte de Lally (Lieutenant General Thomas Arthur Lally, baron de Tollendal, descendent of an Irish émigré; a solider of fortune) destined for Pondicherry. While Pocock was preparing to close with d’Ache, the Comte despatched Lally-Tollendal in the Comte de Provence (74) to make for Pondicherry, leaving d’Ache with only eight ships to fight Pocock’s seven.


HMS Yarmouth (70), Pocock’s command in 1758-9


View of Pocock’s first action with d’Ache, 29 April 1758


Order of battle for Cuddalore/Gondelour

Between 2:15 and 3 pm on 29 April Pocock steered directly for d’Ache’s flagship, the Zodiaque, and although he was receiving incoming fire from the French line, did not return fire until within pistol-shot.[xxviii] At the decisive moment he signaled for close action. In the ensuing battle (known as the battle of Gondelour in French and Cuddalore or Sadras in English), only four of Pocock’s ships engaged (leaving Cumberland, Newcastle, and Weymouth behind, and generating court martials for the three hesitant captains), and by the time the three laggard ships had caught up the British had been badly damanged, allowing d’Ache to make good his escape, limping into Pondicherry, where the Comte de Lally had already arrived.[xxix] Although Pocock flew the signal for general chase it was clear the British, with many sails and masts shot away, could not pursue and thus only the frigate Queenborough was sent ahead to try to locate the French squadron during the night, but to no avail.[xxx] D’Ache later lost the East Indiaman Bien-Aime (58) when it crashed ashore.[xxxi]

Nevertheless, Pocock’s force had inflicted numerous casualties: 162 killed and 360 wounded (or near 600 killed and wounded), in particular aboard d’Ache’s flagship. D’Ache, however, had done well himself, having achieved his objective of getting through to Pondicherry and had inflicted casualties of his own, primarily on the Yarmouth. Total British losses were 29 killed and 85 (or 89) wounded.[xxxii]

Pocock refitted at Madras and was prepared to sail on 10 May. Lally-Tollendal was on the move, however, and with 3,500 Europeans and another 3,000 Indian troops first captured Cuddalore and then laid siege to Fort St. David.[xxxiii] Pocock intended to relieve the siege of Fort St. David, but was unable to reach the outpost before it surrendered on 2 or 6 June, along with its garrison of 1,000.[xxxiv] Pocock’s normally cool temper was by now enflamed and upon return to Madras for victuals and water he ordered the court martials of Captains Vincent, Legge and Brereton, whom he held responsible for failing to engage on 29 April. Captain Vincent was relieved of his command, Legge was cashiered and Brereton reduced a year in seniority.[xxxv] The incident had stung Pocock – a man not easily shaken from his serene demeanour – and in later years he acknowledged this fact, coming to believe that he had been overly harsh in handing out these sentences.[xxxvi]


British and French order of battle off Negapatam, 3 August 1758. Notice the change of British captains following the court martials held in July.

Pocock put to sea again on 25 July and made a half dozen merchant ship captures before scouting the harbour at Pondicherry on the 27th. D’Ache, realizing he was about to be trapped, and with few provisions remaining, took his force of seven and a frigate and fled to sea, once again alluding Pocock’s general pursuit.[xxxvii] Pocock was, however, able to capture and burn a French ammunition ship that had been approaching Pondicherry.

Pocock sighted d’Ache on 1 August, and, although d’Ache skillfully delayed with a series of maneuvers all of August 2nd, Pocock was finally able to bring the Comte to action on the morning of the 3rd near Negapatam.[xxxviii] At 1:20 pm d’Ache decided it was time; his fleet drawn up in a crescent, and signaled to engage. Pocock followed suit, but was temporarily frustrated as d’Ache pulled his squadron away, firing chain shot at the English line, carrying away signals and masts.[xxxix] Pocock was determined to fight, however, and at 2:25 flew the signal for close action.

Captain Kempenfelt in the Elizabeth furiously attacked the Comte de Provence, temporarily setting it ablaze, then moving on to attack the Duc de Bourgoyne. Meanwhile, Pocock, in the Yarmourth, once again made for d’Ache’s flagship, the Zodiaque, and engaged it with a heavy fire, destroying the ship’s wheel. A gun exploded aboard the French flagship and in the confusion the Zodiaque collided with the Duc d’Orleans.[xl] With Yarmouth and Tiger closing in, d’Ache could see that the battle was turning against him – once again the daring French commander effected his escape, making for Pondicherry at 2:08 pm. Pocock signaled for general chase but, again, it was too late and d’Ache, although shaken, limped back into harbour. Pocock’s squadron suffered 200 casualties (31 killed and 116 – 166 wounded, including a slightly injured Pocock and Commodore Steevens – who had been shot by musket ball in the shoulder)[xli] to d’Ache’s 800 (250 killed and 600 wounded, amongst the latter including d’Ache himself as well as his flag captain).[xlii]

The strategic situation was liable to worsen as the French, on 9 March, had despatched additional reinforcements from Brest: Minotaure (74), Actif (64), and Illustre  (64), as well as Fortune (54) from Lorient on 7 March. The Royal Navy was able to spare only Grafton (70) and Sunderland (60) sailing from England on 8 March.[xliii]

In the meantime, with the monsoon season set to arrive, Pocock made for Bombay to effect his repairs while d’Ache sailed for Mauritius (where he combined with Captain Froger de L’Eguille’s force of three-of-the-line). On 14 December Lally-Tollendal sieged Madras, but the siege was broken when Captain Kempenfelt, despatched by Pocock, arrived with frigates and several small craft loaded with stores and reinforcements, forcing Lally-Tollendal to raise the siege on 17 February 1759.[xliv]


Order of battle for Pondicherry


Battle of Pondicherry, 10 September 1759, the culminating battle between Pocock (top) and d’Ache (bottom), concluding with d’Ache’s flight from the Indian Ocean, securing India for Britain, much as Admiral Saunders and General Wolfe had done for Canada at Quebec (13 September), Commodore Moore had done for Guadeloupe in the West Indies (1 May), while Hawke destroyed the Brest fleet at Quiberon Bay (20 November) and Boscawen destroyed the Toulon fleet at Lagos (18 August): the string of victories that made 1759 Britain’s annus mirabilis.


Royal Navy casualties at Pondicherry

The situation remained a stalemate until 17 April 1759, when Pocock, with the weather once again favourable, sailed for Ceylon, hoping to intercept d’Ache at sea. For the following four months Pocock cruised, hunting for the French squadron.[xlv] Nevertheless, d’Ache was nowhere to be found and with provisions running low, Pocock set course for Trincomale on 1 September. However, within 24 hours of this decision, the frigate Revenge located d’Ache’s squadron at sea and hastened to inform Pocock. Hearing of this break of good fortune Pocock put about and signaled for a general chase. D’Ache, once again faced with his old nemesis, knew exactly what to do and proceeded to amuse Pocock at sea for three days, until the French commander disappeared into a bank of haze.

Pocock immediately made to blockade Pondicherry, hoping to intercept d’Ache should he try for that port – which was in fact d’Ache’s intention as he carried supplies for that critical base.[xlvi] Pocock arrived off Pondicherry on 8 September early in the morning; exactly eight hours before d’Ache. The French squadron was sighted at 1 pm and two hours later had been identified as 13 sail.[xlvii] Pocock continued ahead of d’Ache to prevent his escape and hounded the French squadron for 48 hours, finally closing on d’Ache’s line at 2:10 pm on 10 September. On this occasion (known as the battle of Pondicherry) Pocock had nine of the line against d’Ache’s eleven. D’Ache, with Yarmouth nearly within musket shot, saw that battle was now unavoidable and signaled for action, Pocock immediately following. An intense cannonade commenced until d’Ache pulled away not long after 4 pm. Once again Pocock’s ships were too badly damaged in their masts and yards to pursue. In the pitched battle d’Ache himself was again wounded (and his flag-captain killed), one amongst a total of 1,500 French casualties. Pocock’s forces had sustained 569 casualties (118 killed and another 66 dying afterwards, with another 385 variously wounded).[xlviii] Furthermore, Captain Michie of the Newcastle had been killed.[xlix]

Pocock ordered the frigate Revenge to follow d’Ache while the English made quick repairs at sea. The next morning the English sighted the French squadron but d’Ache again made sail, disappearing over the horizon. With Tiger and Cumberland under tow, Pocock made for Negapatam to repair, where he sent to Madras for reinforcements. At sea again on the 20th, Pocock set course for Pondicherry, where he found d’Ache at anchor beneath the fortress guns on the 27th – the French admiral had achieved his purpose and had landed his supplies. To Pocock’s frustration d’Ache proceeded to slip away, avoiding the still damaged English ships. Pocock returned to Madras. D’Ache, meanwhile, made for Mauritius, leaving the Royal Navy in control of the Indian Ocean, and clearing the way for the capture of Pondicherry itself, accomplished on 15 January 1761.


The East Indiaman “Pitt” engages St. Louis on 28 September 1758/9, by Dunn Lawson. St. Louis was a veteran of all three of d’Ache’s battles with Pocock. An artistic representation of the grand naval duel for India – if the exact particulars are perhaps imaginary.

Pocock, his health weakened by five years of relentless warfare in the East Indies, was ordered to hand-over his command to Commodore Steevens and return to London at the end of 1759. Pocock, however, felt his presence was still required and thus did not relinquish his command until April 1760. Back in London, he was rewarded with a marble bust commissioned by a grateful East India Company. Later that year, at the age of 54, Pocock was elected MP for Plymouth, and was subsequently knighted in March 1761. Pocock used his influence and his close relationship with Lord Anson to advance the interests of his commanders, being able to get James Hawker promoted, although not William Owen.[l] Pocock believed in rewarding those who had supported him, telling a follower that, “…if not too open and glaring an impropriety, I might rely on him.”[li]

Of Pocock’s actions in Indian waters Sir Julian Corbett wrote in 1907, “It is the fashion now merely to deride his battle tactics, which after three actions in eighteen months had failed to secure a real decision, though the tactics which would have secured a decision against a superior force determined to avoid one are never very clearly indicated. More just it would be to praise his vehement ‘general chases’, the daring and resolute attacks which in manner yielded nothing to Hawke’s, and above all for the strategical insight and courage which enabled him to dominate a sea which it was practically impossible for his inferior force to command.”[lii]

As for D’Ache, Pocock’s great antagonist in those distant waters, Pitt’s American strategy – culminating in the capture of Quebec while treating India as a holding action – had effectively terminated the threat from Mauritius. Clive now wrote that, “…this time the superiority of our force at sea, I take for granted, is beyond dispute, and of consequence our resources must be more than those of the French… A victory on our side must confine the French within the walls Pondicherry; and when that happens, nothing can save them from destruction, but a superior force at sea…”[liii] On 8 June 1760 news arrived at Mauritius informing D’Ache that the English were now preparing to shift their efforts to the Indies and thus that he should expect an operation with sizable forces against his island base, precluding any chance of further operations in Indian waters.[liv] D’Ache sent two frigates to inform Pondicherry of this unhappy fate and in January 1761 that last, all-important, French base in India capitulated.[lv]


Return of a fleet into Plymouth Harbour, Dominic Serres, 1766

Triumph: The Havana Operation of 1762

War was declared against Spain on 4 January 1762 when the British government learnt of a treaty signed between France and Spain in August the previous year. The Cabinet, once again under the Duke of Newcastle, reached the decision to strike Havana on 6 January (a project Pitt had proposed before his resignation in October 1761), and Pocock, promoted to Admiral of the Blue, was selected for overall command, with Lieutenant General the Earl of Albemarle commanding the land forces.[lvi] Lord Anson drew up the plan, part of a two-pronged assault against the Spanish empire’s key colonial outposts: the Philippines and Cuba. On 7 January the Navy Board issued its request for transportation for the project and by the end of January the transports had been prepared and supplied for seven months rations. Pocock’s final orders arrived on 18 February.[lvii]


Lord Anson by Joshua Reynolds


Caribbean during the Seven Years War, showing Pocock’s “Old Bahama” route to Havana.


