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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

An Amazing use of Maritime Camouflage

Posted to All Things Nautical by Carl E. Ramsey

Sometimes in life, the guy with the so-crazy-it-just-might-work idea hits one out of the park and saves the day. This is what happened in 1942 aboard the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, the last Dutch warship standing after the Battle of the Java Sea.

Originally planning to escape to Australia with three other warships, the then-stranded minesweeper had to make the voyage alone and unprotected. The slow-moving vessel could only get up to about 15 knots and had very few guns, boasting only a single 3-inch gun and two Oerlikon 20 mm canons making it a sitting duck for the Japanese bombers that circled above.

Knowing their only chance of survival was to make it to the Allies Down Under, the Crijnssen's 45 crew members frantically brainstormed ways to make the retreat undetected. The winning idea? Turn the ship into an island.

You can almost hear crazy-idea guy anticipating his shipmates' reluctance: Now guys, just hear me out. But lucky for him, the Abraham Crijnessen was strapped for time, resources and alternative means of escape, automatically making the island idea the best idea. Now it was time to put the plan into action.

The crew went ashore to nearby islands and cut down as many trees as they could lug back onto the deck. Then the timber was arranged to look like a jungle canopy, covering as much square footage as possible. Any leftover parts of the ship were painted to look like rocks and cliff faces. These guys weren't messing around...they were trying to save their butts.

Now, a camouflaged ship that is in deep trouble is better than a completely exposed ship. But there was still the problem of the Japanese noticing a mysterious moving island and wondering what would happen if they shot at it. Because of this, the crew figured the best means of convincing the Axis powers that they were an island was to truly be an island: by not moving at all during daylight hours.

While the sun was up they would anchor the ship near other islands, then cover as much ocean as they could once night fell praying the Japanese wouldn't notice a disappearing and reappearing island amongst the nearly 18,000 existing islands in Indonesia. And, as luck would have it, they didn't.

The Crijnssen managed to go undetected by Japanese planes and avoid the destroyer that sank the other Dutch warships, surviving the eight-day journey to Australia and reuniting with Allied forces.

Sometimes in life, the guy with the so-crazy-it-just-might-work idea hits one out of the park and saves the day. That is what happened in 1942 aboard the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen. Ingenuity was the mother of invention.

The Story is confirmed by the Australian War Memorial Museum

The photographs come from there.  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The disastrous consequences of poor leadership

Island of the Lost is the story of two near-simultaneous shipwrecks on sub-Antarctic Auckland Island in 1865, and the differing fates of the two sets of castaways.

Each was utterly unaware of the existence of the other group, and so they were left entirely to their own devices, completely dependent on the leadership skills of their captains.

One was an abject failure.  Though a competent and well-respected shipmaster, he did not have the flexibility to turn his men into a cohesive group, working together for their joint survival.  Over the next 19 months they all died, save three.  Some turned to cannibalism.  There was one resourceful seaman, Robert Holding -- but he was "just" a seaman, and so the captain disdained to accept his sensible ideas.  Instead, when Holding built a boat, the "elite" castaways took it over -- and then one of the officers lost it.  Robert Holding, the common seaman, was not worth talking to -- except when he managed to kill a seal, and had steaks broiling over a fire.  Those steaks, naturally, were appropriated.  And, because he wasn't considered worth listening to, the group fell apart, fought among themselves, starved, and died.  Only Holding and the captain and an officer survived -- Holding because of his versatility and resourcefulness, the "elite" because they had preyed on him, though without recognizing his skills.

The other group succeeded brilliantly.   The captain was a true leader.  Democratic to the core, he co-opted all the castaways into a brotherhood, where they all worked for the common good. They built a cabin, foraged for food, had a duty roster, built a forge, made their own tools, and constructed a getaway boat from the timbers of the wreck.  Because of the captain's fine leadership, they all survived.

The book, with its demonstration of the crucial difference that leadership makes, is used in courses in American schools and universities, and in Australia and the UK, too.  As the writer of a British paper
points out, "the unique and different set of personality characteristics and leadership behaviors displayed by the two captains" draws "a fine line between order and chaos, life and death."

As the study concludes, "[i]t is not the situation that makes the leader but rather the opposite. On the Auckland Islands in 1864 it was most definitely the case that it was the difference in leaders that determined the outcome ... The conclusion that we are drawn to – since all other factors are equal – is that the personal style of the two leaders was the deciding factor that made all the difference...

"As the fate of these shipwrecked mariners shows, much of the success and failure that we endure together hangs on the character of our leaders. When the winds around our organizations blow cold and harsh and our ship goes aground, it is that character that may make the difference between building a new boat to sail to success or consuming ourselves in cannibalism."

The inescapable conclusion is that the doomed set of castaways would have had a better chance of survival if their captain had gone down with the wreck.

It is a lesson that still applies today. Countries with mad, bad, incompetent leaders collapse in dissension, death and chaos, just like the unlucky castaway party, while those with democratic, unifying leadership will survive intact.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Golden Age Gone for Multi-Nationals

Don't you love the graphic?  But, I am afraid, the following paints a very grim picture

The Economist describes a bleak future for multi-nationals with a Trump administration 

AMONG the many things that Donald Trump dislikes are big global firms. Faceless and rootless, they stand accused of unleashing “carnage” on ordinary Americans by shipping jobs and factories abroad. His answer is to domesticate these marauding multinationals. Lower taxes will draw their cash home, border charges will hobble their cross-border supply chains and the trade deals that help them do business will be rewritten. To avoid punitive treatment, “all you have to do is stay,” he told American bosses this week.

