CIA Documents on the Soviet Navy

July 18, 2018

This collection – CIA Analysis of the Soviet Navy – contains dozens of documents (where necessary, translated into English) tracing the development of the now-Russian navy from the 1960s through the 1980s. Ranging from onsite eyewitness reports to National Intelligence Estimates, this trove follows changing Soviet doctrine through the Cold War. An explanatory booklet – Soviet Navy: Intelligence and Analysis during the Cold War – is a worthy read in and of itself.

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U.S. Navy WW II Combat Narratives

July 11, 2018

These publications form “… a series of twenty-one published and thirteen unpublished Combat Narratives of specific naval campaigns produced by the Publications Branch of the Office of Naval Intelligence during World War II. Selected volumes in this series are being republished by the Naval Historical Center as part of the Navy’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of World War II.”

Originally printed in 1942-43, these slim volumes relied on available primary source materials augmented with selected interviews of the main participants. Although superseded by successive tomes that were based on years of scholarly research, these were at the time instructive and informative précis of major battles. The reprinted titles mostly deal with the Pacific war; a couple are in the ETO.

British Numerical Signals (1806 edition)

July 6, 2018

Buried in the remarkable Georgian Papers Online project is this 1806 British Numerical Signals volume. For those of us who read naval fiction and pay scant attention to the scenes where signals are being rapidly exchanged among ships, this tome is a revelation. Included in this tabbed book are five hundred different signals that form the lines of communication in both peace and war. For example, number 117 means “If the whole fleet to chace[sic], two guns” or number 251 denotes “The ships companies will have time for dinner or breakfast”. The initial pages are comprised of hand-colored signals, while the back pages list in alphabetical order the ships of the Royal Navy, each with its number of guns and its own unique numerical designation. I now have a new appreciation for the hard-working signals crew. I am gobsmacked!

Compare the above to Captain Marryat’s A code of signals for the use of vessels employed in the merchant service; including a cypher for secret correspondence (4th ed, 1826); while this work was intended for the merchant marine, all commissioned ships in the Royal Navy were required to carry a copy of this work. (Preface)

An Easy Way To Access the Hundreds of Naval Biographies in the Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900 edition)

July 4, 2018

I have recently found out that the 900 naval biographies in this valuable resource were written by John Knox Laughton; this site lists his contributions along with a link to the individual entries.

French Voyages to Australia

June 27, 2018

While most of us think of the “discovery” of Australia to be solely a British endeavor, it must be pointed out that there was a French presence as well. According to whom you read, there is much controversy over the claimed fact that a Frenchman got to Australia first. (A very informative overview of French maritime exploration of Australia is found here.) The following are English translations of French expeditions to the land down under:

This three-volume compilation – Terra australis cognita : or, Voyages to the Terra australis, or Southern hemisphere, during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries (1766-68) – includes French voyages to Australia as well. This translated work was originally authored by Charles de Brosses in 1756 and includes a strong argument to develop the territory; it may have influenced James Cook.

Narrative of a Voyage Around the World in the Uranie and Physicienne…. is the 1823 translation of a voyage that lasted from 1817 to 1820; it was undertaken at the behest of the French Academy of Sciences. It is written as a series of letters home and includes much description of the various lands encountered. Of relevance here are the letters written from New Holland (Australia).

James Burney sailed with Cook and between 1803 and 1817 he produced his five-volume compilation A chronological history of the discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean that provides a very comprehensive listing of all forays made into this area. This was considered the standard work through the 19th century.

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Trails West: Primary and Secondary Sources

June 20, 2018

Across the Plains, Mountains and Desert is a bibliography of almost 4500 items of primary and secondary sources dealing with the overland trails from 1812 to 1912. (Where available, links are provided to the full text document.) As is stated in the preface “This bibliography does not discriminate against fur traders, Frenchmen,soldiers, expressmen, merchants, miners bound for Pikes Peak or Montana, or Mormons bound for Utah. If a man, woman, or child left an account of their experiences crossing the northern overland route across the Great Plains, whether going of east or west, I hope it appears here.” (8) Other more specialized sites include Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, Travels in America, 1750 to 1920, Mountain Men and the Fur TradeThe Gold Rush of California: A Bibliography of Periodical Articles, “California As I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of Early California, 1849-1900, Oregon Trail Emigrant Resources, and the Merrill J Mattes Collection (trail diaries).