Lines of HMS Namur, 90 gun second rate built in 1756, Pocock’s flagship for the Havana operation.


Pocock’s initial force as assembled (minus transports, etc) at Spithead.

By 26 February the entire force was prepared and assembled at Spithead (Albemarle described Pocock’s effort as “indefatigable”).[lviii] Pocock was to proceed with his forces to the Lesser Antilles, rendezvous with Major General Robert Monckton and Rear Admiral George Rodney, then sail to St. Domingue to collect additional forces for the landing before moving onto his objective. Pocock was to collect another four thousand regulars and American militia from New York, as well as a planned regiment of 500 blacks and 2,000 slaves from Jamaica, plus pilots from the Bahamas (who turned out to be inexperienced).[lix] Celerity was imperative as the onset of the hurricane season in August was bound to terminate operations, as was the prevalence of tropical disease, such as yellow fever.[lx]

Pocock, with second in command Commodore Augusts Keppel,[lxi] departed England with five sail, 67 transports, and 4,000 troops (four regiments – the 22nd, 34th, 56th and 72nd) on 5 March and arrived at Barbados on 20 April, before sailing to Martinique on 26 April, the latter island recently captured by Rear Admiral Rodney and Major General Monckton that January (St. Lucia had also been captured on 25 February under Captain Augustus Hervey). Rodney had already been informed by the arrival of the Richmond late in March that he was to prepare to join with Pocock – orders made difficult by an expected French assault on Jamaica, to intercept which Rodney had despatched ten ship-of-the-line under Commodore Sir James Douglas.

In the event, further intelligence confirmed that the French attack was not likely to take place and thus Commodore Douglas, aware of the all important nature of the Havana operation, decided to use his detached squadron to blockade the French base at Cape Francois, Saint Domingue, thus preventing the French and Spanish fleet from combining and possibly threatening the invasion force when it arrived.[lxii] Next Douglas despatched the Richmond to the Old Bahama Channel to prepare soundings and make sketches for the approach.

When Pocock arrived at Martinique he assumed supreme command and immediately requested Rodney (who was then ill) to provide him with all available intelligence. Orders were also sent to Commodore Douglas to join him on 12 May off Cape St. Nicolas (Douglas, however, did not receive these messages until 3 May, and although he quickly despatched orders to collect his squadron this still took a number of days).[lxiii] As Rodney and Monckton were on bad terms at this stage of the occupation of Martinique, Pocock and Albemarle were required to significantly re-organize the landing force, including the purchase of slaves from Martinique and elsewhere (as it was realized that Jamaica was unlikely to provide any) – and about 600 slaves were thus obtained.[lxiv] Pocock further upset Rodney by taking charge of the latter’s flagship, Marlborough, and consigning his staff to a smaller 64, before departing.[lxv] Rodney subsequently penned an agitated series of letters outbound, including one to the Prime Minister.[lxvi]


The Havana invasion force departing Martinique, 6 May 1762 (not showing frigates, sloops, transports, etc).


Commodore Augustus Keppel by Joshua Reynolds, 1749. Keppel, aboard HMS Valiant, was Pocock’s second in command.


Lt. General George Keppel, the Third Earl of Albermarle by Edward Fisher based on Joshua Reynolds, 1762

Pocock departed Martinique on 6 May and collected a trade convoy on its way to Jamaica, building the invasion fleet up to over 200 transports and 13 ships-of-the-line. The fleet arrived at Cape St. Nicolas on 17 May and collected what few of Commodore Douglas’ ships were in the area – the rest being still dispersed on blockade duties or re-victualing. The full squadron did not join Pocock until 25 May.[lxvii] Pocock’s complete force now consisted of 20 ship-of-the-line, a 50-gun cruiser, five frigates, three bomb vessels, a sloop, a cutter and the transports carrying 11,000 troops. Pocock allowed the merchants bound for Jamaica to depart (another indication of the powerful Port Royal merchant lobby’s influence) under the escort of HMS Centurion, with Commodore Douglas aboard.

Pocock, entrusted with a copy of Anson’s Spanish charts,[lxviii] and his own navigational experience from his time in the West Indies station, worked the invasion force around the dangerous north coast of Cuba, utilizing skilled navigators such as Captain Holmes in the sloop Bonetta and Captain Lindsay in the Trent, alongside the Lurcher to prepare the way. These vessels were in the process of scouting a route when they found Captain Elphinston of the Richmond on 29 May, who had completed his survey of the approach. A combination of sounding boats and coastal torch-fires to navigate allowed the fleet to sail through the Old Bahama Passage.[lxix]

Minor success occurred during this phase of the operation, such as on 2 June when Captain Alms in the Alarm captured the Spanish frigate Thetis and the storeship Phoenix.[lxx]


Havana force passing through the Old Strait of Bahama towards Havana, 2 June 1762


Map of Havana, showing location of Royal Navy operations: Pocock’s bombardment of the Chorea castle (left), the bombardment of the Morro fortress (centre) and Keppel and Albermarle’s landing (right); 1762.


Detailed map of the same from David Syrett’s Navy Records Society volume on the capture of Havana

havana entrance2


Views of the harbour of Havana circa 1780, showing the harbour as entrance and exit.



El Morro Fortress overlooking the entrance to Havana harbour today.

OIL 002

Keppel covers Albermarle’s landing on 7 June 1762, by Dominic Serres.

Pocock arrived off Havana on 6 June and started the landing the following day, with Commodore Keppel – in fact Albemarle’s brother – in overall command. 3,963 soldiers and grenadiers, artillerymen and so forth were landed by 10:30 am. The light Spanish defences at the Coximar river delta were swept away by Keppel’s naval gunfire.[lxxi] While Keppel was carrying out this phase of the operation with his six of the line, Pocock moved with his 13 of the line past the harbour – where he identified 12 Spanish warships – and farther to the west, conducting a feint landing with the Royal Marines at his disposal. Meanwhile the Earl of Albermarle landed his complete force between the Boca Noa and Coximar rivers, supported by gunfire from Captain Harvey in the Dragon along with the sloops Mercury and Bonetta. On 8 June Pocock despatched frigates to scout for additional landing locations and to conduct soundings along the coast, in the process discovering that the Spanish had now sunk a blockship at the harbour entrance, followed by a second on 9 June.[lxxii]

The total Spanish force garrisoning Havana’s various redoubt and fortress environs was 2,800 – three regiments of infantry and a regiment of dragoons – regulars, marines and sailors (the Spanish Admiral in charge of the fleet in Havana harbour was one Hevia), 5,000 militia, 250 arsenal hands, and 600 freed slaves.[lxxiii]


Pocock’s diversion bombardment of the Chorrera batteries, 11 June 1762



The remains of the Terreon de la Chorrera today

After securing his position ashore, Albermarle informed Pocock that he intended to attack the La Cabana heights above the Morro fortress on the 10th, and so Pocock provided a diversion in the form of Captain Knight in the Belleisle, which, along with Cerebus, Mercury, Lurcher and Bonetta bombarded the Chorrera (Terreon de la Chorrera – Cojimar) castle. On the 11th at 1 pm Colonel Carleton, Albermarle’s Quarter-Master General, led the assault on La Cabana and carried the heights successfully. Major General William Keppel, the third Keppel brother, was now appointed to command the El Morro siege operation.

To follow up this success, Pocock ordered three bomb vessels and the sloops Edgar, Stirling Castle and Echo to attack the town of Havana. On 12 June the Spanish sunk yet another blockship, completely blockading the entrance to the harbour.

Battle of Havana by Serres

Havana: landing artillery, 30 June 1762, by Dominic Serres, c. 1770-1775


Another view of the 30 June landing

On the 15th further landings were made, including 800 marines in two battalions, the first under Major Cambell and second under Major Collins. Another 1,200 troops were landed under Colonel Howe. A few days later mortars were landed from Thunder and Grenado, which began to bombard Morro on 20 June. Cannon were ashore and emplaced, adding their weight of shell to the attack.[lxxiv] In the meantime, Pocock tasked Keppel with deploying Dragon, Cambridge and Marlborough, together led by Captain Hervey, against the Morro, and their cannonade commenced on 1 July. The three ships suffered heavily from the fortress guns (of which there were 70), however, and were called off after six hours of shelling. Captain Goostrey of the Cambridge was killed.

For the remainder of July the Earl of Albermarle sieged the El Morro fortress – despite ever shortening supplies of water and ever increasing sick cases – but it wasn’t until 30 July that the exploding of a mine enabled the taking of the castle by assault, during which as many as 1,000 of the Spanish garrison were made casualties (130 killed, 27 wounded, 326 captured another 213 drowned while fleeing) and the Captain of the Morro fortress, Don Lewis de Velasco, was mortally wounded.[lxxv]


Dragon, Cambridge and Marlborough bombarding Morro Castle, Havana, 1 July 1762 by Richard Paton


Losses sustained during the shelling on 1 July.


Flatboats assault Morro Castle, 30 July 1762, by Dominic Serres. Alcide (64) shown.

Pocock for his part continued to carry out his theatre-level operation, constantly in touch with frigates carrying information about movements around Cuba and Florida, covering the Jamaica convoys, and watching for the approach of expected American reinforcements (who arrived 28 July – although reduced by 500 men who were captured in their transports by the Comte de Blenac’s detached flotilla) and simultaneously managing the supply situation of the siege itself.[lxxvi]

Havana was now surrounded, and the Spanish governor, Don Juan de Prado, asked for terms on 11 August, surrendering two days later. 12 warships were captured, eight line-of-battle ships being fit for sea (the other three being the sunk blockships), as well as £3 million in the process,[lxxvii] with Pocock and Albermarle split to the tune of 1/3 of the total treasure; Pocock’s take amounting to £123,000. Pocock handed out rewards as well, and the flagship’s purser, master and carpenter were respectively made the storekeeper, master attendant and master shipwright of Havana.[lxxviii]

Havana 1762, Plate 11

British flatboats Entering Havana, 14 August 1762.  (note sunken blockship at harbour entrance)


The British fleet entering Havana, with HMS Namur, Pocock’s flagship, flying his pendent as Admiral of the Blue, 21 August 1762. Commodore Keppel leads his squadron in HMS Valiant at the left. By Dominic Serres, 1775.


Capture of the Spanish fleet at Havana by Dominic Serres, 1768


Spanish ships captured at Havana.


