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10 Senseless Disasters in Naval Warfare

January 21, 2016

10 Senseless Disasters in Naval Warfare

If people thought rationally, we wouldn’t even have wars. When we do war, it’s no wonder that mistakes are made and lives and resources are thrown away. It is well that war is so terrible, Lee supposedly said. The most terrible thing of all is the senseless disposal of blood and treasure when it could have been avoided.

10 General Belgrano

In 1938, the US commissioned the USS Phoenix. This Brooklyn-class light cruiser featured 15-6” guns. This class of ships were very sturdy for their day. All of the major classes of cruiser the US used in WWII were based on this design. The Phoenix herself was one of the few ships to escape damage at Pearl Harbor.

In 1951, the Phoenix was sold to the Argentine Navy, and renamed the ’17 de Octubre’. As a major unit in a minor navy, she was an important part of the coup that overthrew Dictator Juan Peron. After the coup, she was finally renamed General Belgrano.

During the 1982 Falklands War between the UK and Argentina, the Belgrano was dispatched to an area near the islands. The British had declared a Total Exclusion Zone surrounding the area. Radio traffic indicated that the Argentinians had decided to violate the TEZ. (Link 1)

Despite her age, Belgrano could cause a lot of damage if she reached the British fleet. She could also shell the islands and threaten the British invasion. On May 2, Prime Minister Thatcher authorized the attack on Belgrano. At approximately 4 p.m. local, the nuclear attack sub HMS Conqueror fired three torpedoes at the ship. Two of them struck and caused massive damage. Though the Belgrano was in a hostile area, she was cruising with watertight doors open. She quickly filled with water and lost electrical power. Unable to pump the water clear, the Belgrano’s percussively named commander, Captain Hector Bonzo, ordered abandon ship 20 minutes after the torpedoes struck.

Belgrano’s two escorting Destoyers simply ignored what was happening and continued on, leaving the survivors to fend for themselves. Over the next two days many of the crew were rescued. 323 sailors, including two civilian workers, died in the attack.

Why it was senseless

At the time the Belgrano was attacked, the British had already informed the Argentines that nuclear submarines would attack any Argentine ship in the area. Nothing in the Argentine inventory could match such a threat. No one is quite sure why the Belgrano was cruising in a peacetime material condition, other than sheer incompetence. (Link 2) Lastly, Belgrano’s escorting destroyers failed to escort. They just sailed in the same general direction and left their charge to her fate.

9 USS Juneau

In November 1942, the US was beginning its strategic offensive against the Imperial Japanese Empire. The first major campaign took place in the Solomon Islands, at Guadalcanal. The Japanese resisted furiously. The fate of the US Marines fighting on Guadalcanal depended on being able to deny the Japanese reinforcements, and the use of Henderson Field. IJN (Imperial Japanese Navy) attempts to shell the field at night were dubbed the ‘Tokyo Express’. The Japanese were superior night fighters, preferring to close the range and use accurate gunfire and Long Lance torpedoes to quickly subdue the enemy.

On the night of 13 November, the American defensive forces were commanded by Admiral Daniel Callaghan. His force was comprised of Heavy and Light Cruisers, and eight Destroyers. The USS Juneau was playing the role of light cruiser, when in fact she was more of a heavily armed Destroyer. Built as an ‘anti-aircraft’ Cruiser, she was festooned with 16-5” guns, instead of the heavier 6” or 8” guns of most Cruisers.

The Americans sailed offshore of Guadalcanal in the area of expected attack. Callaghan had deployed his radar-equipped ships in places where the new technology did little good. The Japanese approached with a powerful force of two fast Battleships, a Cruiser, and 11 Destroyers. Given the Japanese night advantage, they spotted the Americans first and opened fire.

Surrounded, Admiral Callaghan responded to the attack by ordering his odd ships to fire in one direction, and his even ships in the other. Unfortunately, none of his ship commanders knew whether they were odd or even. The ensuing melee favored the Japanese even more. American ships ganged up on single Japanese vessels, leaving others to systematically pummel the Americans. Japanese torpedo fire was very accurate, resulting in many hits. In the confusion, the US ships were badly mauled, and the Juneau was struck with a torpedo.

With a broken keel and most ship systems out of order, the Juneau retreated from the area and limped away. The next day, while slowly steaming to be repaired with other American ships, the Juneau was again struck with a torpedo fired from a Japanese submarine. She blew up, split in two, and sank in 20 seconds. Her escorting ships, themselves damaged, left the 100 or so survivors to their fate. In the typical narrative of WWII Pacific shipwrecks, the survivors were decimated by thirst, exposure, and shark attacks. They spent over a week in the water, when at last 10 survivors out of a crew of 700 were rescued.

