NAVAL MUTINIES

If you do the proverbial Google search for naval mutinies, you will get many pages returned [I got to 15 and then called time on it] on mutinies which occurred in many navies over many years not to mention just a few centuries.

For our British purposes, it was no surprise that just about on each of those 15 pages viewed, there is the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. Most are self-claimed as being high on the [imaginary] list of famous [perhaps a better word would have been infamous] mutinies, but there are many more clearly missing from the  list without even a mention unless they are late on well past page 15! Here I am thinking about Invergordon,  but further back in 1797, those of great significance at Spithead and in the Nore Command and at Portsmouth's Queen Street Barracks in 1905. If they are not mentioned, what then of a mutiny I witnessed in my submarine HMS Auriga in 1964 whilst enjoying an R&R break at Ireland Island, Bermuda, which although not registered as such officially - it doesn't stand a chance of a mention.  Without repeating myself, if interested in Auriga's story have a look HERE with the following choices to choose from. The link 'look HERE' opens,  is an extremely busy page having many main theme stories in it. You are looking for story number 6 - Not like Invergordon....' Scroll down to No 6. Then to read the Auriga story continue scrolling down until on the left you see a picture of my ICE CERTIFICATE and almost opposite it a picture showing "The wild and windy coast line of Newfoundland". Stop at that point! Just above the Ice picture is text and you are looking for "Then came a peaceful Christmas". Start reading from there. Alternatively you can read all of story 6, or all the stories on this page, but whatever you do, don't get distracted from this story about naval mutinies.

Naval mutinies have invariably affected ships either individually or groups of them [where crews have had the same grievances] but rarely in the face of the enemy or in an ongoing action.  However, it all depends on how one defines a mutiny, for the 'doing word', the verb of mutiny, is refusing to obey the orders of a person in authority, and for my purposes, we mean literally obey, to the letter! . If a naval officer is told by his superior to sink an enemy ship but cannot at that time do so, because he himself is disadvantaged in a manner not perceive by his superior at the time of giving the order,  and considers it wise to withdrawn from an action to await a more opportune time, has he disobeyed or is his appraisal of the situation wise that it is better to live and to fight another day,  full well knowing that that time will come?

We can quite easily apply such a case to a known officer, a man who had already been promoted to the rank of an admiral; had served loyally in the navy for 39 years and now aged 52,  engaged in much naval warfare discharging his duties with merit, and then was given a poisoned chalice, manifest in being given a task without the requisite money or materiel and not allowed the prerequisite of good, or at least adequate planning time to execute the event with customary confidence, and moreover, in vessels hardly considered fine vessels, in deed some of them were anything but! . History records these facts which are supported in letters and dispatches receive in England  by Their Lordships in the Admiralty.  His task was to stop the enemy from landing a huge number of troops ashore to fight a lesser number of British soldiers on the ground on British territory. The sea battle commenced notwithstanding the inadequacies already alluded to, the result being an undisputed draw in that the human losses were on par with one another and none of the ships on either side suffered debilitating action damage. It was a stand-off with the British admiral staying offshore of this British territory and the enemy's admiral nowhere to be seen and this situation lasting for "four days."  The British admiral called his captains to his flag ship and there, all were in agreement that they should relocate to another nearby British territory better able to help them re-provision and make good any damage sustained before returning to the fray where the British troops were engaged in land warfare against the enemy troops landed by the enemy fleet. This was the British admirals full intention acquiesced by his subordinate officers in command of vessel in company.

Putting meat on the bone, this was the case of the hapless Admiral John  Byng, recorded as I  said in history, acknowledged by admirers and accusers alike as being the facts of the case, and yet Admiral Byng was accused of mutiny in all but word, for he had "not done enough" to stop the French from landing their troops ashore. In short, he had not literally carried out the command of Their Lordships, and yet all those at sea in-situ vouched for Admiral Byng's gutsy attempt to deny the French their aspiration. The British territory was Menorca, and the British haven was of course Gibraltar, a colony whose protagonists in this affair were quick to explain Admiral Byng's modus operandi to Their Lordships on on his arrival in port and his expressed desire that the support requested would be expedited  in order that he could return to Menorca to continue the fight now better able to do so that when he had sailed to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic. The days of the swashbuckling British Admirals were to be many many years hence of this time, and Nelson wasn't even born when the Admiralty Court Marshal carried out its verdict against Byng! . Byng belonged to a group of admirals who were quietly [almost unknown] carrying out their duties fighting the French Royal Navy, proven as competent as the British Royal Navy and a highly competitive group of combatants. Byng was no fool, no coward, competent, long serving and loyal, but aggrieved at receiving such a poisoned chalice that many other contemporary admirals would have shunned given the chance. 