Mr Trump is unusual in his aggressively protectionist tone. But in many ways he is behind the times. Multinational companies, the agents behind global integration, were already in retreat well before the populist revolts of 2016. Their financial performance has slipped so that they are no longer outstripping local firms. Many seem to have exhausted their ability to cut costs and taxes and to out-think their local competitors. Mr Trump’s broadsides are aimed at companies that are surprisingly vulnerable and, in many cases, are already heading home. The impact on global commerce will be profound.

The end of the arbitrage: Multinational firms (those that do a large chunk of their business outside their home region) employ only one in 50 of the world’s workers. But they matter. A few thousand firms influence what billions of people watch, wear and eat. The likes of IBM, McDonald’s, Ford, H&M, Infosys, Lenovo and Honda have been the benchmark for managers. They co-ordinate the supply chains that account for over 50% of all trade. They account for a third of the value of the world’s stockmarkets and they own the lion’s share of its intellectual property—from lingerie designs to virtual-reality software and diabetes drugs. They boomed in the early 1990s, as China and the former Soviet bloc opened and Europe integrated. Investors liked global firms’ economies of scale and efficiency. Rather than running themselves as national fiefs, firms unbundled their functions. A Chinese factory might use tools from Germany, have owners in the United States, pay taxes in Luxembourg and sell to Japan. Governments in the rich world dreamed of their national champions becoming world-beaters. Governments in the emerging world welcomed the jobs, exports and technology that global firms brought. It was a golden age. 

Central to the rise of the global firm was its claim to be a superior moneymaking machine. That claim lies in tatters (see Briefing). In the past five years the profits of multinationals have dropped by 25%. Returns on capital have slipped to their lowest in two decades. A strong dollar and a low oil price explain part of the decline. Technology superstars and consumer firms with strong brands are still thriving. But the pain is too widespread and prolonged to be dismissed as a blip. About 40% of all multinationals make a return on equity of less than 10%, a yardstick for underperformance. In a majority of industries they are growing more slowly and are less profitable than local firms that stayed in their backyard. The share of global profits accounted for by multinationals has fallen from 35% a decade ago to 30% now. For many industrial, manufacturing, financial, natural-resources, media and telecoms companies, global reach has become a burden, not an advantage.

That is because a 30-year window of arbitrage is closing. Firms’ tax bills have been massaged down as low as they can go; in China factory workers’ wages are rising. Local firms have become more sophisticated. They can steal, copy or displace global firms’ innovations without building costly offices and factories abroad. From America’s shale industry to Brazilian banking, from Chinese e-commerce to Indian telecoms, the companies at the cutting edge are local, not global.
The changing political landscape is making things even harder for the giants. Mr Trump is the latest and most strident manifestation of a worldwide shift to grab more of the value that multinationals capture. China wants global firms to place not just their supply chains there, but also their brainiest activities such as research and development. Last year Europe and America battled over who gets the $13bn of tax that Apple and Pfizer pay annually. From Germany to Indonesia rules on takeovers, antitrust and data are tightening.

Mr Trump’s arrival will only accelerate a gory process of restructuring. Many firms are simply too big: they will have to shrink their empires. Others are putting down deeper roots in the markets where they operate. General Electric and Siemens are “localising” supply chains, production, jobs and tax into regional or national units. Another strategy is to become “intangible”. Silicon Valley’s stars, from Uber to Google, are still expanding abroad. Fast-food firms and hotel chains are shifting from flipping burgers and making beds to selling branding rights. But such virtual multinationals are also vulnerable to populism because they create few direct jobs, pay little tax and are not protected by trade rules designed for physical goods.

Taking back control
The retreat of global firms will give politicians a feeling of greater control as companies promise to do their bidding. But not every country can get a bigger share of the same firms’ production, jobs and tax. And a rapid unwinding of the dominant form of business of the past 20 years could be chaotic. Many countries with trade deficits (including “global Britain”) rely on the flow of capital that multinationals bring. If firms’ profits drop further, the value of stockmarkets will probably fall.
What of consumers and voters? They touch screens, wear clothes and are kept healthy by the products of firms that they dislike as immoral, exploitative and aloof. The golden age of global firms has also been a golden age for consumer choice and efficiency. Its demise may make the world seem fairer. But the retreat of the multinational cannot bring back all the jobs that the likes of Mr Trump promise. And it will mean rising prices, diminishing competition and slowing innovation. In time, millions of small firms trading across borders could replace big firms as transmitters of ideas and capital. But their weight is tiny. People may yet look back on the era when global firms ruled the business world, and regret its passing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Putin Era comes to America

Not only was the cake a rip-off of the 2013 Inaugural Ball cake, but it was mostly made of styrofoam

The New York Review of Books has a passion-driven article by Marsha Gessen summing up Trump's disturbing likeness to Putin.

This is a particularly stirring passage:

In his small-mindedness and lack of aspiration, Trump curiously resembles Putin, though the origins of the two men’s stubborn mediocrity could not be more different. Aspiration should not be confused with ambition—both men want to be ever more powerful and wealthier, but neither wants to be or even appear better. (One way in which Putin continuously reasserts his lack of aspiration is by making crude jokes at the most inappropriate times—as when, during a joint appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2013, he compared EU monetary policy to a wedding night: “No matter what you do, the result will be the same,” his way of lightly covering up the “you get fucked” punchline. Watch this video to see the German chancellor cringe.

Trump marked his first moments in office by wielding power vengefully: the head of the D.C. National Guard lost his job at noon, and between festivities the new president signed an executive order to begin undoing his predecessor’s singular achievement, the Affordable Care Act. He swept the White House website clean of substantive content on climate policy, civil rights, health care, and LGBT rights, took down the Spanish-language site, and added a biography of his wife that advertises her mail-order jewelry line. At the same time, as Trump moved through the day, he repeatedly turned his back on his wife. He immediately degraded the look of the oval office by hanging gold drapes...