Why it was senseless

The Juneau was never intended to be a Light Cruiser. (Link 3) She was built to be a Destroyer Leader and anti-aircraft ship. Callaghan’s ambiguous orders and poor unit disposition meant the American advantage of radar was thrown away. There were American Battleships in the area, but they were considered too valuable to risk in close-range night actions. In fact, two Battleships had to be deployed to Guadalcanal the next day to reinforce the ravaged American forces. Finally, the Juneau carried all five Sullivan brothers, who were all either atomized, trapped in a sinking wreck, or eaten by sharks. (Link 4) Allied forces had already learned to scatter relatives and neighbors amongst widely separated units. That the Sullivans were allowed to serve on a single vessel is a testament to the power of WWII American propaganda.

8 The Final Voyage of the Yamato

Before the final invasion of Japan in 1945, the US invaded Okinawa. This strategic island was the last fighter base standing between American bombers and the Japanese Home Islands. It could also be used as a staging area and airfield.

This late in the war, the Japanese had already resorted to kamikaze tactics. Throughout the war, they had used the bonsai charge which was essentially a suicide attack by troops to shock the enemy. With honor to uphold and held responsible for the complete failure to defeat the Americans, the IJN’s turn had come to make similar sacrifices. That sacrifice was to be the Yamato.

As the largest Battleship ever built, Yamato had been held back to take part in a mythic final battle which would utterly defeat the Americans and save the Japanese Empire. Her systems were in good repair and she was ready for action. Operation Ten-Go envisioned that Yamato would steam from Japan to Okinawa, wreak havoc among the landing fleet, and beach herself as an unsinkable fort to blast away at the Americans. She was given enough fuel for a one-way trip.

At midday on April 7, Yamato was transiting to Okinawa when she was attacked by 280 American planes. Over the next 3 hours, 400 US planes would strike in three waves. With no air-cover and in perfect weather, the Yamato was an easy target. Struck by 6 bombs and 11 torpedoes, she eventually succumbed to the relentless attacks and capsized. Her forward magazines detonated and created a titanic mushroom cloud, thought to be the largest conventional explosion at sea. (Link 5) Over 3,000 of her crew perished, many of them drawn back to the ship by the suction of her capsizing, to be obliterated in the resulting blast.

Why it was senseless

The Yamato had been designed to overcome American numerical superiority with sheer power. The Japanese never really used her. Even though the Japanese practiced Carrier tactics successfully, they maintained their theory of a final surface battle between fleets of Battleships. After all, they had destroyed the Russians at Tsushima. (link to Tsushima section). By preserving her, the Japanese had denied themselves a powerful asset which could have tipped the balance at any number of actions. Furthermore, the Yamato had taken part at Leyte Gulf, when she actually broke through the American defenses and had the opportunity to sink the invasion fleet off Leyte. Her Admiral turned her back, and another magnificent opportunity was lost. Beset by constant the fear of defeat, the Japanese leadership had become delusional, and overestimated the effectiveness of suicide attacks. (Link 6)

7 Cressy, Houge, and Aboukir

Prior to WWI, Naval technology advanced rapidly. One consequence is that some ships were being built which were already obsolete. Such is the case with the Armored Cruiser. They had poor underwater protection and old-fashioned armor. They were slow. Their guns were smaller than Battlecruisers, which replaced them. They still found use on remote stations or raiding trade routes, but didn’t belong in the main theater.

Allied victory in the war depended on a naval blockade of Germany. This meant maintaining regular patrols in the North Sea at the exit of the Baltic. Contrary to advice and manned by Reservists, the Armored Cruisers Cressy, Houge, and Aboukir reinforced light unit patrols in the North Sea. Vulnerable to submarines and unable to outrun or outgun any modern heavy units, the three Cruisers were little more than a sink for excess manpower and resources which could have been employed elsewhere.