Backgrounds of Royal Navy Surgeons

June 6, 2018

I have come across two recent studies by the same author that shed some light on the educational backgrounds of surgeons during the Age of Sail. Combing various archival and primary sources, Christopher H Myers has uncovered some fascinating data. Please peruse The Demography of Royal Navy Surgeons: Some Views on the Process of Prosopography, Journal of World-Historical Information, 2-3(#1, 2014-2015); and his Explaining the Socio-Economic Demographics of Victorian Naval Medicine.

Sea Terms in Everyday Language

May 30, 2018

People do not realize how the English language has been enriched by borrowing nautical terms and incorporating them into daily life. This list goes a long way in showing how the sea has contributed to the complexity of our mother tongue. For a more scholarly approach, please consult the various pages you find here.

The Latest National Maritime Heritage Grant Recipients Announced

May 24, 2018

The National Park Service has recently posted the latest beneficiaries of its re-vitalized National Maritime Heritage awards program. More than $2.6 million will be disbursed in this go-round to dozens of worthy projects. Many do not realize that the NPS also preserves and promotes maritime locations; it is simply not the custodian of land-based sites. An extensive listing of maritime-related national parks is available. Program background is here; you might be interested in how funding for this program is generated.

1759 – A “Year of Miracles”

May 21, 2018

The Royal Navy in 1759 met with resounding success on several fronts during the brutal Seven Years’ War (the French and Indian War to those in the North American colonies). What follows are links to both primary and secondary sources on these important battles.

The Battle of Lagos, off Portugal in August 1759, foiled a French invasion fleet. This engagement effectively destroyed the French Mediterranean fleet. Unfortunately, this battle is overlooked for reasons I cannot fathom. Notices in the London Gazette can be perused for further elucidation.

The fall of Quebec began the erosion of French hegemony in North America. The British fleet played a major role in the taking of this fortress, but its contributions are overshadowed by the Wolfe/Montcalm dynamic. Contemporary sources are Naval Chronicle, vol.3, pp.420+; and numerous notices in the 1759 London Gazette. I would also recommend A Journal of the expedition up the river St. Lawrence [electronic resource] : containing a true and particular account of the transactions of the fleet and army, from the time of their embarkation at Louisbourg ’til after the surrender of Quebec. (1759; repr. 1868?).

The Battle of Quiberon Bay further diminished the fighting capacity of the French navy by defeating its Atlantic fleet. Sources include the  December 22, 1759 London Gazette; Naval Chronicle, volume 3, pp. 389+. For a fascinating look at the exchange of letters, orders, and reports to and from the Admiralty and serving officers off the French coast in 1759, I recommend dipping into the “Achilles Letters – 1759″ contained within the “Barrington Papers”.

The 1759 volume of the Annual Register contains a review of the war  – “History of the Present War” as well as “State Papers” – primary source documents.

A 1760 compilation of most of the gazettes that pertain to the above – An Authentic register of the British successes [electronic resource] : being a collection of all the extraordinary and some of the ordinary gazettes from the taking of Louisbourg, July 26, 1758 by the Hon. Adm. Boscawen and Gen Amherst, to the defeat of the French fleet under M. Conflans, Nov. 21, 1759 by Sir Edward Hawke…. -adds to the feeling of contemporary involvement with this string of victories.

Some other noteworthy secondary sources that cover the above include:

Battles of the British Navy, (new edition, revised and enlarged, 1853), pp.195+

British battles on land and sea, 4 vols, 1897. vol.2, pp.98+

Search the Royal Museums Greenwich collections for maps/charts, medals, commemorative badges, paintings, and the like for the above conflicts.