Russian sociologist Lev Gudkov has theorized that the Soviet totalitarian system, which ruled through violence and fear, created a society in which all initiative was suppressed, personal and professional growth was all but impossible, and the entire society became stagnant. As a result, the word “elite” became a misnomer in Russian: the people with the greatest access to money and power did not perform the traditional tasks of setting priorities, tastes, and the agenda for progress. In the absence of social mobility, there was no aspiration. In addition, because there was no mechanism for transfer of power and the powerful were forever frightened of losing it, the country became a gerontocracy, but also something else too: a kakistocracy.

The rule of the worst seemed to become a thing of the past in the 1990s, but under Putin mediocrity returned with a vengeance. Not only did the media come under the control of the Kremlin but it acquired an amateurish quality. Not only did the government start lying, but did so in dull, simple, and unimaginative language. Putin’s government is filled with people who plagiarized their dissertations—as did Putin himself. The ministers are subliterate. The minister of culture, who has a doctorate in history, regularly exposes his ignorance of history; indeed, Trump might be tempted to plagiarize the minister’s dissertation, which begins with the assertion that the criterion of truth in history is determined solely by the national interests of Russia—if it’s good for the country, it must be true (much of the rest of the dissertation is itself plagiarized). Other ministers provide the differently minded Russian blogosphere with endless hours of fun because they use words the meaning of which they clearly don’t know, or ones that don’t exist—as when a newly chosen education minister invented a word that seemed to mean that she had been appointed to the cabinet by God. They also make ignorant, repressive, inhumane policy. But their daily subversion of integrity and principle is indeed aesthetic in nature. And it serves a purpose: by degrading language and discrediting the spectacle of politics the Russian government is destroying the public sphere.

Sometimes vastly different processes yield surprisingly similar results. Trump is staging an assault on America’s senses that feels familiar to me—not because he admires Putin (though he does) or because he is Putin’s puppet, but because they seem to be genuinely kindred spirits. It might take a long time to understand why we have come to enter the age of a kakistocracy, but evidently we have.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Trump's Wall

Tiny wall built by artist Plastic Jesus about the Trump star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

From The Independent

“Build that wall,” they chanted at the Donald Trump campaign rallies last year. And build that wall he will. On his own terms, as the first step in honouring a solemn commitment made to the American people, Mr Trump is delivering. The initial executive order issued, he will then move on to the vast logistical challenge of building a physical obstacle around 2,000 miles long on the Mexico border.

Or not, as he has also sometimes indicated that it need not literally be a wall. Still, much of it will be a solid, high, forbidding barrier plonked right on the border with America’s increasingly brow-beaten southern neighbour. Mr Trump will also have to secure federal finding form the US Congress for the wall – and senators and congress members know there are better ways of spending about $20bn. Mr Trump will also have to reassure his supporters in Congress and in the country at large that he will indeed make the Mexicans pay for the wall, if only indirectly through a variety of fiscal measures – tariffs included.

So the political and financial path to building the wall is clear enough, and it carries with it obvious formidable practical challenges. It could be done, if enough federal money and effort was thrown at it: after all, America put a man on the moon and developed the world’s largest economy. None of that, though, makes this anything other than a reckless, crazy and, in the end, useless monument to a sort of moment of populist madness in America’s political history – whether it is visible from space or not. Trump’s wall will for decades stand as a reminder of what went badly wrong with American democracy in the early decades of the 21st century. That will, though, be about the limits of its usefulness.

For the Mexican wall to be truly effective, it will require the same kind of infrastructure and manpower that has characterised similar exercises in the past and present. The Berlin Wall, for example, had an elaborate network of watchtowers and was permanently patrolled. The wall Israel is building – illegally – around its claimed territory is also supported by the presence of the Israeli defence force. The DMZ between the two Koreas is also bristling with troops and armaments. All would be dwarfed, though, by the Trump wall, and the reality is that no American administration, not even one as bull-headed as Mr Trump’s, would commit to the ruinous expense of operating permanent impenetrable military operation across its length.

It would, indeed, be cheaper to pay any Mexican would-be migrants not to cross the border than to divert a substantial proportion of America’s military to this absurdist exercise. Just because the people voted for it does not make it a good idea.

As a wedge of concrete stretching unsupervised across the continent, the Trump wall would be comparatively easy to tunnel under, get across or simply go around by the eastern or western seaboards, a sort of comical version of the Maginot Line the German army found so irrelevant in 1940.

As we in Europe witnessed these past few years with the wave of desperate refugees traversing the Mediterranean, taking their lives in their hands, there is no end to imagine the courage and despair that will drive hitherto sane humans to put their lives and those of their families at risk if they are fearful enough. Mexican and other migrants will find easier ways to get into the United States, if needs be on a passenger jet: forged documents, bogus stories about families, collusion by corrupt officials on either side of the border. Mr Trump’s wall, in other words, is unlikely to prevent illegal migration, even if manages to reduce it temporarily. The flow will redirect to the line of least resistance, as it always does.

Past presidents have other physical reminders of their achievements and the nation's gratitude to them: space centres, peace centres, airports, dams, schools and hospitals. The greatest have grand memorials in the national mall. Mr Trump, aside from his garish hotels, will have the world’s longest and most useless strip of concrete, scarring the landscape and disrupting nature itself.

It will be as ugly and oppressive as its counterparts in Israel/Palestine and Korea, and just as symbolic of catastrophic political failure. With luck, Mr Trump’s wall will run out of political backing and money before its foundations are laid; if it ever does proceed to some sort of obscene formal “opening” ceremony with president Trump or his successors, it will, in its grotesque way, be a fitting memorial.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Britannia's Wolf, and the real Hobart Pasha

Guest Post from Antoine Vanner -- author of Britannia's Wolf, one of my favorite maritime historical thrillers.

