Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Dreadnought – From the Armada to the Cold War - Part One

Has a ship ever been given a more evocative name than Dreadnought? Like no other the name conjures up the image of a hulking iron-clad monster; brutishly powerful, lethally effective. It is little surprise therefore that this choice of name occurs again and again throughout the history of the English navy. A while back as I was looking for interesting bits to post relating to the Battle of Jutland I was surprised to find out just how many warships named Dreadnought there have been. In the process of perusing the various ships which bore this famous name, although finding frustratingly little detail about some of the ships themselves, I have nevertheless enjoyed a fascinating journey through British naval history. Supposedly first used in the reign of Edward VI for a forty gun bruiser launched in 1553, the name Dreadnought has subsequently graced seven other ships and one submarine.
The Spanish Armada
In 1573 the second ship by the name of Dreadnought to serve in the forces of the English crown was launched. The vessel was highly innovative, being the second of the new race-built galleons to roll off the slipway. This new design of fighting ship, shorn of the built up ‘castles’ fore and aft which made ships unwieldy in manoeuver if formidable in close quarters fighting, would literally run rings around their less nimble opponents. Under the command of Thomas Fenner, the forty one gun Dreadnought sailed with Drake on his raid against Cadiz in 1587, there to engage in the joyful destruction of 36 Spanish vessels and the seizing of vast quantities of supplies and war materiel, including to the delight of the raiders:  A ship of two hundred and fifty tons laden with wines on the king’s account, which ship we carried with us to sea, when we took out the wines for our own use, and then set her on fire!
The singeing of the King of Spain’s beard was thus celebrated by Drake’s raiders with the king’s own wine.
A year later, Dreadnought, under the command of George Beeston, took part in the harrying of the Spanish Armada as it made its unsuccessful bid to mount an invasion of England. In the engagement off Portland, Dreadnought joined in an attack led by Lord Howard’s Ark Royal to cannonade the Spanish ships at close quarters.
Dreadnought enjoyed a long career, perhaps too long, participating in the abortive Cadiz raid of 1625 in which a hotchpotch English fleet commanded by Edward Cecil sailed into the port but allowed the Spanish ships gathered therein to flee to safety. Having captured a small fort and landed his troops with the intention of capturing the town, Cecil then allowed his men to become roaring drunk only to fall victim to a relieving Spanish army which slaughtered them with impunity. It was a far cry from Dreadnought’s glory days under Drake and Howard. She was finally broken up in 1648.

Battle of Lowestoft Royal Charles vs Eendracht

In 1660 following the restoration of Charles II, a third rater named Torrington after a Parliamentarian victory of the Civil War was renamed HMS Dreadnought. The 62 gun warship would see action in the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars as the two powers contested the command of the seas and the dominance of international  trade that  came went with it. When the English and Dutch fleets clashed off Lowestoft in 1665 Dreadnought fought in the rear guard under the Earl of Sandwich, joining in the pivotal breaking of the Dutch line late in the battle, resulting in the fragmentation of the Dutch fleet, part of which became surrounded. When the Dutch flagship Eendracht blew up in the midst of a duel with the English flagship Royal Charles, aboard which the future King James II narrowly missed being decapitated by chain shot, the Dutch fleet broke up in confusion and ultimately fled. The Dutch lost seventeen ships to just one English ship taken as a prize early in the battle.

In the following year Dreadnought saw action again under the command of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, coming late to the epic Four Days Battle fought off Dunkirk. Rupert’s squadron arrived on the third day of the battle to find the English hard pressed and joined in the action of the final day but was forced to withdraw en masse after  Rupert's flagship the Royal James was dismasted and had to be towed to safety. Captain of the Dreadnought on that day was former buccaneer Edward Spragge, who was knighted for his courage in the battle. Spragge was disgraced just a year later however for his failure to adequately defend Sheerness Fort and prevent the brazen Dutch raid on the Medway which saw the Royal James burned and the Royal Charles towed away as a prize, causing Samuel Pepys to lament in his diary.
All our hearts do now ake; for the newes is true, that the Dutch have broke the chaine and burned our ships, and particularly the Royal Charles, other particulars I know not, but most sad to be sure. And, the truth is, I do fear so much that the whole kingdom is undone… 
Shortly after the debacle of Medway  the Second Anglo -Dutch War came to an end as a shaken Charles II sought peace. Dreadnought however was still on hand when hostilities resumed in 1672 with England now allied with France against the Dutch. Dreadnought fought in the Prince of Wales’ squadron at the hard-fought Battle of Solebay and thereafter served under her former commander Spragge at the battles of Schooneveld and Texel in the summer of 1673. Spragge, (pictured above) now Admiral commanding the English rear, had developed a bitter personal rivalry with the Dutch commander Cornelis Tromp; son of that Marten Tromp who had been such a fierce rival of Robert Blake.
Rear Admiral Spragge, who felt himself to have been twice humiliated by Tromp in the Four Days’ Battle and on the Medway had vowed to King Charles that he would capture or kill Tromp when next they met. At Schooneveld the Anglo-French fleet under the command of Prince Rupert attempted to force the Dutch from their anchorage and into a decisive battle as a prelude to an invasion but were frustrated in their efforts. The fiercest fighting took place between the squadrons of Tromp and Spragge as the two sought each other out and pounded away at each other until nightfall.
At the Battle of Texel later that year Spragge and Tromp resumed their rivalry. So fierce was the fight between the two of them that both admirals had to switch their flag to another ship on two occasions in order to continue. During his second transfer, the sloop carrying Spragge was hit by cannon fire and  the admiral was drowned. The Dutch won the battle, ending hopes for an invasion and a year later hostilities were ended by the Treaty of Westminster, whose most significant provision saw the city of New Amsterdam become New York.
As for Dreadnought, she survived the hardest fighting of the Anglo-Dutch Wars and remained in naval service, undertaking a voyage to Tangier, before finally foundering off North Foreland in 1690.

Spragge and Tromp do battle at Texel
A year later a third rater of 64 guns named Dreadnought was launched at Blackwall. This new Dreadnought found herself fighting under changed political circumstances. With William of Orange on the English throne and Louis XIV seeking to supplant him by restoring the deposed James II, this Dreadnought would fight in a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet against the French at the Battle of Barfleur in May 1692. Dreadnought fought in the rear division under Rear Admiral Richard Carter aboard HMS Duke. Late in the battle Carter’s squadron broke through the French line in heavy fog and gathering darkness, sowing chaos and confusion as the battered French fleet broke up and fled in disarray. In the fiercest fighting of the day Carter fell mortally wounded, his last orders to his Post Captain being ‘Fight the ship as long as she will swim!
Dreadnought enjoyed a long career with service in the West Indies and Mediterranean. In 1717 she fought under Admiral George Byng at the Battle of Cape Passaro. Falling upon a Spanish fleet cruising off the Sicilian coast, unaware of the outbreak of hostilities in the War of the Quadruple Alliance, the English fleet utterly vanquished the Spaniards, capturing or burning 13 of their ships for no loss of their own. It was the Dreadnought’s finest hour. She ended her days in 1747 as a prison hulk.

Battle of Barfleur
Part Two includes Nelson's uncle's finest hour, a bloody struggle against a Spanish hero at Trafalgar and a voyage to the North Pole!

The Cadiz Raid and other adventures

Anglo Dutch Wars

Treaty of Westminster

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