Remember that the Royal Navy had abruptly stopped being the Royal Navy when Cromwell took over from the Cavaliers/King's men and headed-up the Commonwealth at the time of the execution of King Charles 1. The Commonwealth navy whose leading admiral Admiral Blake [also a full general in the Cromwellian Army]  was known as the father of the navy. Fortunately our revolution, better known as the English Civil War, only lasted from 1649 until 1660 when King Charles II took the throne at the start of the Restroation, whereas the French Revolution lasted a great deal longer but their changes were to be lasting and for eternity. We therefore had some knowledge about naval loyalties!

The real blame rested with the swivel-chair admirals in London who were panicked into action to stop a French Fleet whose distance from Toulon to Menorca is 245 miles [213 nautical miles], and given that they had no fleet in the vicinity had to sail a fleet over a course of many ten times that distance to meet the enemy. Odds which are virtually impossible, and Bing was used as a scapegoat!.

The outcome, despite huge support for the admiral, was that Byng was found guilty of 'not doing enough' , ergo failing in his duty and as such  did fail  [or refused] to carry out an order which spellt mutiny. For that he received the death penalty and was shot to death by marines on a British warship at Portsmouth. Given the adverse criticism of that time expressed around the bazaars, the corridors of power [however perverse and cruel that was] and the broadsheets of the day, I wonder just how those marines forming the firing squad must have felt and must have hated themselves for pulling their triggers.

Think on, what might have happened if Hyde Parker had fully chastised Nelson at Copenhagen for his insubordination and disobeying his expressive order?

Now lets turn to the daddy of all mutinies [this one with a goodly amount of objectivity as well as subjectivity] where objective deals with facts only and subjective mainly with top-loaded emotions - you'll readily recognise which is which.

It was a mutiny [without doubt] called the Quiberon Mutiny and involved the large French Naval Squadron/Fleet  based on Brest, north west corner of France with direct and unhindered access to the Atlantic Ocean.

It involved Royalist naval officers only although some of the ratings and some junior officers, were markedly ambivalent!

The outcome of the mutiny involved personal human grief and suffering but more than that, not only did it destroy the French Royal Navy, but the French Republican Navy which followed, which without reserve, gave carte blanche to the British Royal Navy to roam the seas as un-opposed 'omnipotent king pins' part destroying the myths that our navy could easily outgun the French Navy at will, when the truth of the matter is that for French Navy ALWAYS read French Republican Navy, a mere shadow of the former pre Revolution French Royal Navy. It is not the intention of this page to do down our famous swashbuckling admirals and all they achieved to make the Great in Great Britain stand-up and be counted by all comers who would attempt to attack our trade routes and more importantly to invade our shores. No person of sound mind and heart would attempt to destroy Nelson's legacy and with it the legacy left by Collingwood, Cochrane, Cornwallis, Parker inter alia , but the truth of the matter is that post 1793 the French Republican Navy had slipped from the Premier League down to the Championship League and their cutting-edge had been visibly blunted for all wars involving the French from 1794 onwards [The Glorious 1st of June]. It is written that French Republican Vice-Admiral  Francois-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers [Nile] and French Republican Admiral Villeneuve [Trafalgar] were hampered by the officer corps prominent in their fleets many of whom were political devotees rather than professional and dedicated mariners.

The following text tells the story.

 Admiral Sir John Jervis and General Sir Charles Grey, exhausted by the climate and the service, and finding it impossible to struggle any longer for Guadaloupe, with any possibility of success, embarked for England resigning their commands** to Sir John Vaughan and Admiral Caldwell, who brought with him three ships of the line.  The English officers were now nearly destroyed by the pestilential fever, the men suffered dreadfully by its ravages, the small force, in the West Indies islands rendered the further reinforcement of the garrison impracticable and the fort was nearly in ruins.