A key role is played in Britannia's Wolf by Hobart Pasha, the Englishman who commanded the Ottoman Navy during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. It is he who is responsible for bringing Nicholas Dawlish to Turkey and for assigning him his missions.

Several readers have contacted me to ask if Hobart was indeed a real-life character. Not only is the answer "Yes - he was!" but he indeed had one of the most remarkable - and spectacular careers - of any naval officer in the mid-nineteenth century.
When Hobart died in 1886 London's Daily Telegraph newspaper described him thus in his obituary:
“Of the fearless, dashing, adventurous Englishman, ready to go anywhere and do anything, Hobart was a brilliantly representative type.”

He was the antithesis of the image we have of rigid and staid Victorians and his autobiography is full of often racy humour.
Hobart's adventurous life included anti-slavery patrols, a duel (he won, of course), a murder charge, helping Prince Albert to enjoy a cigar without Queen Victoria knowing, an encounter with the Pope, the Crimean War, blockade-running for the Southern Confederacy, dodging the Union Navy with an early version of a stealth vessel and trading profitably in ladies' undergarments before embarking on his career in the Ottoman Navy.

Hobart’s life – and his daring, swashbuckling, rebellious, generous and fundamentally decent character – is proof that many heroes of naval fiction may be but pale reflections of the reality of the ages of sail, steam and empire.

And here is his story, taken from Antoine Vanner's marvelous website, THE DAWLISH CHRONICLES

Hobart Pasha: A Forgotten Victorian Hero

“Of the fearless, dashing, adventurous Englishman, ready to go anywhere and do anything, Hobart was a brilliantly representative type.”

Thus, on his death in 1886, the Daily Telegraph’s obituary described Hobart Pasha, head of the Ottoman Navy, to whom  Nicholas Dawlish found himself reporting in late 1877, as recounted in Britannia’s Wolf. Hobart’s service in Turkey was however only one episode in a career that was as colourful and as unlikely as that of Cochrane, the naval hero to whom he bears most resemblance. It was to prove an inspiration to Dawlish himself.

Hobart is largely – and undeservedly – forgotten today. The following is a short account of his life and exploits. It draws on Hobart’s own lively “Sketches from My Life.”


Born in 1822, Charles Augustus Hobart-Hampden was of aristocratic parentage – his father was the Earl of Buckinghamshire. He was however a third son and as such, like other younger sons of his class, was expected to make his own way in the world. Having shown little aptitude for schoolwork, his family decided that he should enter the Royal Navy. He was thirteen years old.

He joined by a well established route – the patronage of a relative. “A young cousin of mine who had been advanced to the rank of captain, more through the influence of his high connections than by any merit of his own, condescended to give me a nomination in a ship he has just commissioned,” Hobart wrote fifty years later. The ties of kinship brought him thus far, and no further. Joining a tradition-dominated sailing navy that was practically unchanged since Nelson’s death, and which still basked in his reflected glory, Hobart found himself exposed as a midshipman to a regime of petty – and not so petty – tyranny which he could only write about with bitterness in later life. Some of the instances he quoted still horrify:

“I have seen a captain order his steward to be flogged, almost to death, because his pea-soup was not hot.”

“On one occasion the captain of whom I have been writing invited a friend to breakfast with him and there being, I suppose, a slight monotony in the conversation, he asked his friend whether he would like, for his diversion, to see a man flogged. The amusement was accepted, and the man was flogged.”

Hobart himself was not immune from what he described as “most shameful treatment” during the three years spent on his cousin’s ship. “I had become …so utterly hardened to it that I seemed to feel quite indifferent,” he wrote. “I had learnt many a lesson of use to me in after life, the most important of all being to sympathise with other people’s miseries and to make allowances for the faults and shortcomings of humanity.”

Much of this period was spent off South America and Hobart survived, stronger and more confident.
Another trait was however already obvious: “Experience is a hard taskmaster and it taught me to be somewhat insubordinate in my notions. I fear that this spirit of insubordination has never left me.”
By his sixteenth birthday, though committed to a naval career, Hobart had decided to play, when needed, by his own rules.

First Blood

It was in Spain, during the First Carlist War (1832-39), that Hobart first saw action, being attached to a Naval Brigade sent to assist the forces of Queen Christina against those of her cousin Don Carlos. During the defence of  San Sebastian Hobart found himself standing next to his commander, Lord John Hay, “when a shell dropped right in the middle of us, and was, I thought, going to burst, as it did.” Not unreasonably, Hobart threw himself down only to receive what he described as a severe kick from his commander who had remained standing and who said “Get up, you cowardly rascal; are you not ashamed of yourself?”

Hobart wrote that he did get up, and was ashamed of himself, but that “My pride helped me out of the difficulty and I flinched no more.” Touchingly, Lord John called him over afterwards and “after apologising in the most courteous manner for the kick, he gave me his hand (poor fellow! He had already lost one arm fighting for his country) and said 'Don’t be discouraged youngster!' … and so I was happy.”

The First Carlist War 1833-39  - a savage conflict now largely forgotten

Soon afterwards Hobart found himself appointed to another ship – this time a happy one - and headed once more for South America. He was to spend several years off Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina and penetrated to the interior as far as Paraguay, participating in a desperate forcing of a boom across the Paraguay River when the government there tried to bar access to British trading interests. Hobart recorded matter-of-factly in his memoirs that “the vessel I belonged to had 107 shots in her hull, and thirty-five out of seventy men killed and wounded.” Most of Hobart’s service in these years was involved with suppression of the slave-trade, though he found time to get involved in an impromptu duel in Rio de Janeiro in which a brother officer killed a Brazilian who had spat on him during a ball. Hobart noted that “such a terrible row was made about the affair … that I was not allowed to land for many months”.

