The Year’s Blogs: 12 of the best from 2020

2020 saw sustained activities on the Antoine Vanner Writing-Front, Covid-19 notwithstanding. The ninth book of the Dawlish Chronicles, Britannia’s Morass, was published in December (click here for details) and blog articles continued to appear at a rate of two per week. These last related to all aspects of naval and maritime history in the period ranging from the early eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, from the Age of Fighting Sail to the age of the Dreadnought, Submarine, Radio and Flight. I’ve picked about a dozen of my own favourites and links are provided below for reading them. I hope you’ll like them.

And Best Wishes for 2021 to all readers of my novels and my blog-articles, and especially those who have retweeted or shared my blogs. May all of us see the threat of Covid-19 removed in the coming year and a return to something like the normality we knew before.

                                                                                                                                                   Antoine Vanner

The HMS Bellona and Courageux action 1761

Devotees of naval history and fiction will know that the “74”, the so-called Third- Rate ships of the line, were the backbone of the fleets of the major European powers in the period 1756-1815. The original concept, dating from the 1740s, was French, but it was to be adopted whole-heartedly by the Royal Navy. HMS Bellona (1760) was to be the prototype for a class of more than 40 British ships which were to serve for more than five decades. And Bellona herself, as befitted a ship named after the Roman Goddess of War, was to have a very spectacular blooding in 1761…

Click here to read about this spectacular action…


A Flawed Concept – Imperial China’s Rendel Cruisers 1881

For a short period in the 1880s the Imperial Chinese Navy possessed two ships, the Yang Wei and the Chao Yung, which carried what was probably the heaviest armament for any ships of their sizes afloat. Their value proved to be overestimated however and they were to come to tragic ends when China clashed with Japan in 1895.

Click here to find out more


Hell and High Water: HMS Nautilus, 1807

The crew of the brig-of-war HMS Nautilus did not expect the hell and high water, and epic of endurance, that lay ahead, when she sailed from the Aegean in January 1807 with dispatches for Britain. Lashed for days by storms that all but engulfed the rocky Greek islet on which they were cast, the crew endured appalling privations – and some resorted to cannibalism – before Greek fishermen braved extreme conditions to rescue them.

Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2 of this epic story


Privateer Action in the English Channel, 1793 and 1799

Tensions between Britain and Revolutionary France had escalated through 1792. Following the execution of the French King Louis XVI on 21st January 1793 Britain expelled the French ambassador and on 1 February France responded by declaring war on Great Britain. Within days of the declaration the crew of a British merchant ship, the Glory, was to be one of the first victims of the war at sea, and indeed at its most cruel. But the retribution was to be no less terrible… and what followed in the subsequent years was no less desperate.

Click here to read about these minor but vicious actions, largely forgotten today


SS Utopia and HMS Anson 1891

A dark and stormy March night in 1891 saw the harbour at Gibraltar transformed into a scene of horror when a passenger steamer loaded with Italian emigrants wounded herself mortally on the pointed ram of a Royal Navy battleship. This forgotten tragedy claimed 562 lives in sight of shore.

Click here to read more 


The Crimean War’s North Pacific Theatre: Petropavlovsk August 1854

The most common image of the Crimean War (1854 – 56) is of Britain’s Light Brigade charging to death and glory against Russian guns at Balaclava. Almost equally well known are the epics of the ”Thin Red Line” and of the Storming of the Redan, both in the Crimea itself. The more nautically- minded may think of the enormous and costly expedition to the Baltic that earned such scanty returns. Few have however heard of the most remote operation of the war, the Anglo-French assault on Petropavlovsk, Russia’s Northern Pacific port on the Kamchatka peninsula.

Click here to read of this forgotten but fascinating campaign


The Iéna and Liberté Disasters, 1907 and 1911

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries all major navies, other than the German, lost many large ships not by enemy action but through magazine explosions of unstable ammunition. The French navy was especially unlucky – with two of its largest losses occurring in peacetime at the naval base of Toulon. Scandals – known as “affairs” – were one of the great institutions of the French Third Republic that lasted from 1870 to 1940 and the disasters at Toulon were to trigger a choice specimen, known to as “l’Affaire des Poudres”.

Click here to read more about these disasters


The Intercontinental Junk Keyling 1846

In 1846 a large trading junk, the Keyling, set out on a voyage that would make her the first Chinese vessel to round the Cape of Good Hope, sail to the United States and on to Britain. A visit to her in London in 1848 by the novelist Charles Dickens inspired him to write a viciously xenophobic attack on Chinese culture that did him little credit.

Click here to read about her.


The bloody Plattsburg mutiny, 1816

A fast-sailing American trading schooner carrying eleven thousand pounds of coffee and forty-two thousand dollars in coins was hijacked by her mutinous crew in 1816. But the voyage that followed brought them to a very unlikely destination and was to end in a mystery that is still unsolved. This article is in two parts

Part 1- Click here

Part 2 – Click here


HMS Dolphin and the capture of the slaver Firme, 1841

Anti-slavery service off West Africa in the decades following the Napoleonic Wars and the outlawing of the Slave Trade was never easy for Royal Navy crews. Encounters with slavers could be brutal and bloody. One such example occurred in 1841 when HMS Dolphin, becalmed like her quarry, sent two pulling-boats to board to it before a wind could spring up and let it escape. The acts of individual bravery in the hand-to-hand struggle that followed were of the highest order.

Click here to read about it


Earning Napoleon’s admiration: HMS Grappler, 1803

In 1803 a Royal Navy brig, HMS Grappler, was sent from the Channel Islands under flag of truce to return liberated French prisoners of war to their homeland.  A storm was to drive her to take shelter in rocky archipelago close to the coast. Disaster followed, and so too an instance of gallantry by Grappler’s captain which was to arouse the admiration of Napoleon himself. . .

Click here to read HMS Grappler’s story


1759 – “The Year of Victories”

The Seven Years War (1756-63) was in effect the First World War, fought in Europe, the Americas, India and the Far East. From it Britain emerged as a Global Superpower and many of its outcomes still live with us even now. One year of the war – 1759 – was however to see a series of British victories by land and by sea that has never been equalled. And it also gave Britain the hit pop-song of the 18th Century and which lives on as a naval march today…

Click here to read about this “Wonderful Year”


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