On the morning of September 22nd 1914, with no destroyer escort, the cruisers patrolled their assigned area in the North Sea. This early in the war, the threat of submarine attack was little appreciated. Without zig-zagging and in laid-back trim, the obsolete ships were extremely vulnerable. At 6:20 am, the German submarine U-9 fired a single torpedo at Aboukir which struck her starboard side. Aboukir’s captain thought he had struck a mine, and signaled to the other two ships to close and render assistance. The commander of the Hogue realized it was a submarine attack, but too late. He was already stopped and lowering boats near the capsizing Aboukir. Cressy searched for periscopes as U-9 fired another two torpedoes, which both struck Hogue at 6:55. As Aboukir sank, the lightened U-9 broached the surface and then disappeared from view. Cressy fired a few rounds in response as Hogue sank at 7:15. Attempting to ram the submerging U-9, Cressy overshot the target and was rewarded with a torpedo strike from U-9’s stern tubes. Finally, U-9 came about and administered the coup de grace at 7:30. Cressy sank with heavy loss of life at 7:55. (Link 7)

In 90 minutes a single rickety WWI submarine had wiped out an entire Armored Cruiser squadron and killed over 1,400 men.

Why it was senseless

Even in 1914 many naval thinkers had warned of the dangers of submarine attack. The new torpedo technology was known to be of extreme peril to armored ships, and had driven development of the newer, more elaborate armor schemes. Cressy, Hogue, and Aboukir had no business being in a strategic battle area, and their Reservist men could have been employed elsewhere. By cruising around in straight lines instead of zig-zagging, the squadron commanders had presented themselves as easy targets to the U-9. Still battle green, they then attempted gallantry instead of defending themselves from the obvious submarine threat. The British Naval structure blamed the unit and ship commanders for the errors, but widespread opinion properly blamed the Admiralty itself. (Link 8).

6 The Russian defeat at Tsushima

In 1904 and 05, the Russians and Japanese decided to have a war. The colossal Russian empire was widely expected to thrash the Japanese. The Japanese, newly minted as a modern industrial and martial power, then proceeded to stubbornly refuse to be beaten. They defeated the Russians in land battle after sea battle, culminating with the annihilation of the Russian Baltic Fleet in the straights of Tsushima.

In a now familiar tactic, Japanese began the war in 1904 with a surprise torpedo attack against the Russian base at Port Arthur. After losing the base itself and a further fleet, the Russians sought to restore their reputation. The Tsar dispatched the unpronounceable Vice Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky and the remaining battleships of the Baltic Fleet to see off the Japanese.

You may have noticed that the Baltic Sea is on the other side of the planet from Japan. This meant the ships had to sail around the world to prosecute battle. The British, cozy with Japan, refused passage through the Suez Canal. Their decision might have been influenced by the Russian attack of British fishing trawlers in the North Sea. (Link 9) Apparently the Russians mistook the ungainly trawlers for Japanese torpedo boats, and opened fire with Battleships. Why Japanese torpedo boats would be trolling the Dogger Bank out of formation and at very low speeds, the Russians have never explained.

So began a truly ill-fated voyage. Decks stacked with coal and denied British coaling stations, the Russian fleet made its way around Africa to Madagascar. By this time their hulls were thick with marine growth and moved even slower than the pathetically obsolete gunboats the Russian command had insisted take part in the voyage. Russian sailors accustomed to the frigid winters of the northern Baltic roasted their way across the Indian Ocean, around Southeast Asia, and finally north toward Vladivostok.

Awaiting them was the redoubtable Admiral Togo. His crack Japanese fleet of modern British-pattern Battleships and Armored Cruisers was battle hardened and ready for action. With the Russians in line to transit the Tsushima Straight between Japan and Korea, Togo easily ‘crossed the T’ of the Russians, bringing all of his guns to bear on the hapless, worn-down, tattered Baltic Fleet.

From 2 pm on May 27 1905, through the night, and the next day, the sad demolition of the valiant but ill-prepared Russians took place. Russia lost 11 battleships and 7 of 8 cruisers, not to mention 8 out of 9 destroyers and most of the resupply ships. Japan even captured the Russian hospital ships. The Russian flagship was set on fire and out of action within 45 minutes of commencement of battle. The rest were either destroyed by gunfire, captured by the Japanese, interned in neutral ports, or scuttled by their crews. Japan had wiped out Russian power in the Far East, and military tacticians and strategists everywhere savored every detail of the ‘Battle of Annihilation’. Most realized Japan had assumed a Major Power role in Asia, except for the Americans who wouldn’t learn the lesson fully until 1942.