Slave Trade Suppression

Though the Slave Trade was banned by international agreement, slavery itself remained legal in Brazil until 1888. The demand for slaves there was enough to make running of new slaves across from Angola a profitable, but risky enterprise, since the Royal Navy operated patrols to intercept them. Hobart served on this duty for 1841 to 1845. His view of Brazilian slavery is a disturbing one for the modern reader. He had first-hand experience of the horrors of the transportation but was by no means convinced that the lot of the slaves was worse on the plantations, when they reached them, than they would have had in Africa. Liberated slaves were sent to the British colony of Demerara – now Guyana – where they were “apprenticed” for seven years, a condition Hobart considered as slavery under another name.

British Anti-Slavery vessels cruising off the Brazilian coast sent their open boats on “detached service” to establish a patrol line, keeping contact only every two or three days. Not yet twenty, Hobart typically found himself in command of a ten-oared cutter, two four-oared whalers and a total force, including himself, of twenty well-armed men. He intercepted numerous slavers, typically brigs or schooners of less than 500 tons.

On one typical occasion a single ship contained 460 captives and had been eight-five days at sea. “They were short of water and provisions,” Hobart wrote. “Small-pox, ophthalmia and diarrhoea in its worst form had broken out…On opening the hold we saw a mass of arms, legs and bodies all crushed together. Many of the bodies to whom these limbs belonged were dead or dying…. Water! Water! Was the cry. Many of them as soon as they were free jumped into the sea, partly because they had been told that, if taken by the English they would be tortured and eaten.”

There was worse. “Just after I got on board and unfortunate creature was delivered of a child close to where I was standing, and jumped into the sea, baby and all... she was saved with much difficulty.”

On another occasion Hobart captured a ship carrying some 600 slaves. He consoled the captain for his loss – “as he really seemed half a gentleman” - but ophthalmia had already blinded many of the captives and Hobart himself caught it so that “for several days I could not see a yard.”

Hobart was to be seriously wounded during another boarding operation: “As I was making a jump on board I saw the white of the eye of a great black man turned on me; he brandished a huge axe, which I had a sort of presentiment was intended for me. I sprang as it were straight at my destiny, for as I grasped the gunnel down came the axe, and I received the full edge of the beastly thing across the back of my hand. I fell into the water, but was picked up by my sailors.” Hobart gave the credit for saving his hand to a young surgeon “who bound the wound in a most scientific manner” and he carried the scar to his grave.

A Brush with a Murder Charge

In his memoirs Hobart hints at a number of love affairs in Brazil but his attentions to the daughter of the Governor of Demerara, led to a duel with another suitor who insulted him during a game of whist. Hobart called him out “and next morning put a bullet into his ankle, which prevented his dancing for a long time to come.” The governor, outraged as much by Hobart’s lack of means as by his pursuit of his daughter demanded that he leave the colony, only to be told that Hobart would please himself and was not under his orders. This response “made things worse. I thought the old boy would have a fit.” Calculating however that his income of £120 a year could not keep a wife, Hobart decided to forget the daughter and soon afterwards learned that she had married the wounded suitor.

Royal Navy Anti-Slavery Patrol; HMS Brisk engaging slave Emanuela

Shortly afterwards a Portuguese vessel bound for Africa, and obviously equipped for slaving, was captured off Parnambuco. Hobart’s commanding officer instructed him to take the ship, with a prize crew of six besides himself, to Cape Town. Also on board, for trial on arrival, were the slaver’s master and three of his crew. The master insinuated himself into Hobart’s good graces to such an extent that “we worked our daily navigation together, played at cards together, in fact were quite chums” and the other slaver crew were allowed considerable liberty, though confined at night. Because of the heat Hobart slept on deck, luckily with a pistol under his pillow. One night, after a “pleasant chatty evening” with his prisoner, Hobart woke to find this same prisoner attacking him with a knife.

“To draw my pistol from under my pillow was the work of a second,” Hobart wrote. “To fire it into the body of the man who was trying to stab me, that of another”. He sprang to his feet, hearing noises from forward, and hurried there leaving his assailant “dead as a door nail.” At the forecastle “I saw one of the prisoners in the act of falling overboard, and another extended full length on the deck, while my stalwart quarter-master was flourishing a handspike with which he had knocked one of his assailants overboard and floored the other.” Hobart suspected that the seaman at the wheel, who claimed to have seen nothing, was complicit. He as clapped in irons and he indeed confessed soon after that he had been bribed to participate in taking over the ship.

Hobart’s handling of the aftermath was brisk. “I buried the captain at sea without further ceremony; the man who fell overboard I suppose was drowned (I did not try to pick him up); the man knocked down was put in irons and all went smoothly for the rest of the voyage.” There was trouble at the Cape however. “When I arrived without the captain the lawyers wanted to make out that I had murdered him, and I was very nearly sent to prison on the charge of murder.”

But on this, as so many other occasions, Hobart escaped. It was the end of his Anti-Slavery patrol work but the experience he has gained in stopping blockade-runners would be put to good use in the future – and then he would be doing the running.

Royal and Papal Encounters

Hobart’s next appointment, in 1845, could not have been a greater contrast with what had gone before for, possibly through family connections, he was appointed to the Queen’s yacht, the Victoria and Albert.

Royal Yacht HMY "Victoria and Albert"

This service involved a number of foreign trips, including a voyage up the Rhine to Stolzenfels to visit the King of Prussia. Hobart saw a side of her husband that the Queen may have been unaware of, as she disapproved of smoking and it was only “through the kind consideration of the Prince Consort that we were allowed to indulge in an occasional cigar in the cow-house.” Albert himself was “always ready to join us in a cigar and its accompanying friendly conversation.” The cows referred to, two Alderneys, were kept for supplying the Queen with fresh milk and butter and Hobart once again found himself in hot water when he painted the noses and horns of these animals “a pretty light blue”. It took Albert himself to extricate him from this scrape.