The central plaza at Havana under British occupation following the successful siege, by Dominic Serres, c. 1765-70

The operation, however successful and profitable, had been costly, in particular in terms of sick cases resulting from the temperate climate and difficulty of the extended siege (560 army killed, 86 Royal Navy; and 4,708 army sick cases and 1,300 sailors).[lxxix] Anson, the architect of the plan, had died in London of a heart attack on 6 June, and thus never learned of the success of the campaign.[lxxx]

Pocock sailed for home but lost two ships and 12 transports as a result of stormy weather during the Atlantic crossing, reaching Spithead finally on 13 January 1763.

Sir George Pocock. PAF3685

Pocock at 56 as Knight of the Bath, Admiral of the Blue, & C-in-C Havana, October (25 March) 1762


George Pocock as international celebrity: Chevalier de l’ordre du Bain, et Admiral de la flotte Britannique, fameux par les Explois sur les Mers des deux Indes

Legacy: An 18th Century Life

Pocock, now fabulously wealthy and internationally famous, purchased an estate at Mayfair, and, in 1764, bought the resplendent Orleans House at Twickenham. He married the widow Sophia Pitt Dent, together with whom he had a son, George (1765-1840; later the MP for Bridgwater and Baronet Pocock after 1821), and a daughter, Sophia (d. 1811), who married the Earl Powlet. Pocock retired in 1766 at the age of 60, returning to parliament where he notably voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act that February. Pocock, however, soon lost his seat in the 1768 election.[lxxxi] Pocock became master of Trinity House from 1786-1790, and was also vice-president of the Marine Society, his golden years noted for their public charity and serenity.


The Orleans House at Twickenham, painted by Joseph Nickolls c. 1750


The interior of the preserved Orleans House Gallery – the Octagon Room – as it stands today.

When Lally-Tollendal was captured – after the fall of Pondicherry – and sent to England, he pleaded that he might be introduced to Pocock, and, this request granted, is alleged to have spoken to the Admiral thus, “Dear Sir George, as the first man in your profession, I cannot but respect and esteem you, though you have been the greatest enemy I ever had. But for you, I should have triumphed in India, instead of being made a captive. When we first sailed out to give you battle, I had provided a number of musicians on board the Zodiaque, intending to give the ladies a ball upon our victory; but you left me only three fiddlers alive, and treated us all so roughly, that you quite spoiled us for dancing.”[lxxxii] Lally-Tollendal was traded back to France, where he was made a scapegoat for the failure in India, and executed at Paris on 9 May 1766.

Pocock outlived his erstwhile opponent of the East Indies, the Comte d’Ache, who died at Brest on 11 February 1780 at the age of 79.

Sir George Pocock, midshipman during the War of the Quadruple Alliance, commodore at the Leeward Islands during the War of Austrian Succession, master of the Indian Ocean and victor of Havana during the Seven Years War, Admiral of the Blue, died at Curzon Street, London, 3 April 1792 at the age of 86.


Sir George Pocock memorial at Westminster Abbey. Beneath Pocock’s coat of arms (two seahorses abreast a lion, topped by the crest of an antelope issuing from a naval crown, with motto, “Faithful to the King and Kingdom”), sits a majestic Britannia, confidently grasping a thunderbolt, her left arm resting on a profile showing Pocock’s distinctive Mona Lisa smile. Commissioned by George Pocock, esquire, and sculpted by John Bacon in 1796. Sir George is buried at St. Mary’s Church, Twickenham.


[i] James Stanier Clarke and John McArthur, eds., The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII, 2010th ed. (Cambridge University Press, 1802)., p. 442

[ii] Tom Pocock, “Pocock, Sir George (1706-1792),” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).

[iii] John D. Grainger, Dictionary of British Naval Battles (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2016)., p. 104

[iv] Pocock, “Pocock, Sir George (1706-1792).”

[v] List of Royal Navy Post Captains, 1714-1830, Navy Records Society online.

[vi] J. J. Colledge and Ben Warlow, Ships of the Royal Navy, The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy (Philadelphia & Newbury: Casemate, 2010)., p. 10

[vii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 442

[viii] Colledge and Warlow, Ships of the Royal Navy, The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy., p. 390

[ix] Brian Lavery, The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War, 1600-1815 (London: Conway Maritime Press, Ltd., 1998)., p. 119

[x] N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006)., p. 412; Robert Gardiner and Brian Lavery, eds., The Line of Battle: The Sailing Warship 1650-1840, Conway’s History of the Ship (London: Conway Maritime Press, 2004)., p. 19

[xi] Richard F. Simpson, “The Naval Career of Admiral Sir George Pocock, K. B., 1743-1763” (Indiana University, 1950)., p.2

[xii] Richard Harding, “Legge, Edward (1710-1747),” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).

[xiii] Herbert Richmond, The Navy In The War of 1739-48, vol. 3, 3 vols. (Cambridge University Press, 1920)., p. 70

[xiv] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 443

[xv] Grainger, Dictionary of British Naval Battles., p. 103; see also Hawke to Corbett, 17 October 1747, in Ruddock Mackay, ed., The Hawke Papers, A Selection: 1743 – 1771, Navy Records Society 129 (Aldershot, Hants: Scolar Press, 1990)., p. 51-55

[xvi] Richmond, The Navy In The War of 1739-48., p. 72

[xvii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 443; Martin Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War (London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2016)., loc. 1272

[xviii] Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1300

[xix] Robson., loc. 1300

[xx] Robson., loc. 1323

[xxi] Pocock, “Pocock, Sir George (1706-1792).” Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1341

[xxii] A. T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 – 1783 (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1987)., p. 306

[xxiii] Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., p. 275

[xxiv] William Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy, A History From the Earliest Times to the Present, vol. 3, 5 vols. (London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1898)., p. 565

[xxv] Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1347

[xxvi] Jonathan R. Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War (University of Nebraska: Thomson-Shore, Inc., 2005)., loc. 1847

[xxvii] Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1368

[xxviii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 445

[xxix]  Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 – 1783., p. 307

[xxx] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 446

[xxxi] Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War., loc. 1847

[xxxii] Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1401

[xxxiii] Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War., loc. 1847

[xxxiv]  Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 – 1783., p. 308

[xxxv] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 446

[xxxvi] N. A. M. Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy (London: Fontana Press, 1988)., p. 247

[xxxvii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 447

[xxxviii] Clarke and McArthur., p. 448

[xxxix] Clarke and McArthur., p. 449

[xl] Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1401

[xli] Clowes, The Royal Navy, A History From the Earliest Times to the Present., p. 181

[xlii] Sam Willis, Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2008)., p. 206

[xliii] Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War., loc. 1839

[xliv] Clowes, The Royal Navy, A History From the Earliest Times to the Present., p. 181

[xlv] Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 – 1783., p. 310

[xlvi] Julian Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy (London: The Folio Society, 2001)., p. 452-3

[xlvii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 451

[xlviii] Willis, Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare., p. 207

[xlix] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 451-4

[l] Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy., p. 337

[li] Rodger., p. 289

[lii] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 456-7

[liii] John Malcolm, Robert, Lord Clive: Collected from the Family Papers Communicated by the Earl of Powis, Kindle, vol. 1, 3 vols. (London: John Murray, 1836).

[liv] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 461-2

[lv] Lawrence James, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997)., p. 43

[lvi]  Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., p. 285

[lvii] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 546

[lviii] David Syrett, The Siege and Capture of Havana, 1762 (London: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne and Co. Ltd., 1970)., p. xv, also #64 Albemarle to Egremont, Portsmouth, 22 February, p. 51

[lix] Syrett., p. xiv

[lx] Syrett., p. xiv

[lxi] Alexander Howlett, “Captain Charles Middleton and the Seven Years’ War,” Canadian War Studies Association (blog), December 31, 2016,

[lxii] Syrett, The Siege and Capture of Havana, 1762., p. xvi-xvii

[lxiii] Syrett., #143, Pocock to Douglas, 26 April, p. 98-9

[lxiv] Syrett., p. xvi-xviii

[lxv] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 553; see also David Syrett, ed., The Rodney Papers, Volume I, 1742 – 1763, vol. 1, Navy Records Society 148 (Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005)., #876, Rodney to Clevland, 27 May 1762, p. 452-3

[lxvi]  Syrett, The Rodney Papers, Volume I, 1742 – 1763., #879, Rodney to Newcastle, 1 June 1762, p. 456-7

[lxvii] Syrett, The Siege and Capture of Havana, 1762., p. xix

[lxviii] Andrew Lambert, Admirals (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2009)., p. 153

[lxix] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 456

[lxx] Clarke and McArthur., p. 456

[lxxi] Syrett, The Siege and Capture of Havana, 1762., p. xxiii

[lxxii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 457

[lxxiii] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 562 fn

[lxxiv] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 458

[lxxv] Pocock, “Pocock, Sir George (1706-1792).”; Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 460

[lxxvi] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 566-9

[lxxvii] Grainger, Dictionary of British Naval Battles., p. 222

[lxxviii] Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy., p. 287

[lxxix] Herbert Richmond, Statesmen and Sea Power (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1946).

[lxxx] N. A. M. Rodger, “Anson, George, Baron Anson (1697-1762),” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).

[lxxxi] Pocock, “Pocock, Sir George (1706-1792).”

[lxxxii] George Godfrey Cunningham, A History of England in the Lives of Englishmen, vol. 5 (London: A. Fullarton and Co., 1853)., p. 412

Reflections on the 2017 McMullen Naval History Symposium


This year’s biennial McMullen Naval History Symposium, hosted by the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, was a total success. This world-class conference featured a plethora of fascinating panels on subjects ranging from contemporary Canadian naval policy to Julius Caesar’s appreciation of naval power. As always, with a conference of this scale involving hundreds of historians and participants, any one person is only able to see a fraction of the total panels, so individual experience does matter. The conference was not generally digitized, thus, reflections from the participants provide the only method for intersubjectively preserving the experience itself, and there have already been (David Morgan-Owen) several (Trent Hone) contributions (Matthew Eng) in that regard.

The conference was organized by the vigilant Commander Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong, one of the “New Young Turks” relentlessly in pursuit of greater historical appreciation amongst the cadets and midshipmen of the growing United States Navy, not to mention a senior editor with the all-star blog, War on the Rocks. Commander Armstrong also edited the “21st Century” Mahan and Sims volumes for the US Naval Institute Press. The major themes at this years conference were the First World War (naturally enough considering the centenary), global and imperial history, seapower in the Age of Sail, the Asian and the Pacific theatres, the Second World War, naval education, and the evolution of naval technology in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Day One: September 14, 2017


From left to right: Panel Chair John Beeler, Louis Halewood, Alex Howlett, and David Kohnen (photo credit, Tim Choi)

I was a presenter on one of the first panels, along with Louis Halewood and David Kohnen. My paper on the Royal Naval Air Service and the development of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) 1917-1918, examined the impact of changing administration during wartime, and the organizational learning that took place in an unprecedented and high-technology environment. Louis Halewood described his research on the development of the Anglo-American theory of geostrategy, raising the prospect of the pre-1914 “Imperial Superstate” concept, notably diagnosed by historians such as Carroll Quigley, and Ramsay Muir. Louis Halewood introduced the influential work of luminaries such as Hartford Mackinder, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Julian Corbett, Spencer Wilkinson, and Lord Milner, theorists of naval and military power, strategy and imperial defence, who would all reappear with regularity in the politically charged panels and discussions to follow. Ultimately, the unity of the Wilsonian Anglo-American alliance broke down in the interwar period, in no small measure due to the challenge to British naval supremacy from the United States, in the process destroying the Anglo-Japanese alliance, with profound implications for Britain’s role in the Second World War.