This battle effectively ended the Russo-Japanese war. Peace was brokered by American President Theodore Roosevelt, who won himself a tidy Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Why it was senseless

Sending a mix of modern and ancient vessels on an 18,000 mile trip to restore Russian pride was ill-advised. It was just another symptom of the disconnect between Russia’s creaking Tsarist Empire and stark reality. Without securing coaling and allied support, the Russians had ensured their already slow ships would be encumbered with marine fouling and even stacked coal on deck, obscuring guns and sightlines. Failing to appreciate the complete superiority and dogged persistence of the Japanese, Russia had expended all of its military resources in the area, ensuring Japanese dominance until 1945. Russia had not only lost its Asian assets, but thrown away its Baltic Fleet as well. The Russians should have just stayed home and accepted terms.

5 The collision of the Victoria and Camperdown

In 1893, France and Britain had not yet welded an uncomfortable alliance through two World Wars. They were colonial rivals with a thousand years of warfare and blood between them. France stood over the Mediterranean Sea, though she had lost most of her possessions there to Britain in the Napoleonic Wars. The Med is the way to the Suez Canal. That ditch is the way to India. India was the Raj. The Raj was the jewel in the crown of the world’s greatest Empire.

Britain kept her main fleet in the Mediterranean. Its command was the station of highest tactical accomplishment. Afterward, an officer settled down to the Admiralty and a life of politicking. This was the instrument of Pax Britannica, and Britain had not fought a major fleet battle since Trafalgar. The ships were polish and buff, with drill and maneuver of utmost importance. Smart crews and snappy evolutions were the order of the day, in the absence of any real outside threat.

One man to lead a fleet of such eminence was Vice Admiral Sir George Tryon. He is the archetype of a British gentleman. Lineage involving battles of Empire. Eton. Naval Cadet. Every social contact, required post, and timely promotion.

Naval officers were expected to be conservative in the extreme. Tryon, himself known to be full of ‘theories’, expected sharp discipline and adherence to order in fleet movement. To this end he often ordered complex maneuvers which taxed the communication and navigation of every ship. He would often order maneuvers without briefing his officers beforehand. They were expected to comply with obedience to their Commander. After two years of command, Tryon had drilled most of the initiative out of his Captains.

On June 22, 1893, the Fleet was engaged in just such maneuvers. Tryon’s flagship, HMS Victoria, led one column of Battleships. Another column was led by HMS Camperdown, with Tryon’s second-in-command, Rear Admiral Albert Hastings Markham, aboard.

The columns proceeded at 8 knots, about 1,200 yards apart. Tryon then ordered that the columns increase speed, and turn inward. This was supposed to reverse direction of the fleet while preserving the two-column configuration. This was a problem because the turning radius of Battleships was about 600 yards. 1,200 – (600 + 600) = 0. Markham himself objected to the maneuver, but a sharp retort from Tryon got him moving.

The lead ships dutifully made their turns and the columns approached each other. Officers in both columns assumed Tryon would change the orders at the last second.

As Camperdown approached Victoria, it became apparent that no further orders would be given. The Captain of the Victoria asked to reverse engines three times when it was apparent a collision would occur. Tryon finally gave permission but it was too late. The ponderous battlewagons bore down on each other. At the last minute, Tryon shouted over to the Camperdown to reverse engines.

Camperdown struck Victoria in the starboard bow. Battleships of the day had huge, heavy ram bows underwater. Ramming was still considered a viable tactic. Camperdown’s ram prow did its job. As the reversed screws finally pulled the ships apart, Camperdown excavated a huge hole in Victoria’s side.

Due to the midday June heat, every hatch and door on Victoria was wide open for ventilation. She rapidly flooded and capsized in 13 minutes despite heroic efforts to save her. Men poured out of the hatches and portholes as the ship foundered. They then rode the ship over like lumberjacks on a log, scurrying down the ship’s turning hull. Those near the still-turning screws were torn to pieces. (Link 10) A few minutes and boiler explosions later, Victoria sank beneath the waves in a circle of bubbles and disappeared from sight. 358 men died. Tryon went down with the ship, reportedly taking responsibility to the end.

Why it was senseless.

Tryon just made a mistake. He had drilled order into his Officers, something required for the expected fleet engagements of the day. The previous major fleet engagement since Trafalgar, Lissa, had incorrectly shown that ramming was a viable tactic. The Battleships of the late Victorian Era therefore had exaggerated ram bows which contributed to the disaster. Too much faith in the untested construction of the ships, and the untested drill of the crews, led to Victoria sailing with watertight doors open. One positive outcome was a review of the Royal Navy, which led to much higher standards for combat readiness, just in time for WWI.

4 The Royal Navy loses 3 Battlecruisers in one engagement

The rate of Naval construction and technology advancements continued apace prior to WWI. Radical changes were wrought in ship design. The normally conservative service even tolerated an upstart Admiral, Sir Jackie Fisher.