Now a lieutenant, Hobart was now posted to the Mediterranean where the alarums and excursions associated with Italian unification were in full swing. The Papal States were under attack by Garibaldi’s forces, making the Pope, Pius IX, a virtual prisoner in the Vatican. A French force had been sent to intervene on the Pope’s behalf. Britain’s Lord Palmerston played somewhat of an honest-broker role and Hobart found himself appointed to carry despatches to the Pope, to Garibaldi and the French General Oudinot. On his first visit the Pope gave Hobart “his hand to kiss and congratulated me on having been so firm in obeying orders in relation to my despatches.” Hobart thereafter found himself galloping back and forth between the French and Garibaldian camps with further messages “having on my arm a red scarf for a sign that I was not a belligerent” but being fired on anyway.

The conclusion of the episode was the escape of the Pope, “enveloped in the large cloak of an English coachman”, on a French warship. Hobart, if nobody else, seems to have enjoyed the entire episode hugely.

War with Russia

Though the Crimean War was the only major war that Britain fought with a European power in Hobart’s lifetime he says very little about it in his memoirs, despite having distinguished himself. This reflects his reluctance to do more than hint at the general inefficiency and lack of drive associated with British naval operations in both the Baltic and the Black Sea. “A finer fleet never sailed or steamed from Spithead than that destined for the Baltic in 1854,” Hobart wrote, and it was under the command of Sir Charles Napier, known as “’Fighting Old Charley’. Hobart remarked however that “it was not long before we discovered that there was not much fight left in him.”

Departure of the Baltic Expedition from Spithead 1854

Hobart was convinced that the Russian base of Kronstadt could have been captured immediately but effort was focussed instead on the insignificant fort of Bomarsund in the Aland Islands. Though Hobart was mentioned in despatches for his role in this he appears to have “given my opinion too freely, as I was left out in the cold” when promotions were given in the aftermath. When he challenged Napier on this he was told “Don’t ye come crying to me, Sir; you are a lord’s son; I’ll have nothing to do wi’ ye!”

Thirty years later Hobart was to deliver the devastating judgement that “if ever open mutiny was displayed – not by the crews of the ships, but by many of the captains, men who had attained the highest rank in their profession – it was during the cruise in the Baltic in 1854.” A new commander was appointed for the theatre the following year and Hobart was given command of a squadron of mortar-boats for shore attack, but Kronstadt had been so heavily reinforced by now by the Russians that its capture was not attempted.

Bombardment of Bomasund 1854

Now promoted to Commander, Hobart was awarded his own ship and sent to join the fleet off Sebastopol – his first experience of the Black Sea which was to play such a prominent role in his later career. The Crimean War ended soon after his arrival. A period of peace-time Mediterranean service followed, giving Hobart ample opportunity to indulge in his passion for shooting birds and game, and activity that absorbs almost as much space in his memoirs as his other adventures.

Blockade-Running for the Confederacy

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861 Hobart had attained the rank of Post-Captain. He found himself “shelved”, in his own expression, and expected to wait up some four years before he could expect an appropriate command. Unwilling to remain idle, Hobart and three other officers in the same position “looked about for some enterprise, as something to do … the upshot of it was that we thought of trying if we could not conceive of some plan for breaking through the much-talked of blockade of the Southern States of America” by the Union Government. Like many in Britain, Hobart’s sympathies were strongly with the Confederacy, but he was not averse to earning something in the process of assisting it.

In his memoirs Hobart breezily skates over the problem of commissioned officers in the Royal Navy assisting a rebellion against a nation with which Great Britain had peaceful, if not necessarily cordial, relations. “We lent our minds, if not our bodies, to certain alter egos, whom we inspired, if we did not personally control, as to their line of conduct,” he wrote. “My man I will call Roberts, whose adventures I now give, and in whose name I now write. There are people who insist that I was Captain Roberts; all that such people have to do is to prove that I was that ‘miscreant,’ whoever he may have been.” Hobart’s memoirs then continue in the first-person.

The most heavily blockaded Confederate ports were Charleston, Savannah and Wilmington, the difficulty of approach compounded by forts occupied by Union forces. The blockade was a close one, Union cruisers patrolling right up to the shore line. The nearby British possessions of Bermuda and the Bahamas offered bases however for blockade-runners who could not be pursued into, or boarded in, what amounted to British territorial waters.

A Union vessel in chase of a Confederate blockade runner

Hobart offers few details in his memoirs of the financing of his operations but he took command initially of a twin-screw, 400 ton, 250 horsepower, 180 foot steamer, “as handy a little craft was ever floated.” The crew consisted of himself, three officers, three engineers, ten seamen and eighteen stokers, the number of the latter emphasising the need for speed at all times. All were British, so highly paid that “men-of-war on the Wet India station found it a difficult mater to prevent their crews from deserting.”  Hobart prepared his vessel by lowering the masts and funnel and by hiding the boats to reduce her profile, by painting her a dull grey, and by arranging to blow off steam underwater to minimise noise. The furnaces were stoked only with best anthracite to minimise smoke. His measures went so far as to carry no roosters in the hen-coop lest they crow at an inopportune moment.

In his memoirs Hobart details several hair-raising trips into Charleston and Wilmington, as well as a failed attempt to reach Savannah, making maximum use of darkness, mist and bad weather. On more than one occasion he passed unseen within yards of a Union gunboat and he made light of “a broadside from a savage little gun-boat” on his second trip, whose shot passed over his vessel. In another encounter he took another over-high broadside at fifty yards range that resulted only in damage to the funnel. “The marines on board of her kept up a heavy fire of musketry…but only wounded one of our men. Rockets were then throw up as signals to her consorts, two of which came down on us, but luckily made a bad guess at our position and closed with us on our quarter instead of our bow. They also opened fire, but did us no injury. At the moment there was no vessel in sight ahead; and as we were going at a splendid pace, were soon reduced our dangerous companions to three or four shadowy forms struggling astern without a hope of catching us.”