David Kohnen discussed his research on the Knox-Pye-King report, a significant paper published in the United States Naval Institute Proceedings in 1920, bringing to the US Navy (USN) the strategic focus which had been raised in the British school, in particular, by the pre-war historians John Laughton, Julian Corbett, and Captain Herbert Richmond. Captains Ernie King, Dudley Knox and William Pye had been influenced by the irresistible force of Admiral William Sims, one of the significant contributors to the argument in favour of introducing trans-Atlantic convoys, a deciding factor in the victory over the U-boats in 1917-1918. David Kohnen argued that the modern USN had a worrying predilection for defaulting to technological dogma, with the result of the Navy utilizing the acronym saturated language of the Defense Department to stress uncritical “warfighting” instead of historical engagement and peacekeeping as the basis for doctrine.


Right to left: Panel chair Caitlin Gale, presenters Anna Brinkman, David Morgan-Owen, Paul Ramsey, and commentator Andrew Lambert (photo credit, Tim Choi)

With turn of the century grand strategy on my mind, I moved to the panel specifically examining British foreign policy, with the first paper given by Anna Brinkman (of Imperial Entanglements fame), on Britain’s strategy for managing Spain during the Seven Years War, a complex subject that relied on the interaction between significant stakeholders, Britain and Spain’s differing conceptions of the law of the sea, and the emerging balance of power in Europe. David Morgan-Owen, the brains behind the Defence-in-Depth blog, next brought the discussion into the 19th and 20th centuries by examining Britain’s evolving European and global situation, a subject that hinges on the the sticky topic of imperial and homeland defence, explored further in David’s new book. The expansion of the Committee for Imperial Defence by Prime Minister Arthur Balfour in 1904 was a watershed moment, ultimately leading to the development of conflicting army and naval strategies during the government of Herbert Asquith. Lastly, Paul Ramsey examined Spenser Wilkinson’s debate with historian Julian Corbett about the proper relation of Britain’s foreign and military policy to national strategy, a historically and politically charged sparring played out in the popular press. Professor Andrew Lambert, who was the panel commentator, observed the intricate connections between the papers, with Corbett, a scholar of the Seven Years War and Russo-Japanese War, visualizing Britain’s naval role as a component of an integrated system that only made sense once the land dynamic, with a debt to Clausewitz and Jomini, was integrated.


Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson announces the winners of the CNO’s inaugural Naval History Essay Contest (photo credit, Tim Choi)

With this auspicious start, the conference was on a sound footing. I enjoyed lunch in the beautiful Bo Coppedge Room, at the Alumni Hall, where I had an enjoyable conversation with a young officer and naval scholar on the fascinating subjects of Athens versus Sparta, US Marine Corps culture, and the recent Graham Allison book, The Thucydides Trap, concerning the possibility of American conflict with China in the 21st century. I was impressed with the student’s insight, candor, and breadth of knowledge, all of which I found refreshing (as was the key-lime cheesecake). Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson then presented the awards to the winners of the inaugural Naval History Essay Contest, which promised to raise the bar for scholarly research amongst historians and practitioners alike.

After lunch we headed to the final panel for the first day, again focused on British naval policy in the 19th century. By this point the conference was beginning to resemble a choose your own type of adventure. This was both an advantage and disadvantage of the conference’s scale and international reach. Breaking out of my own area of interest was certainly possible, with simultaneous panels taking place on American, South American, and Second World War naval history, all of which would have been fascinating to attend, if not especially related to my research focus. The conference organizers did the attendees a service by arranging the panels in such a manner that overlap was minimal and it was a fairly straightforward process to figure out which panel was the best choice for my own preferences.

This panel was chaired by John Mitcham, and the first paper was presented by John Beeler, the editor of the Navy Record Society’s Milne papers, on the subject of the Liberal party’s naval policy during the late 19th century. Beeler, who literally wrote the book on the subject, argued that the questionable choices of the Liberal party in terms of naval policy were an indication of a lack of clear strategic thinking, compared to Salisbury’s vision. The nuances of the political situation was emphasized by Peter Keeling, who followed this thread by specifically expanding on the Liberal party’s 1889 Naval Defence Act with original research that examined who voted for and against the Act, and why. Presenting the last paper of the day, Rebecca Matzke, in a fascinating paper reminiscent of the work of Michael Neiberg, discussed the efforts of British propagandists to influence American public perception of the Royal Navy’s war effort, in particular, as it related to the Royal Navy’s blockade and Germany’s counter-blockade (the unrestricted U-boat campaign). Taken together, this panel explored the interrelation of optics, how public support is galvanized by policymakers and NGOs, and the realities of budgetary and geostrategic constraints, firmly recognizing that military policy is never formed in a vacuum, and more often than not, is the result of a complex patchwork of influence.


James Goldrick delivers the 2017 McMullen Sea Power address in Mahan Hall, (photo credit, Tim Choi)

Thus we adjourned for day one. The next event was the McMullen Sea Power address to be held later that evening in the appropriately named Mahan Hall. Taking advantage of the warm evening air while moving between buildings, I stopped the always approachable James Goldrick for a brief discussion that touched on wide-ranging concepts such as Britain’s anti-submarine defence in the First World War, Germany’s strategic bombing campaigns in two world wars, and the origins of aircraft carrier strike doctrine. I was impressed as always by Professor Goldrick’s erudition. In this spirit of historical reflection, the conference participants made their way over to the fantastic US Naval Academy Museum. After touring amongst the excellent warship models and artifact displays, discussing defence policy with friends, I was stunned into a moment of clarity by news which spread like fire between the attendees that North Korea had launched yet another long-range missile, dramatically bringing home the importance of the subjects we had discussed, in otherwise academic detachment, throughout the day.

Not much more than an hour later I was sitting on the balcony of Mahan Hall watching Rear-Admiral (retired) Goldrick, Royal Australian Navy, deliver the formal 2017 Sea Power address. Professor Goldrick delivered his keynote directly to the young midshipmen sitting across from me on both wings of the balcony, and strove to reconcile the need for thorough professionalism within military education, transcending technological determinism, while also avoiding the other end of the spectrum, ivory tower detachment, a synthesis rare enough amongst long-time scholars yet also essential to the future of service culture: the next generation of young scholar-officers.

Day Two: September 15, 2017


From left to right: Trent Hone, Wes Hammond, and John Miller, USN.

With three excellent panels on Anglo-American and imperial naval history behind me, I decided to start off day two on a slightly different tact. There would be four panels to see, and I felt it was time to broaden the discussion by revisiting some areas of interest from my previous academic work. Easing into things I visited the panel highlighting some of the winners of the CNO’s essay contest, starting with Trent Hone’s analysis of operational learning by the USN at Guadalcanal in 1942. Hone argued that the Navy, with a strong foundation in historical education and doctrine, derived from the inter-war period and First World War, was well situated to adapt to operational disasters such as the Battle of Savo Island, enabling the Navy to reverse-course and ultimately out think the Imperial Japanese Navy. Lieutenant John Miller then read his case-study analysis of training failure, notably looking at the USS Stark, USS Panay, and USS Chesapeake incidents, concluding that readiness can only be achieved by a thorough understanding of not only ship and crew capability, but also, significantly, environmental awareness, the multifaceted elements of which can only be mastered through carefully cultivated experience and preparation, frequently missing in a high-tempo, rapid deployment situation. Wes Hammond then expanded on this subject by observing the importance of mobile basing, stressing the element of fleet logistics, repair and salvage, upon which all other elements are reliant. An important theme uniting these papers, explored in the panel discussion, was the recognition that contemporary naval affairs are defined by questions with historical antecedents. The notion of having, “been here before” was startling, and a clear reminder of the importance of historical investigation prior to framing naval policy.


From left to right: Dr. Nicholas Lambert, Alan Anderson, James Smith and G. H. Bennet

The fifth panel was chaired by the Naval Academy’s own Dr. Nicholas Lambert and featured papers by G. H. Bennet, Alan Anderson and James Smith. This panel took a sweeping look at the Admiralty as a political and educational organization in the 20th century. Plymouth University’s Bennet presented on the unique subject of ship and naval station libraries, a critical component in naval education that at first glance might appear parochial, yet, like many of the papers presented, once explored in detail provided rich insight. Bennet’s research explored the organic knowledge networks that developed aboard ships as crew and officers traded and circulated books, while providing a warning evidenced by the decline of these networks during the transformation of the Royal Navy as budgets tightened in the 20th century. Alan Anderson followed up by examining the seemingly bizarre decision of the Admiralty to promulgate the Declaration of London in 1909, and the implications this would have for Britain’s blockade strategy in 1914. Anderson, who has been critical of Nicholas Lambert’s work on British blockade theory, argued that in fact the Admiralty gained significant concessions from the Declaration, notably including affirmations on the illegality of shipping “absolute contraband” in times of war, while simultaneously shoring up neutral shipping rights, essential components of the Royal Navy’s historical mission as safeguard of the seas. James Smith (of the Seapower Thinker blog) built upon these papers with his criticism of the introduction of the Ministry of Defence by the Earl Mountbatten, who was Chief of the Defence staff for six years, starting in July 1959. Smith argued that Mountbatten’s personal ambitions led him to undermine Britain’s traditional maritime focus, relegating the senior service to equality with the RAF and Army, thus stripping the Navy of its institutional power, which had been carefully built up over hundreds of years.


The Battle of Virginia Capes, 1781

Controversy continued to abound in the two finals panels, both of which I attended out of interest. The first was focused on the Battle of Virginia Capes, 5 September 1781, and second on Japanese naval policy in the 20th century. This was a trip back in time for me, as I had previously written my Masters thesis on the culminating naval battle of the American Revolution, as well as my undergraduate thesis on the only decisive naval battle of the ironclad age, the Battle of Tsushima, 27 May 1905. The first of these panels was known colloquially as the Naval War College panel, featuring papers drawn entirely from that fine institution. Chaired by the College’s John Hattendorf, James Holmes presented the first paper, an insightful strategic analysis of Britain’s naval policy during the Revolutionary War. Holmes argued that Admiralty decision-making ultimately led to the abandonment of the American colonies in favour of protecting the more profitable imperial territories in the Caribbean and India, and seen from the perspective of grand strategy, was reflective of the concept of “antifragility” which helped to explain the Admiralty’s thinking. Holmes provided a broad framework that was then detailed by Jim McIntyre’s paper, examining the egodocuments of Hessian mercenary Johann Ewald, who witnessed the siege of Yorktown. The presentation of Stanley Carpenter flowed naturally from this point, providing a thorough analysis of the Royal Navy’s tactics at the Battle of the Capes itself, with particular attention to the Graves-Hood controversy that emerged. I was pleased to see, eight years after completing my thesis on the subject, Lord Hood receiving the criticism he rightly deserves for failing to bring battle decisively against the Comte de Grasse’s fleet when ordered so by Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves. The discussion after this panel was particularly insightful, with John Hattendorf moderating a lively debate about the vagaries of timing, strategic movements, and the many “mistakes” made, for example, by Lord Cornwallis, who should have known better than to allow his Carolina offensive to become locked up in a position from which the only possible escape was by sea.