Fisher revolutionized ship design. He called for more, bigger, guns. Higher speeds at any cost. If armor was to be sacrificed, so be it. The RN was for hunting down and destroying enemies, not defensive measures.

An offshoot of this philosophy was the evolution of the Battlecruiser. Traditional Armored Cruisers had triple expansion steam engines, 4 mid-caliber weapons around 8 or 9 inches in caliber, indifferent scattered protection, and a top speed of 18 or 19 knots. Fischer revolutionized the idea of the big cruiser, and the Battlecruiser was born.

With 8 or more weapons of Battleship caliber, 12” and larger, Battlecruisers carried almost as much striking power as the new Dreadnoughts. Longer, heavier, and with more powerful turbines, they were much faster. All of this came at the price of armor protection, which remained on the scale of the previous Armored Cruisers. Hull construction, too, was based on cruiser design and not really to the standards of Battleships.

This is a dangerous combination. An Admiral would be tempted to use Battlecruisers, with their Capital Ship striking power, in a fleet action. They would then be subject to fire from opposing heavy weapons, which they were never designed to withstand. The RN found out the consequences of such temptations at Jutland.

Much has been written of Jutland, the most exciting inconclusive sea battle of all time. Massive fleets of heavy Battleships slugged it out, with racing squadrons of Battlecruisers darting up and down the lines. The Germans were turned away, and the Blockade was maintained. But not before they had struck deadly blows against the Royal Navy.

German Battlecruisers had slightly smaller weapons and much heavier armor than their British counterparts. They were fast, deadly, and very, very tough.

In the main Battlecruiser action, the ‘Run to the South’, the Germans destroyed HMS Indefatigable at 4:03 pm and HMS Queen Mary at 4:26. Both ships suffered catastrophic magazine explosions which caused rapid sinking and heavy loss of life. (Link 11)

HMS Invincible appeared out of the battle mist at 6:02 pm, to be greeted by gunfire from two German Battlecruisers. She too suffered a catastrophic magazine explosion within 90 seconds of entering action.

Between the three ships, 3,309 men were killed. There were 26 survivors.

Why it was senseless

Battlecruisers were a grand idea which only found proper use one time: destroying their obsolete forebears at the Battle of the Falklands. The Royal Navy emphasis on speed and firepower for offense was a fine sentiment. Her Dreadnoughts were extremely tough and powerful. But the application of these theories to ships meant to scout and engage less powerful enemies was incorrect. Battlecruisers were supposed to destroy anything they outgunned, and run from anything they didn’t. That they were engaged against their more conservative and tougher German counterparts doesn’t remove the fact that they were imbalanced designs which had no place engaging in fleet actions, or even engaging equals. (Link 12)

3 The loss of the Hood

HMS Hood was the pride of the Royal Navy. Under construction and redesigned after the lessons of Jutland, she was ostensibly a Battlecruiser. Heavier armor and 8 excellent 15” Mark 1 rifles lent her status as the first Fast Battleship. At the time of her construction, she was indeed one of the most powerful ships afloat. British commitments between the wars, in an era of escalating tension, meant the Fleet Flagship could not be pulled from service for needed updates. In 1940, the Hood, along with the still fitting-out HMS Prince of Wales, was dispatched to hunt and destroy the Bismarck, feared arch-battleship of the newly risen Kreigsmarine.

As one senseless act follows another, Bismarck herself, escorted by the heavy cruiser Prince Eugen, was sent to the Atlantic to commerce raid. Only a system as insane as Naziism would conceive of sending a brand-new Battleship to sink freighters. Of course the idea was a fearsome one to the British, who stopped at nothing to protect her lifeline to America and the rest of the Empire.

Early on the morning of May 24, HMS Hood and Prince of Wales spotted Bismarck and Prince Eugen in the Denmark Straight. Hood’s commander, cognizant of Hood’s vulnerabilities, sought to close the range as soon as possible, thus protecting her deck and presenting the stouter side armor to Bismarck’s 15” shells. This also meant that Bismarck and Prince Eugen fired broadsides at the British, who were restricted to their forward guns only as they cut a sharp turn toward the enemy. (Link 13)

Before Hood could close range, the now familiar bloom of smoke and flame from a propellant deflagration rose from the Mighty Hood, enveloping her. The shells of the forward magazine then detonated, breaking her in two. When the cloud dissipated, only her bow was visible, standing straight up. The pride of the Royal Navy, boogey of the Kriegsmarine’s every fleet exercise, was gone in three short minutes, which is the number of survivors from the disaster. 1,418 men died. Prince of Wales, guns malfunctioning and still with civilian workmen on board, beat a hasty retreat. Bismarck herself was harried and hounded to her gruesome demise in the Eastern Atlantic. Prince Eugen had already been dispatched to safety at Brest.