Confederate blockade-runner "Ella and Annie"   

The cargoes Hobart carried inwards through the blockade included blankets, shoes and “some mysterious cases marked ‘hardware’, about which no one asked any questions, but which the military authorities took possession of.” Hobart also traded on his own account and “before leaving England I had met a Southern lady, who, on my inquiring what was most needed by her compatriots in the beleaguered States replied curtly; ‘Corsages, sir, I reckon.’” Before leaving Glasgow on his first trip Hobart “visited an emporium that seemed to contain everything in the world; and I astonished the young fellow behind the counter by asking for a thousand pairs of stays.” Hobart was to dispose of these vital articles of every respectable lady’s underwear at a profit of nearly eleven hundred percent.
On the return trip Hobart carried bales of cotton, packed not just into the hold but piled closely on deck so as to leave only access to the cabins, engine-room and forecastle. When finally landed in Liverpool the cotton would fetch ten to fifteen times what it has been purchased for in the Confederacy.

Hobart’s memoirs give a fascinating outsider’s view of the privations of life in the Confederacy in its later years. His reputation brought him into easy contact with senior military and political figures, including Judah Benjamin, Jefferson Davis (“a stern-looking man who never smiled…and gave one the idea of a perfect gentleman”) and Robert E. Lee, who impressed Hobart as an “excellent man and good soldier” as he did all who ever met him.  Hobart remarked that Lee “was the only man I met during my travels who took a somewhat gloomy view of the military prospects of the country” and he noted that most others remained confident of victory even in the very last days of the Confederacy.
Apart from running the naval blockade Hobart decided to run what he termed “the land blockade” and find his ways from Richmond to Washington and New York, from where he could return to the Bahamas by regular passenger steamer. His motivation for this potentially suicidal journey is not explained in his memoirs and he was fully aware that “it was always a difficult matter to avoid the pickets of either party … and anyone they suspected of being a spy in those days had a short shrift and a long rope applied before he knew where he was.” The journey proved a difficult one through swamps and across rivers and involved hiding up in daytime while being devoured by sand flies, but Washington was at last reached safely. The rest of the journey back to the Bahamas appears to be uneventful. This incident is the only one in Hobart’s memoirs that is wholly inexplicable and one wonders if some unofficial diplomatic element was involved. He mentioned that he was carrying a packet of despatches for the correspondent of the London Times, but there may have been more to it than that.

Hobart’s last blockade-running venture ended in disaster. He had run into Wilmington twice on a new ship but as he came out in the second occasion yellow fever broke out on board – a disease usually fatal at the time. Hobart headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, to “inhale purer air”, losing men on the way and going down with the disease himself. He survived but “the game was fast drawing to a close” as the Confederacy was now collapsing and he decided to bring “Captain Roberts’s” career to a close.

Into the Sultan’s Service

Hobart was still a Royal Navy post-captain, and still awaiting a ship, when the American Civil War ended. One can but wonder how the late “Captain Roberts” was viewed at the Admiralty, and Hobart might have had similar concerns, for “more by accident than design” he visited Constantinople and presented himself to Fuad Pasha, Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire. The island of Crete was still an Ottoman possession but its Greek inhabitants were in revolt against their overlords, their insurrection supported by blockade-runners from the independent Kingdom of Greece. Identifying himself as a fox turned gamekeeper, Hobart presented himself as the best man to eliminate the Greek blockade-runners. He was immediately offered the position of Naval Adviser to the Ottoman Government, in succession to a British officer, Sir Adolphus Slade, who had just retired after twenty yeas service. By accepting the position Hobart seems to have caused considerable offence at the Admiralty in London, which considered the post as its own to award. “Even the frowns of the English Ambassador did not affect me a bit,” Hobart wrote. “I believe they called me ‘adventurer,’ ‘artful dodger,’ etc. but I was in every way as much entitled to this position as the Admiralty ‘pet,’ whoever he may have been.”

The Ottoman-Turkish Navy was equipped with expensive modern ships and weapons

On taking the position Hobart immediately equipped a small squadron, including a couple of fast despatch boats and a steam corvette. He established his patrols, not off Crete, but off the Greek port of Syra, from which the blockade-runners were being seen off “with flags flying, bands playing and the hurrahs of the entire population”, but staying carefully outside Greek territorial waters. Within weeks Hobart had cut off supplies to the Cretan insurgents and the revolt collapsed.
Hobart’s reward was to be removed, or “scratched”, from the Royal Navy list (he wrote to the Admiralty Board “You may scratch and be d-d!”) but was appointed a Full Admiral and Chief of Staff of the Imperial Ottoman Navy.

In his memoirs, written in the last months of his life, Hobart reveals little of his Ottoman service “because such anecdotes strike nearer home” and he was determined to be “offensive to no one.” The Ottoman Navy was expanded during his tenure and by the mid-1870s was rated the third most powerful in Europe, a fact aided by the Treaty of Paris of 1856, which brought the Crimean War to an end, prevented the Russian Empire from building significant naval forces in the Black Sea. Turkey also had significant Mediterranean, Adriatic and Red Sea commitments as well. War with Greece, no less than with Russia, was always a possibility. New ironclads and other vessels were purchased in Western Europe, mainly in Great Britain, Hobart’s greatest challenge was to build up the organisations, procedures, discipline and support structures to man them effectively. Financing of this force was a major drain on a corrupt and mismanaged administration.