Dr. Alessio Patalano presenting on Japan’s Cold War submarine policy, (photo credit: Tim Choi)

The final panel I attended was presented by Andrew Blackley, covering the lessons of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5, in particular the Battle of the Yalu, followed by presentations from Masashi Kurarni, Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force, looking at the Japanese contribution to the Mediterranean in 1917, and finally, by Alessio Patalano, who introduced the Self Defense Force’s submarine policy during the early Cold War. Andrew Blackley argued that Japan’s naval doctrine of rapid-fire close attack proved decisive in two major naval wars, indeed, demonstrating significant flexibility when faced with technical faults or warship losses. Flexibility was further indicated by Masashi Kurarni’s paper, showcasing Japan’s significant international alliance contribution to the anti-submarine war in 1917-1918, providing insight into the under-examined U-boat campaign in the Mediterranean. In keeping with these themes, Alessio Patalano presented the final paper, kindly aware of his duty to move quickly prior to the conference’s conclusion. Patalano observed that Japan’s strategy of core-competency paid dividends when the submarine began to take on a more significant role in Japan’s defence planning. The JMSDF was able to retain capability despite political, budgetary, and strategic transformation on an unprecedented scale.

The conference concluded back at the official symposium hotel where the 2017 Knox Awards Banquet was held, during which Dr. Edward J. Marolda, Commander Paul Stillwell and Dr. Jon T. Sumida were presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards for their stellar and dedicated contributions to naval history.

In conclusion, I was struck by the inspiring collegiality of this professional, academic conference. It serves the historians well to leave their monk-like confines to engage with the free-flow of ideas that historical symposiums inculcate. Between the brilliant and inspiring papers it was a real pleasure to be included in debate that frequently involved world-class subject experts and naval practitioners. In short, this was a transformative experience I highly recommend to anyone considering attending the next Symposium in 2019.


Captain Charles Middleton and the Seven Years’ War

Admiral Sir Charles Middleton, the Seven Years’ War, and Naval Administration


HMS Barham presentation badge in 1914.

The Royal Navy career of Charles Middleton spanned three wars, from the Seven Years’ War, to the American Revolution, through the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. During the first of these, Captain Middleton was engaged in trade protection and anti-privateering duty in the Leeward Islands. The future Comptroller of the Navy, then a lowly frigate commander, sailing in the 28 gun HMS Emerald, spent four years countering French commerce privateers. Middleton was considered somewhat of a disciplinarian and social climber, but also a promising administrator in a far-flung but crucial colonial posting in the Caribbean during the Seven Years’ War. Middleton’s early career has been described as a typical RN officer’s career.[i]


The Right Honourable Sir Charles Middleton, 1st Baron Barham, Admiral of the Red, engraving by Marie Anne Bourlier, 12 October 1809, from a drawing by John Downman.

This post examines Admiral Charles Middleton’s career and achievements during the early phase, primarily concerning Captain Middleton’s role as a frigate commander during the Seven Years’ War, leading up to his appointment as Comptroller of the Navy in August 1778.

After the Seven Years’ War, Middleton seemed to have fulfilled his duty, and was prepared to retire.[ii] Fate, as it would have it, ensured that Middleton would yet return to the centres of power and play an unexpected, but decisive, role in the Royal Navy’s history. After his service in the Caribbean as a frigate commander and station administrator, Middleton went on to become a reformer and modernizer during the American Revolution, as Comptroller of the Navy. Rear-Admiral Middleton, raised to the peerage as Lord Barham, returned to power as Senior Naval Lord and eventually First Lord of the Admiralty at the time of Trafalgar in 1805.


London in 1751 by Thomas Bowles 


Career of Charles Middleton until 1778

The Navy

Charles Middleton was born at Leith, Edinburgh, on 14 October 1726, the second son of Robert Middleton and Helen Dundas. Helen was the great-granddaughter of Robert Dundas, Lord Arniston, while Robert, the father, was a descendant of Alexander Middleton, the brother of John, the Earl Middleton, and made his living as a customs official in Bo’ness, West Lothian, Scotland. Charles Middleton joined the Navy at a young age, credited with service aboard the merchantman Loyal June (1738-41), starting when he was eleven- although this could have been a paper assignment only, as was often the case with young officers. Middleton joined his first warship, prophetically, HMS Sandwich (90), in April 1741 at the age of 14, and shortly afterward he followed its Captain, Mead, to the Duke (90), then joined the 20 gun frigate Flamborough under Captain Joseph Hamar on 21 November 1741, for service in North America and the West Indies.

Ghana or Leone2.jpg

Cape Corso fortress, Gold Coast, as it appeared in 1745, not long before Lt. Charles Middleton, while serving aboard HMS Chesterfield, was stranded there by mutineers in October 1748,

Just shy of four years of apprenticeship as a captain’s servant, midshipman and master’s mate aboard HMS Flamborough, and only ten days before his 19th birthday, Middleton passed his Lieutenant’s examination on 4 October 1745, and, the following month, was appointed to the 5th rate HMS Chesterfield (40), patrolling the channel and the coast of Sierra Leone.[iii] Middleton, 22 years old, was there in 1748, when on 15 October, at the notorious slave trading site, the Cape Corso fortress in Ghana, Middleton, along with the Chesterfield’s Captain (O’Brien Dudley), Master, 2nd Lieutenant, purser, surgeon, and 11 other men, were stranded by a mutiny amongst the ship’s crew and remaining officers. The mutineers were led by a buccaneering carpenter’s mate named John Place, with help from the supposedly drunken 1st Lieutenant, Samuel Couchman (neither of whom survived the conclusion of the court martial that was to follow). The loyal boatswain retook the ship and arrested the mutineers. The boatswain was able to bring the Chesterfield to English Harbour, in Antiqua, where it was reunited with the stranded officers on 7 March 1749.[iv] Middleton and company aboard, now under Captain James Campbell, Chesterfield returned to England, and arrived at Spithead on 14 June 1749.


US President Barack Obama visits the former slave trading outpost at Cape Corso castle, Ghana, 11 July 2009, the site where Lt. Middleton first experienced the disreputable connection between Royal Navy seapower and the slave trade.

Middleton was put on half-pay and sent ashore the following month.[v] There he remained until transferred to a dockside assignment aboard HMS Culloden (74), in June 1752. Back on half-pay in November, he was subsequently transferred to what would become a familiar ship, HMS Anson (Captain Charles Holmes), a 4th rate, 60 gun ship of the line built in 1747; In January 1753, Middleton, 26 years old, was thus acting in the capacity of second lieutenant aboard a large ship of the line. Anson’s first lieutenant at this time was one Richard Kempenfelt, later Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt.[vi]


Aboard HMS Anson, the first lieutenant in 1755 was Richard Kempenfelt, later Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt as painted by Tilly Kettle in 1782, prior to his drowning aboard HMS Royal George on 29 August of that year, tragically, at least partly the result of the Middleton – Sandwich coppering method which produced electrolytic degradation on warship rivets. Middleton and Kempenfelt exchanged letters on the subject of signalling during 1779 – 1782.

Middleton was briefly transferred to the Monarch (74), but was then back again aboard Anson in July 1754. Middleton succeeded Kempenfelt as 1st Lieutenant aboard Anson in January 1755. In March of that year Lt. Middleton was to be found recruiting sailors in the Bristol Channel, while aboard Princess Augusta.[vii] With Britain’s relations with France deteriorating, Middleton, aboard Anson (Captain Robert Man), was dispatched as part of Vice-Admiral Edward Boscawen’s fleet of 11 of the line to blockade the St. Lawrence, although, it being the spring of 1755, war had not yet been declared.[viii] Boscawen intercepted a detached French squadron of three and captured two 64 gun ships, Alcide and Lys, but missed a third, Dauphin Royal in fog off the Newfoundland Banks, June 8 – 9.[ix]


Vice-Admiral Edward Boscawen, who commanded the English squadron in which 28 year old Lt. Middleton served as first Lieutenant aboard HMS Anson (60), at the outbreak of the Seven Years War. Joshua Reynolds, 1824.


Admiral Boscawen’s action against Admiral de le Motte’s separated squadron 8 June 1755. In the foreground, Captain Andrews aboard the Defiance (60), engages Lys (64) while Captain Richard Howe, commanding the Dunkirk (60) attacks Captain de Hocquart’s Alcide (64) in the distance. This is an artistic compression: Defiance, along with Fougueux, were sent to chase Lys which was actaully captured the next day. Lt. Charles Middleton, the XO, under the command of Captain Robert Man, was aboard Anson (60), one of Boscawen’s eleven warships.


HMS Defiance of 60 guns, 5th rate when built in 1744.


Admiral Lord Richard Howe, then Captain HMS Dunkirk, who fought together with Lt. Middleton as part of Boscawen’s fleet. Depicted here as C-in-C Channel Fleet, print made by James Whittle and Richard Holmes, 1794


Royal Navy warships, as of June 1755, showing first Lt. Middleton’s appointment in red. From Jonathan Dull’s The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War.

Anson cruised off Louisbourg and Halifax, then returned to England in October 1755, and was eventually stationed in Portsmouth in March of 1756. Anson, along with Bristol (50) and Harwich (50) were now dispatched to the West Indies as part of the outbound convoy with 17 merchant ships, departing England on 27 April and arriving at St. John’s Road, Antigua on 12 June 1756. That same month, Minorca fell as a result of Admiral Byng’s failed relief attempt resulting from the battle of Port Mahon, 20 May 1756.

Commander RN, & The Seven Years’ War

During 1755-6, relations soured between England’s North American colonists and the French settlers in Canada and their Native American allies. A struggle for control of the Ohio River valley soon revealed the tenuous nature of the status quo peace. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which had ended the War of Austrian Succession in 1748, was tested on a number of occasions, such as in 1755 when General Braddock’s force was ambushed. In India, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Clive and the British East India Company continued their swashbuckling campaign of conquest, capturing Calcutta in January 1757, and winning the decisive battle at Plassey on 23 June 1757, further antagonizing French interests. War in Europe was renewed when Prussia invaded Saxony in 1756, prompting Austria to declare war on Frederick II in 1757. Britain declared war against France on 18 May of that year, pushing Prussia into coalition with Britain, for the Austrians, who counted amongst their allies Russia and Sweden, were also allied with Louis XV’s France.[x]



The World colonial situation prior to the Treaty of Paris, 1763 <;




European political situation 1740 – 1757, maps.

Considering that the British monarchy originated from the electorate of Hannover, England joined Prussia and Portugal against the powerful coalition of France, Austria, Russia, Sweden, Poland, and after 1762, Spain. The war began with a series of British reversals, notably at Minorca, where Admiral Byng was unable to win the victory at Port Mahon, 20 May 1756, to the great detriment of his personal fortunes. France’s Louisbourg citadel, in present day Nova Scotia, however, was captured in July 1758. These tremendous events were followed by the capture of Quebec itself, after the victory at the Plains of Abraham on 13 September 1759. These military victories were accompanied by suitable naval victories, at Lagos, 18 – 19 August (Boscawen), and Quiberon Bay, 20 November (Hawke), during the victorious Annus Mirabilis.


French siege and capture of Fort St. Philip, Minorca, 29 July 1756. Admiral Byng’s defeat, on 20 May 1756, shortly after the outbreak of war, enabled the Marquis de la Galissonniere’s fleet to support the siege of the Mediterranean fortress.