Why it was senseless

After years of retrospect, we can only conclude that the desperation of the British to bring Bismarck to action was backwards thinking. Even Bismarck’s sister, Tirpitz, caused death and destruction lying in a Norwegian fjord. Rumor of her movement caused the scattering and near annihilation of PQ 17, the ill-fated convoy to northern Russia. The vulnerabilities of the Hood were well-known. To bring her to action, acknowledging her dangerous shortcomings by closing the range in a radical maneuver between line-of-battle ships, just reinforces the point. Whether the Hood was an updated Battlecruiser or Fast Battleship is irrelevant. The British knew she was deficient and sent her to action. Carriers and submarines were more than a match for Bismarck.

2 Force Z

The British, with a vast Pacific Empire and engagements in Europe, was spread thin at the beginning of the war. The lighting advance of the Japanese down the Malay peninsula brought fears of an invasion of Australia. Worse yet, the loss of Singapore (sorry Australia). Without adequate resources or air cover, the Admiralty dispatched Prince of Wales, late of Denmark Straight, and the Battlecruiser Repulse, to the area.

The hastily assembled squadron was code-named Force Z. Tasked with preventing or destroying further Japanese landings in Malaysia, Admiral Tom Phillips sought to bring to action any Japanese force he could find. Rumored landings north of Singapore led Force Z to head north, where they were greeted by the now familiar swarms of Japanese dive bombers and torpedo bombers. Admiral Phillips, long a critic of air power and a believer in heavy guns, dismissed the idea of magnificent Royal Navy Capital Ships being sunk while maneuvering at sea.

Predictably, Repulse and Prince of Wales were beset by wave after wave of air attack. Repulse actually lasted longer than Prince of Wales. Despite being a Battlecruiser and nearly 20 years older than Prince of Wales, expert ship-handling prolonged her agony a bit more. Prince of Wales, of brand-new design and built to withstand air and torpedo attack, simply succumbed to sheer numbers.

827 men died between the two ships. (Link 14) British Capital Ship presence in Asia had been eliminated in one afternoon.

Why it was senseless

Pearl Harbor. The assault at Taranto, conducted by the British themselves. Torpedoes. Worst of all, no air cover. A British carrier was available, but left behind due to her low speed. The destruction of Force Z was more than just an overextension of British resources. It was a vast oversight by an over-optimistic decision apparatus which threw two Capital Ships away for nothing. The lighting Japanese advance down the Malay peninsula continued unabated. Singapore fell even sooner than the British dreaded. The widespread use of bicycles by the attacking Japanese had hastened the fall of one of the Jewels of the British Empire.

1 The English crews at the Spanish Armada

This Defense of the Realm has all the hallmarks of British naval history.  The English used superior technology in the form of long-range guns to avoid being boarded by the numerically-superior Spanish.  Fire ships and harassment tactics were creatively employed to keep the Spanish off their game and sow confusion.  The outnumbered English rally around the Crown and pull together in defense of their island nation.

This was truly a victory which saved England, and we’d expect that the sailors would have been brought home heroes with the 1588 equivalent of a ticker-tape parade.

Not quite. Elizabeth I vowed to defend England with the heart of a King, but she didn’t rush to pay her heroic sailors. After the battle, the crews were sequestered on their ships in English harbors. If and when the sailors were let ashore, where they landed was often nowhere near their homes. Compounding their troubles was the lack of pay or care for their injuries and illnesses. Not until 1593, five years after the battle, did the Elizabethan government decide to offer any monetary relief for men injured in any battle action. (Link 15)

The situation became so desperate that the leader of the English fleet, Lord Howard of Effingham, dipped into his own purse to help the men out. During the battle, Sir Francis Drake had audaciously captured the Spanish Rosario as war booty. Howard of Effingham requisitioned some of this money to relieve the men who had fought so gallantly under him. (Link 16). Effingham then extended his own credit to near-bankruptcy seeking to redress the crime.

Despite losing only 100 men in the actual Armada battles, over 7,000 English sailors perished due to typhus, dysentery, and other diseases. (Link 2)

Why it was senseless

The British government is over 70 times more lethal to its own sailors than a hostile enemy fleet.

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