As the “Sick Man of Europe” the Ottoman Empire was dependent on overseas loans that could only be serviced by ever-greater taxation of oppressed populations from the Balkans to Basra, from the deserts of Libya and Arabia to the foothills of the Caucuses.

Though a formal treaty was never entered into, it was an article of British foreign policy in this period that the Ottoman Empire must be shored up so as to counter Russian ambitions to control the Eastern Mediterranean and to menace British communications with India. These concerns had in them the seeds of a major European War, possibly even a World War.

Given the overwhelming naval forces at his disposal, Hobart felt considerable bitterness that considerably more could have been achieved against Russia when the Russo-Turkish War erupted in 1877. Incompetent Ottoman Army commanders were as little interested in cooperation with the Navy as they were with each other and Hobart commented that “it was hard on the gallant Turks, hard on the Sultan and his government, and hard on me, to see such magnificent chances thrown away.” He advocated more active use of naval forces in the Danube to prevent the crossing of the main Russian Army and “I was simply told to mind my own business and rejoin my ships, which were at that moment lying at the Sulina mouth of the Danube.”

Hobart’s objective was to dominate the Black Sea. This included blockading Odessa and Sevastopol and intercepting small fast Russian raiders that might sally from them; holding the Danube mouths and Batumi as forward bases. He also oversaw safe transportation of large bodies of troops by sea. This last included shifting forty-thousand troops from Albania to Salonika in just twelve days. An evacuation of a Turkish army from the Caucasian coast at Sukhumi, and of the local Muslim population, a total of over 50,000 people, was executed without loss. Wars however, as Churchill remarked, are not won by evacuations.

Though Ottoman defeat on land was total, Hobart took pride that “the fleet kept the command of the Black Sea during the whole of that disastrous war, cruising at times in the most fearful weather I have ever experienced, for twelve months in a sea almost without ports of refuge.” An increasing hazard in the last weeks of the war was the Russian use of self-propelled Whitehead torpedoes, “carrier vessels” being used to bring small attack craft within reach of the base of Batumi. These operations were masterminded by the future Admiral Makaroff, whose death off Port Arthur in 1904 probably removed the last hope of a Russian victory over the Japanese.

Last Years

Hobart remained another eight years in Turkey after the end of the Russo-Turkish War and appears to have enjoyed himself hugely as regards his favourite sport of shooting. He was less enamoured of international society at Constantinople and was scathing about the diplomatic corps and what he referred to as “the sacred circle” and “the swells”. The sixty-year old Admiral still had the same spirit of insubordination as the young midshipman.

Hobart's resentment of Istanbul's expartiate community may have had to do with its attitude to his second marriage - an undertaking that was wholly characteriytic of this independent-spirited man. An entry in the New York World after his death summarises what happened:

The news by cable of the death of the late Hobart Pasha was the ' finis' to as romantic a career as ever farmed the subject of a story, and not the least romantic chanter of it was the Pasha's second marriage in 1874. It sounds like the plot of an English novel, and the third volume still lives to mourn the loss of the hero. Hobart Pasha, as the papers told, when the story of his death came across the wires, was the fourth son of the Duke of Buckingham and a distinguished naval officer before he entered the Sultan's service and rose to Mahommedan honours and dignities that no Christian had ever before obtained. During the early part of his career, while he was still in the English service, a brother officer of his was so severely wounded that the surgeon announced to him the mortal nature of his injury. The dying man sent for the future Pasha to whom he was greatly attached and confided to him a secret. He had married a girl who was of rather humble parentage, and because of his family's opposition the marriage had been kept concealed, and the girl rested under a stigma. A child had been born to them just before he left England. Now that he had been told he was about to die he was anxious that it and its mother should be righted in the eyes of the world. Complications as to its proof had arisen by the death of witnesses, but he trusted to his friend Hobart to repair his fault " If you will pledge your honour for the truth of the marriage," he said, 'the world will believe you, and you will relieve me when I swear to you that it is so.' When Hobart, now become a Turkish officer, returned to England, he under took to comply with the request of his dead friend, but the young mother under the weight of her grief and the equivocal position she occupied had followed her husband, and the dead man's relatives, when he at last discovered the child, refused to acknowledge it. Nothing was left to him but to take care of the little orphan himself, so he accepted the charge with what grace he could muster, and when he left England, as he did soon after, he placed her at a famous school for girls in the Isle of Wight, where so many English women of rank have gotten their training and education. Then he went back to his duties and thought no more about her except to send an occasional letter full of good advice, with boxes of Turkish sweetmeats and trinkets. When she was seventeen years  old he got a letter from her full of passionate misery and stained with tears. Some girl enemy had discovered the mystery about her birth and taunted her with it, and she wanted him to come and take her somewhere, anywhere, away from girls who were cruel. So the tender hearted old sailor put himself aboard the next steamer for home and got his little protégé, though what he was to do with her he did not quite know. She was young; she was pretty; she clung to him with tenderest gratitude and love, and the hearts of even bronzed, gray-mustached old warriors are not proof against that, and so, as that, after all, seemed the quickest and simplest solution of the trouble, and they both wished it, they were married. And now at die age of twenty-nine she is left to mourn the loss of one of the most brilliant and daring commanders England ever produced.

“Originally endowed with a most vigorous physique,” according to the Daily Telegraph, Hobart’s health collapsed in 1886, “sapped at last by long years of hardship and fatigue.” He retired to the Riviera and occupied himself with his too-brief but vastly entertaining memoirs. He died shortly afterwards. His body was returned to Constantinople, and was buried on the Asian side, in the British Cemetery at Scutari, close to the troops had died at Nightingale’s hospital during the Crimean War.
Hobart’s life – and his daring, swashbuckling, rebellious, generous and fundamentally decent character – is proof that many heroes of naval fiction may be but pale reflections of the reality of the ages of sail, steam and empire.