Global conflict: The Seven Years’ War.

Frederick the Great won his major maneuver victories against overwhelming enemy coalition forces at Rossbach and Leuthen in November and December 1757, followed by the victory against Russia at Zorndorf in August 1758, dealing a serious repulse to the initial Grand Alliance war effort. As a result, Britain’s funding of the Prussian effort increased between 1757 and 1758 by nearly a factor of ten, to 1,860,000 pounds sterling. Frederick’s reversals against the Russians in 1759 at Kunersdorf led to Berlin’s capture, but Frederick maintained his defence against France and Austria, defeating the Austrians at Liegnitz in August, and again at Torgau in November, 1760. Britain, for its part, eventually abandoned the alliance, seeking a separate peace in 1762 to consolidate its colonial gains, a move that Frederick would not forget when Britain came looking for European allies during the American Revolutionary War.


First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral of the Fleet, Lord George Anson as painted prior to 1748 by Thomas Hudson. The architect of Britain’s naval strategy during the Seven Years’ War, Anson was First Lord from 1751-56 and 1757-62.


Cartoon celebrating Captain Howe and Vice-Admiral Boscawen’s victories over the French in Canada, including the capture of Louisbourg in the summer of 1758.


Admiral of the Fleet Sir Edward Hawke, painted by Francis Cotes in 1768.

quiberon bay.jpg

Admiral Sir Edward Hawke’s victory at Quiberon Bay, 20 November 1759, painted by Nicholas Pocock. This decisive battle by the Channel squadron prevented the planned invasion of England and Ireland, thus freeing Royal Navy forces for deployment to other theatres, including the Caribbean.

With the major struggle taking place in Canada and Europe, the Caribbean was at first a sideshow. The Royal Navy’s defence of its Caribbean trade had been arranged as a layered blockade and interdiction operation: the two station commanders, based at Jamaica and Antigua, were provided with small squadrons of 50 or 60 gun ships for blockading the enemy’s naval bases at St. Domingo (Spain) and Martinique (France). Heavy RN frigates of 30 to 40 guns sailed windward of Antigua and Barbados, seeking privateers. Lastly, 20 gun frigates and all lesser sloops, brigs and corvettes covered the inter-island communications, primarily around the Leeward Islands.[xi]



The Leeward Islands from NASA Terra satellite.

In 1756 the Jamaican station was under the command of Rear-Admiral George Townshend with three of the line and four frigates. The Leeward Island station was commanded by Rear-Admiral Frankland, with an additional three of the line and four or five frigates.[xii] When the Elder Pitt took power during his brief 1756-7 term under the Duke of Devonshire, he re-shuffled the Admiralty, using Boscawen to offset Anson, who at that time was the First Lord of the Admiralty, and doubled the size of the Caribbean fleets while appointing new commanders: Rear-Admiral Thomas Cotes, now with seven of the line and ten or so frigates, to Jamaica; and Commodore John Moore was ordered to the Leeward Islands with three of the line, two 50s, three 40s and five frigates.



Political situation in the Caribbean, 1756, from Sir Julian Corbett’s The Seven Years War. The islands of St. Lucia, Grenada and Dominica were at this time declared as neutrals under the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, although nominally under French control. The major French naval bases were at Guadeloupe and Martinique.


British Caribbean commands in June 1756, Lt. Middleton’s position in red.


Control of territory in Caribbean during 1756.


English Harbour, Antigua today.

It was with Commodore Moore, that Middleton, still aboard the Anson, was ordered to Antigua. Middleton, now thirty years old, continued aboard Anson until 26 February 1757 when he was promoted Commander, appointed to the sloop Speaker (12), to cruise in the Leeward Islands. There is some confusion regarding his command at this point, as he was simultaneously listed as commander of the Blandford, as acting captain (26 February to 28 March), while also having commanded of the sloop Saltash, briefly.[xiii]


Model of a 200 ton burden, 14 gun sloop, circa the 1740 pattern, similar to HMS Barbados commanded by Captain Middleton in 1758


Model of a 12 gun sloop on the 1752 pattern, ketch-rigged (note the mizzen mast and absence of a fore mast)

It is clear from the sources, however, that Commander Middleton’s position would involve dockyard work, and appreciating the administrative aspects of running a trade defence operation. In the event, Middleton was promoted Captain in July 1758, and took command of the newly constructed Barbados (12). Middleton’s role during this time was a small but critical part of the Admiralty’s vast world system: based at English Harbour, Antigua, Captain Middleton was left in charge of anti-privateering operations while Commodore Moore conducted amphibious landings against Martinique and Guadeloupe.


Plan of English Harbour, Antigua, 1782: base of operations for the Leeward Island station in 1758.

English Harbour.jpg

English Harbour in 1800, by Nicholas Pocock

Middleton, a natural administrator, thus oversaw trade as it massed at Antigua in preparation for its biannual convoy across the Atlantic. These large convoys, sailing at the beginning of June and July, of which the first, in June 1757, totalled 170 ships, were valued at least £2,000,000, and although fairly secure from interception, were generally uninsured. Individual merchant ships, however, not to mention the inter-island and coastal trade, indeed, were potential prey for French privateers sortieing from Guadeloupe and Martinique or crossing the Atlantic from the windward: over 1,400 trade ships were captured by French privateers in the West Indies over the course of the war.[xiv]


Order of battle for Leeward Islands and Jamaican stations, June 1757. Notice the significant increase in ships of the line attached to these two stations at this point. Middleton had been made Commander and appointed to the sloop HMS Speaker in February, a ship too small to be counted amongst the heavier warships, and thus does not appear on this list.


John Frazer’s painting of a frigate with full sail.


“Sloop” signed W. Van der velde, with English colours flying.<>

Captain Middleton thus found himself in a similar position to Captain Horatio Nelson, who, 27 years later, would likewise be appointed to Antigua and the Leeward Islands as a frigate commander.[xv] While captain of Barbados, in October 1758, Middleton wrote to a merchant representing the local chamber of commerce at St. Christopher’s (St. Kitt’s), regarding a proposed scheme for the defence of the islands. The plan involved two warships of 40 guns, two of 20 guns, and eight brigs of 16 guns, supported by two sloops of 10 guns each.[xvi] According to Middleton’s recommendations, these warships would be split between Barbados and Antigua, with two frigates stationed at each, and three brigs at the former, five brigs plus two sloops at the latter.

large (2).jpg

Nelson boards a captured ship, showing Nelson leaving HMS Lowestoft (32) to board a captured American privateer, 20 November 1777, by Richard Westall, 1806.

Captain Middleton’s detailed summary of the defence scheme identified what he believed to be the optimum arrangement for trade defence, observing that the area around Barbados could be relatively easily protected, although “…Antigua, St. Christopher’s, Nevis, Montserrat, Jamaica, &c.,” were more difficult to protect considering the numerous sailing routes between the islands.[xvii] In December 1759, writing from his new command, Arundel, Middleton believed the entire station could be covered by two ship of the line, four frigates, three brigs and two sloops, with reserves to relieve these forces as needed.[xviii]


Leeward Islands and Jamaican commands, 1758, showing only four heavy warships on station at Commodore Moore’s station.

Middleton was keen to use the heavier frigates to cover the routes to and from Martinique, Marie-Galante and Guadeloupe, so as to interrupt French prize captures there. Middleton was executing a portion of Commodore Moore’s scheme, which, based on his predecessor, Rear-Admiral Frankland, involved the main squadron covering Martinique and the passage to Fort Royal and St. Pierre, capital of the French Lesser Antilles, while the various cruisers and frigates covered the islands and searched for privateers, of which, 25 were taken in the first ten months of Moore’s command, at least one of those by Middleton in the Barbados.[xix]



Leeward Islands and Jamaican commands, June 1759. Note the dramatic expansion in force, from four to 9 ships of the line, with three 60 and three 50 gun cruisers, made possible by the transfer of ships from the Louisbourg operation.


Rear-Admiral of the Blue, Sir John Moore, who, as Commodore, C-in-C Leeward Islands, oversaw the attack on Guadeloupe in January 1759.

Commodore Moore’s command had now been built up to ten ship of the line and 6,000 troops (under General Hopson) with which he might begin to capture the French island bases and thus solve the privateer problem at source.[xx] An attempt to storm Martinique on 16 January 1759 had been repulsed when it was discovered that the island’s defences were too strong.[xxi] Instead, the combined force mobilized against Guadeloupe, generating a siege that lasted until 1 May. The surrender of the island was accepted by Brigadier John Barrington, who had taken command following General Hopson’s death on 27 February.[xxii] The result of this series of events, which cost the French empire 80,000 hogsheads per anum in Guadeloupe sugar, prompted the dispatch of the Toulon squadron to the West Indies. French Admiral La Clue Sabran’s squadron, however, was intercepted as it left the Mediterranean by Admiral Boscawen (now C-in-C Mediterranean), with the result that five of the French ships were lost (of which, three were captured) at the Battle of Lagos, 18 – 19 August, 1759.[xxiii]


Battle of Lagos, of the coast of Portugal



ESA Envisat image of Guadeloupe, Dominica, and Martinique


View of Guadeloupe, William Wyllie, 1893


Invasion of Guadeloupe, January & February 1759, carried out by Commodore Moore


Guadeloupe captured, Peter Benezech’s engraving after Archibald Campbell’s view of Fort Royale, c. 1768


Detail of the assault on Basseterre, Guadeloupe. The siege lasted until the end of May 1759, the French relief fleet arriving too late to prevent the capitulation of the island.


Medal commemorating Commodore Moore’s capture of Guadeloupe, May 1759.

Middleton soon made Post-Captain, and in March 1759, while the Guadeloupe operation was under way, he was appointed commander of the 1746 vintage 6th rate frigate, HMS Arundel (24). Middleton, while cruising aboard the Arundel in November 1759, captured the slave transport Swift with more than 100 slaves on board. James Ramsay, Middleton’s assistant surgeon, and Middleton himself, were both appalled by the conditions onboard, confirming Middleton’s faith in abolition as the only just solution to the African slave trade. By December 1759, Captain Middleton had taken another four prizes, two merchants and two privateers, however, Arundel was in poor shape, with a damaged foremast, so Middleton returned to harbour.[xxiv] As Middleton built up the local flotillas, Commodore Moore was critiqued by the Barbados merchant committee for not bothering to intercept the French squadron sent to relieve Guadeloupe during the siege of spring 1759, with the result that “175 or 180 sail” had subsequently been captured and taken to Martinique, to be sold off at Fort Royal or St. Pierre, by the French.[xxv]


British (1, 5) and French (2, 3, 4) frigates, sloops and corvettes designed and built in the 1740s.


A heavy frigate, 5th rate


Captain Nelson’s HMS Boreas (28), built in 1774, with French frigate, by Nicholas Pocock.

F9203 003F9203 002

A model of a 24 gun frigate built in 1741, similar to HMS Arundel, of 1746, the ship in which Captain Middleton made Post-Captain, in 1759. Note the hull ports close to the water line- for oars.


Plan of a 12 gun “Bermudan” pattern brig, the basic Caribbean corvette designed to out-weigh the French schooners and sloops. c. 1762.

Middleton continued to busy himself with flotilla outfitting and defence arrangements, repeatedly emphasizing the need for more “Bermudian” type brigs of 12 guns (such as HMS Speaker, Antigua, and Barbados) which, due to their armament and sailing qualities, he believed especially suited for the Leeward Islands. These heavy brigs were superior to the French sloops and schooners, the English brigs having captured 30 prizes on station by 1759.[xxvi] Middleton built off his predecessor’s layered defence scheme: as was the practice, convoys would handle the major cross-Atlantic trade, while local inter-island routes were best handled by brigs, or convoyed with frigates when available. Middleton argued for a flying detachment of two powerful frigates, or cruisers, stationed off Barbados, for actively hunting enemy privateers. Another group of frigates and sloops would provide a distant blockade of Martinique, thus surrounding the island’s traffic, a critical consideration with the Dutch trade at St. Eustatius effectively circumventing the blockade, if not intercepted.[xxvii]


In June 1760 there were three 70 gun ships of the line and five 64 gun cruisers on station, with reinforcements en route.

The coronation of George III in 1761 provided an opportunity for a change in strategy, with the Caribbean stations increasing in importance. William Pitt the Elder, who had directed British strategy as Secretary of State for the Southern Department while acting as Leader of the House, under the Duke of Newcastle (between June 1757 – 1761), was now displaced by the Earl of Bute, and resigned in October of that year. In July 1760, Middleton, replacing the gout-stricken Captain Cornwall, was given HMS Emerald (28), a prize taken in 1757, and it was in this ship that he secured his most profitable naval captures.[xxviii]


View of St. Pierre, Martinique, August 1796, by Cooper Willyams


Bay of St. Pierre, today.


June 1760


June 1761

Leeward Islands and Jamaican commands, June 1760 & 1761. By June 1761, the Leeward Islands station, where Captain Middleton was located, had four ships of the line, and eight heavy 64 & 50 gun cruisers, plus numerous lesser frigates and flotilla craft. Middleton returned to England in October 1761, at the same time, Admiral Rodney was despatched from England to orchestrate the capture of the French leewards.


Admiral George Rodney, after 1754. In 1761 he became the C-in-C Leeward Islands, and oversaw the capture of Martinique, St Lucia, Grenada and St Vincent.

As Middleton’s tour of duty at the Leeward Islands was coming to an end, Rear-Admiral George Rodney had been sent, in October 1761, to accelerate the campaign of seizure and capture of the French islands.[xxix] In January 1762, the year Britain declared war on Spain in response to the Spanish alliance with France, Rear-Admiral Rodney took 16,000 soldiers under Major-General Robert Monckton to Martinique, and captured the island by coup de main.[xxx] Rodney next dispatched Captain Augustus John Hervey in the Dragon (3rd rate) to St. Lucia, which Hervey proceeded to capture on 25 February 1762.

With Spain in the war, the next target was Havana. Rear-Admiral Sir George Pocock, and Lieutenant-General George Keppel, were dispatched from England with a fleet and 15,000 troops to break Spain’s Cuban fortress. Lord Anson, who had administered the Navy during much of the war, died in June 1762 and thus was unable to witness the successful capture of Havana in August of that year.



60 gun two deck ship of the line / cruiser, compared to a 24 gun frigate, at Gravesend, c. 1753-9, by Charles Brooking


The 66 gun heavy cruiser HMS Buckingham engaging French warships on 3 November 1758.


Caribbean fleets in June 1762, showing Havana invasion force.


Commodore Augustus Hervey, 3rd Earl of Bristol, c. 1767 by Thomas Gainsborough. Commodore Hervey captured St. Lucia as part of Rodney’s 1762 offensive.


Surrender of St. Lucia, February 25 1762, by Dominc Serres, 1772



Spain joins the coalition against Britain and Prussia. In 1762, Martinique, St. Lucia and Havana fall to the British.

The Capture of Havana:

Admiral Pocock’s fleet and amphibious task force arrived from England, and landed on 7 June 1762 to besiege Havana.


Rear-Admiral Sir George Pocock, who commanded the naval force at the Havana operation, painted by Thomas Hudson, c. 1761


Commodore Augustus Keppel, Lt. General George Keppel’s brother, and the second-in-command at Havana. Painted by Joshua Reynolds in 1749


Lt. General George Keppel, the Earl of Albremarle, who commanded the land forces at the Havana operation

Havana landing.jpg

The landing on 7 June 1762 of Lord Albermarle’s force against the Morro Castle fortress at Havana. Painting by Dominic Serres.


Capture of Havana, August 1762. This was the largest maritime operation of the war, requiring over 15,000 troops.


The fleet enters Havana on 21 August 1762, by Dominic Serres. Notice the distinct blue and red colours indicating squadrons and commands.

Middleton, meanwhile, had returned to England. Emerald was paid off in October 1761, to be broken up, its namesake uprated to a new 5th rate completed in 1762.[xxxi] Middleton had captured 16 prizes while captaining HMS Emerald, five of which were enemy privateers. During his four years in the Caribbean, Middleton had demonstrated an aptitude for trade defence, blockade, ship construction and fitting, discipline, and naval administration.

Full scale replica of the French 32 gun frigateFrench 32 gun frigate, Hermione, a ship similar to the 5th rate HMS Adventure (32), built in 1741 that was captained by Middleton in 1762. Seen here in June 2015 with USS Mitscher, an Arleigh Burke class DDG (guided missile destroyer).

As it turned out, in March of 1762, Middleton was appointed Captain of HMS Adventure (32 – a different ship from the Adventure which became Captain James Cook’s second alongside Resolution in 1771), a fifth rate which had been recut from a fourth rate in 1758. Captain Middleton was sent to patrol along the Channel and Normandy coast.


Map showing British strategy and territories secured during the Seven Years’ War, from Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery.


Map showing major colonial empires after the Treaty of Paris.<;

The Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years’ War, was signed on 10 February 1763, and as part of the negotiations, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and Martinique, the former captured in 1759 and the latter two in 1762 respectively, were returned to France; Canada, however, was ceded to Great Britain. Havana and Manila, both taken from Spain, were likewise returned, in exchange for Florida and Minorca.[xxxii]


Deptford dockyard, 1763 by John Cleveley the Elder

Middleton went on half-pay until March 1762. In December 1761, at the age of 35, Charles Middleton married Margaret Gambier, a skilled painter and later an advocate for the abolition of slavery. Margaret was the daughter of Captain James Gambier, to whom Middleton was familiar through the connection of Captain Mead, whose sister, Mary, was Margaret’s mother. Middleton had first served with Mead during their time aboard the Sandwich, twenty years prior. Margaret gave birth to their only child, a daughter, Diana, on 18 September 1762.


Family of Margaret Gambier, who became Mrs. Middleton in December 1761.

Middleton, for his part, retired from the service, declining a sea-going appointment on 2 April 1763, to retreat to the hospitality of his wife, then living with her friend Elizabeth Bouverie, at Teston, in Kent.[xxxiii] Margaret and Elizabeth were joined there after 1777 by Captain Middleton’s former assistant surgeon from the Arundel, now a staunch abolitionist and priest, James Ramsay, who became a close friend of Mrs. Middleton and her circle, as well as private secretary to Charles, drafting many of his letters.[xxxiv] It was the wealthy Elizabeth Bouverie, proprietor of Barham Court, who, upon her death in 1798, left to Charles Middleton the entire Teston estate, the source of his title as Lord Barham.

Barham Court2.jpg

barham snow.jpg

Recent photographs of Barham Court, Teston, Kent.


The Mall at St. James Park, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1782.


View of the Temple of Comus in Vauxhall Gardens by Canaletto circa 1750s, engraved by Johann Muller


Warships fitting out at Portsmouth, 1770, by Dominic Serres. 

            Comptroller & the American Revolution

Middleton remained in these pleasant surroundings for twelve years, until, with the American Revolution underway, he joined HMS Ardent (64) in May 1775. Much as his efforts during the Caribbean operations had focused Middleton on administrative duties, he soon found himself running Chatham dockyard as Commodore Mackenzie’s assistant, and by December 1775, was in communication with Lord Sandwich regarding ship fittings, among other dockyard matters.[xxxv] Middleton was writing his own standing orders by this point, his orders for Ardent focusing on proper logistics, discipline, gunnery, and duties.[xxxvi] On 7 November 1776, Middleton was made Captain of HMS Prince George (90), a new but decommissioned second rate built in 1772.


Prince George, 1772, 90 guns.

Middleton was working this ship up for more than a year- one imagines Middleton regularly visiting the dockyard during 1777- until February 1778 when he was transferred to the 4th rate Jupiter (50), then under construction. Middleton was back on half-pay on 22 July 1778, then, the next month, following the death of Comptroller Captain Maurice Suckling, Middleton was appointed Comptroller of the Navy by his friend, the First Lord of the Admiralty, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich.[xxxvii] Middleton would be in this position for twelve years, until he resigned in 1790.


Jupiter, 1778, 50 guns, 4th rate, plans by John Williams, Navy Surveyor

NPG D4160; John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich by Valentine Green, after  Johan Joseph Zoffany

John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich in 1774, by Valentine Green, after Johan Joseph Zoffany.


View of Leicester Square by Thomas Bowles, circa 1753

The Earl Sandwich was one amongst a powerful circle of Middleton’s friends, including Middleton’s cousin, Henry Dundas, the Lord Melville, then the Lord Advocate of Scotland, and George Germain, Secretary of State for America, who, together with Lord North, would fail to contain the American Revolution in years to come. Middleton kept up a regular correspondence with Admiral Hood and Captains Young and Kempenfelt, who provided the Comptroller with intelligence and a brain-trust to work out signalling tactics or new construction ideas. Middleton’s marriage into the Gambier family further increased the reach of his network, as his brother-in-law was Vice-Admiral James Gambier, C-in-C North America. Lady Middleton herself, highly respected by British society, was friends with Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, amongst other men and women of letters.[xxxviii]


Admiral Samuel Hood’s victory at St. Kitts, 25 January 1782. Hood kept Middleton informed about developments in the Caribbean via a detailed letter correspondence.


Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, with whom Middleton kept a regular correspondence during the American Revolutionary War.

The devout and ascendant Middleton, soon Lord Commissioner, then First Lord of the Admiralty, and Baronet Barham after 23 October 1781, was occasionally at odds with his benefactor, Sandwich. As Comptroller, Middleton was responsible for the statistical control of Navy’s dockyards, warships and naval supply, as this information was collected by the Admiralty’s various accountants. Middleton mastered the naval supply accounts and advanced his schemes for improvement, such as roofing all of the dockyards- a difficult task not completed until the following century.[xxxix] Minorca was retaken on his watch on 4 February 1782.[xl] Wartime policy occasionally led to cut corners, however, as demonstrated by Sandwich’s efforts to provide copper sheathing to all the warships of the fleet. It was Middleton’s budget method that produced the electrolytic action that pre-naturally aged the fleet’s warships, which resulted in several significant defects (contributing to the losses of HMS Terrible and Royal George).[xli] The fleet was eventually re-coppered at considerable expense, with specially coated copper nails, effectively the French method of copper construction.[xlii]


Admiral Rodney’s victory at the Saints, off Dominica, 12 April 1782. George Rodney’s spectacular defeat of the Comte de Grasse was too late to reverse the outcome of the American Revolution, although it evened the naval scales.


Barham as Comptroller of the Navy in 1788.

As a result of his incessant centralizing drive for reform, Middleton’s later career was not without its antagonists: the Viscount Howe, Admiralty First Lord from 1783 until 1788- who Middleton had worked with under Boscawen in 1755- had opposed Middleton’s reforms. Middleton and Sandwich eventually fell out as well, nevertheless, the Middleton – Sandwich administration, despite its travails and failures, would be remembered as one of those dynamic Admiralty leadership combinations that so infrequently graced the office of state, comparable perhaps only to Sir John Fisher and Winston Churchill in 1914, or Francis Drake and Admiral Sir John Hawkins in 1588.[xliii]


Portrait of the Earl Richard Howe, commemorating his victory at the Glorious First of June, 1794.

Middleton was elected MP (Tory) for Rochester in 1784 – 1790, and made Rear-Admiral of the Red on 24 September 1787. Together with his old friend James Ramsay, and Lady Middleton’s associate William Wilberforce MP, Middleton advocated for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, of which he had seen the worst of during his naval career. Middleton, during this time, defeated his erstwhile opponent Lord Howe, who was superseded by the brother Pitt, John, the Earl of Chatham, on 16 July 1788. Middleton was long frustrated in his efforts to get himself onto the Admiralty Board, however, and he resigned in March 1790. Margaret, Lady Middleton, died two years later, on 10 October 1792, and Charles was left with Diana and her husband Gerard. Middleton was made Vice-Admiral in February 1793, then, his wish was granted in 1794, and he joined the Admiralty as First Naval Lord, aside Lord Spencer, until November 1795. He made full Admiral of the Blue in 1795.[xliv] Middleton was out of the loop, however, as the Admiralty was under the control of another of Middleton’s antagonists, Admiral Sir John Jervis (presently, after his victory in February 1797, the Earl St. Vincent), First Lord of the Admiralty in 1801.


Portrait of Admiral Sir  John Jervis, the Earl St. Vincent, by William Beechey, c. 1787-90

The Rhinebeck Panorama composite image:  c.1806-7

Rhineback panorama of London in 1806


The Admiralty, February 1795 by Thomas Malton, jr.

It was the intervention, at this point, of Middleton’s friend, the leader of the “new Tories”, William Pitt the Younger, who returned him to power. Middleton was appointed chairman of the Commission for Revising, a naval budgetary control organization established in December 1804, not long after the Earl St. Vincent’s departure the preceding year (“that damned Scotch packhorse” Admiral John Jervis called Middleton).[xlv] Henry Dundas, the Viscount Melville, then the First Lord, was out by May 1805 and Pitt asked Middleton to succeed him.[xlvi]


William Pitt, the Younger, by John Hoppner, 1805

An important consideration was any successor’s ability to work with Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson of the Nile. Middleton had first met Nelson in November 1787, and Nelson had found in Middleton a kindred reformer. Although separated by more than two decades, they had served on the same station as frigate commanders, and had corresponded during the American Revolutionary War.[xlvii]

NPG 73; Horatio Nelson by Friedrich Heinrich F¸ger

Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson of the Nile, 1800, by Friedrich Fuger

Like Nelson, an evangelical man, Middleton was distraught by the heavy-handedness of St. Vincent’s reforms; not to mention his military mistakes. Knowing a sure thing when he saw it, Pitt appointed Middleton as First Lord, his status in the peerage raised to 1st Baron Barham of Barham Court and Teston, Kent, with Admiral James Gambier (Margaret’s nephew), the Baron Gambier, as First Sea Lord.[xlviii]


Admiral James Gambier, Baron Gambier, sketch by Joseph Slater, 1813

Middleton dispatched Nelson reinforcements, and tightened the Channel blockade in the lead up to Trafalgar,[xlix] and afterward Middleton was made full Admiral of the Red on 9 November 1805. Known for their proficiency with ship design, and defensive mindset, Gambier and Middleton introduced the revised Naval Regulations of 1806.[l] With Nelson deified, and Pitt soon to follow, at eighty years old, Charles Middleton retired for the last time 1806.[li] The Lord Barham, Admiral of the Red Sir Charles Middleton, Comptroller of the Navy during the American Revolutionary War, Senior Naval Lord during the French Revolution, and First Lord of the Admiralty during Trafalgar, frigate commander in the Leeward Islands during the Seven Years War, died on 17 June 1813, at the age of 87.


Isaac Pocock’s portrait of Admiral Sir Charles Middleton, the Lord Barham.

Middleton’s legacy is as a farsighted reformer and modernizer, at once pragmatic and controversial. As First Lord of the Admiralty, he established the position of First Sea Lord as the chief naval post on the Board, thus setting the pattern for the 19th and 20th centuries.[lii] A relentless modernizer, yet a devout Tory; a disciplinarian who opposed slavery, Middleton’s career certainly possessed its share of conflicts. Details about Middleton’s important administrative career during three wars can be found in a number of sources, although the modern researcher will not find a better one than Sir John Knox Laughton’s three volumes of the Barham papers, published shortly before the First World War, by the Navy Records Society.[liii]

Barham was established as a Royal Navy ship name, starting with the 74 gun 3rd rate in 1811 (modified to 50 guns in 1826).


HMS Barham (50) at Sheerness, in February 1836, by Francis Byron 

An HMS Barham screw frigate was ordered for 1860, however the order was canceled.


 The name was next given to an ironclad cruiser in 1889, which was sold off in February 1914, as, on 31 December of that year, the name was recycled into HMS Barham.


HMS Barham was a 27,500 ton Queen Elizabeth class oil-fuel super-dreadnought built and commissioned between February 1913 and October 1915. Beginning on 1 October 1915, HMS Barham, commanded by Captain Arthur W. Craig, became the flagship of the 5th Battle Squadron, led by Rear-Admiral Evan Thomas, and fought at the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916. 25 years later Barham was at the Battle of Matapan, in March 1941. The warship was finally torpedoed, with the loss of most of the crew, by U-331, commanded by Kptlt. Hans-Diedrich Freiherr von Tiesenhausen, on 25 November 1941.

Barham and Victory.jpg

HMS Victory is towed into Portsmouth Harbour in preparation for preservation, December 1921. HMS Thunderer and Barham, docked in line-ahead on the left, by William Wyllie.<;

  barham5.jpg crest of HMS barham2.jpg

Crest of HMS Barham (1915).



[i] N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006)., p. 373

[ii] N. A. M. Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy (London: Fontana Press, 1988)., p. 212-14

[iii] John Talbott, The Pen & Ink Sailor: Charles Middleton and the King’s Navy 1778 – 1813, Kindle (Frank Cass Publishers, 1998)., chapter 1.

[iv] John Knox Laughton and R. Vesey Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I, digital, vol. 1, 3 vols., Navy Records Society 32, 1906., p. xii-xiii

[v] Roger Morriss, “Middleton, Charles, First Baron Barham (1726-1813),” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[vi] Talbott, The Pen & Ink Sailor: Charles Middleton and the King’s Navy 1778 – 1813., chapter 1.

[vii] Clevland to Hawke, 11 March 1755, #88, Ruddock Mackay, ed., The Hawke Papers, A Selection: 1743 – 1771, Navy Records Society 129 (Aldershot, Hants: Scolar Press, 1990). p. 117 fn

[viii] Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. xiv

[ix] Julian Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy (London: The Folio Society, 2001)., p. 41; Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., p. 263; A. T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 – 1783 (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1987)., p. 284

[x] John B. Hattendorf, “The Struggle with France, 1689 – 1815,” in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy, ed. J. R. Hill and Bryan Ranft (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 80–119., p. 96-7

[xi] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 268-9

[xii] Ibid., p. 272

[xiii] Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. xvi

[xiv] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 267-8; Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., p. 277

[xv] John Sugden, Nelson: A Dream of Glory, vol. 1, 2 vols. (London: Pimlico, 2005)., p. 244

[xvi] Middleton to Mr. Walter Pringle, 21 October 1758, Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. 1-2

[xvii] Middleton to Mr. Walter Pringle, 21 October 1758, Ibid., p. 3

[xviii] Middleton to Pringle, 4 December 1759, Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. 16

[xix] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 278; Middleton to Mr. Walter Pringle, 21 October 1758, Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. 7

[xx] Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., p. 277

[xxi] Ibid., p. 277

[xxii] Ibid., p. 277

[xxiii] Ibid., p. 277-8

[xxiv] Middleton to Pringle, 4 December 1759, Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. 17

[xxv] Council and Merchants of Barbados to Joseph Pickering, 1759. Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. 21-2

[xxvi] Middleton to Pringle, 1759, Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. 18

[xxvii] Middleton to Sir James Douglas, 1760, Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. 32

[xxviii] Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. x, Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy., p. 103

[xxix] Anson to Rodney, 5 October 1761, #846 in David Syrett, ed., The Rodney Papers, Volume I, 1742 – 1763, Navy Records Society 148 (Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005)., p. 422

[xxx] Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., p. 284

[xxxi] Lieutenant’s Logs, Navy Board, HMS Emerald, 1758 – 1760, ADM/L/E/96, ; T. D. Manning and C. F. Walker, British Warship Names (London: Putnam, 1959).

[xxxii] Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., p. 287-8

[xxxiii] Morriss, “Middleton, Charles, First Baron Barham (1726-1813).”

[xxxiv] Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. 46

[xxxv] Middleton to Lord Sandwich, 1 December 1775, G. R. Barnes and J. H. Owen, eds., The Sandwich Papers, Vol. I., August 1770 – March 1778, vol. 1, Navy Records Society 69 (Navy Records Society, 1932). p. 78

[xxxvi] Captain’s Order Book, 1 August 1775, Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. 39

[xxxvii] Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. x


[xxxix] Ibid., 376

[xl] Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I., p. xxxv

[xli] Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., 375-6

[xlii] Ibid., 374-5

[xliii] Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2004)., p. 316

[xliv] Roger Knight, Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory, 1793 – 1815 (St Ives plc: Penguin Books, 2014)., p. xix-xx

[xlv] Talbott, The Pen & Ink Sailor: Charles Middleton and the King’s Navy 1778 – 1813.

[xlvi] Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., p. 480

[xlvii] Sugden, Nelson: A Dream of Glory., p. 370-1

[xlviii] Andrew Lambert, Admirals (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2009)., p. 180-1; Herman, To Rule the Waves. p. 336, 369; John Sugden, Nelson: The Sword of Albion, vol. 2, 2 vols. (London: The Bodley Head, 2012)., p. 761-5

[xlix] Sugden, Nelson: The Sword of Albion., p. 785-6

[l] Richard Blake, “James Gambier, Baron Gambier (1723-1789),” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).


[lii] Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., 480

[liii] Sydney Riddick, “Charles Middleton, Afterward Lord Barham, and Naval Administration, 1778-1805” (MA Thesis, Liverpool University, 1939).; H. C. Fox, “A Discussion of the Problems of Naval Administration Arising from the Period Covered by ‘The Barham Papers.,’” Naval Review, no. 4 (1935): 758. ; Talbott, The Pen & Ink Sailor: Charles Middleton and the King’s Navy 1778 – 1813.; Laughton and Hamilton, The Barham Papers, Volume I.; John Knox Laughton, The Barham Papers, Volume II, digital, vol. 2, 3 vols., Navy Records Society 38, 1910.; John Knox Laughton, The Barham Papers, Volume III, digital, vol. 3, 3 vols., Navy Records Society 39, 1911.