** [MY COMMENT] -  Something I suspect, not well known in the navy, for weren't all British admiral's stoic-hero's  who stood their corner to the end and did not abandon their charges? Also probably not well known or perhaps conveniently ignored, was the use of the Guillotine upon brave and competent  French naval officers, simply because they loved their king [warts and all] and couldn't stomach the early-revolution rabble who administered the new republic. Although the French Revolution started with the storming of the Bastille in Paris in July 1789, it wasn't until four years later in 1793 that the Jacobins took over that 'the reign of terror' began. In that year, in the Atlantic Brest squadron there was a major mutiny known as the QUIBERON MUTINY. The British put down their naval mutinies of the eighteenth century by sheer and utter harsh discipline and by punishing the direct leaders, who were virtually all lower-deckers [pressed or volunteers] and rarely, if ever, officers [except for the Bounty and Captain Bligh]. British mutinies were always against British naval authority or British government edicts [Invergordon for example on pay and conditions], and the worst one was in HMS Hermione [1797], reputed to be the bloodiest when all but two of her many officers were brutally murdered. It took several years to find all the offenders [a few only were never found]  and all found [40 odd of them] were left dangling from the end of a rope.  In the case of the Quiberon Mutiny it was the near-rebellious attitude of the French Royalist officers who did not take kindly to the civilian-led  republican revolution and took great exception to having republican officers promoted above them,  and to cover the short fall of republican loyal officers, the recruitment into naval service of republican mercantile navy officers. The royalist officers, the majority of whom were cashiered but others Guillotined for disobedience,  were the 'cream' of the French Royal Navy,  and losing them en-bloc rendered their navy in part, less than competent as compared to pre-mutiny times.  Very few lower deck sailors were disciplined and none was put to death! Perhaps the greatest error made by the republican rabble during the reign of terror was to Guillotine one Charles d'Estaing a loyal and famous army general and also a navy admiral with an enormous following of devotees, simply because he was a friend of the royal's. It was an act which decimated naval morale! In an endeavour to restore the French Republican Navy to its former glory as French Royal Navy, Napoleon tasked Admiral Latouche Treville to oversee that transition. He never achieved it, and he died, probably as an exhausted and broken officer in 1804. Napoleon's navy were never again up for the job, and this stressed him more than can be believed because his ultimate goal was the invasion of Great Britain!  It could be said that his own kind, Republicans, had hung themselves with their own petard by destroying the morale and undoubtedly the expertise of the French Royal Navy!

Less than one year later,  the first of the French Revolutionary Sea Wars took place between the British and the French Republic, and the Brest Squadron were heavily involved. At this time because of the uncertainties of the revolution which caused gross and wide spread corruption as bad if not worse that the pre revolution royal corruption of Louis XVI's reign, the people of Paris were starving. Their allies in the America's shipped a massive convoy of transports across the Atlantic loaded with grain which at all costs had to make a satisfactory and planned land fall. It was escorted by French Republican warships. The British fleet was tasked to destroy the warships and the convoy to help prolong Paris' agony.  We British celebrate this war and call it the battle of the "Glorious 1st June" of 1794, in which Admiral Lord Howe tactically defeated the French whilst acknowledging a strategic victory for the French.  We badly mauled and damaged their warship escorts but the convoy got through and delivered the grain to a thankful French people. This badly damaged French fleet remained harbour-bound for a considerable period allowing the British fleet total dominance in the Mediterranean.  The French, under Admiral Villaret Joyeuse, called the battle the "3rd Battle of Ushant."   Can I, dare I, even suggest that were it not for the Quiberon Mutiny and the dire consequences for the French royalist naval officers, Britain could well have lost the war in every respect. Shouldn't we at least factor this into our history, praising our good luck as much as our hero officers and our jack tars? 

Can you have ever envisaged, at any time in our illustrious past, our navy being called anything other than the Royal Navy save for the relatively short Commonwealth period?  Frenchmen of the first half of 1789 would not have believe that that was possible, for by every account, the French Royal Navy was just as professional as was/is our Royal Navy, and history shows that its destruction came just as much from the French people as from the great British navy and its incomparable admirals!

Millions of Republicans around the world today envy our monarchy and our way of doing things. Their navies are competent, and many have copied our uniforms, traditions, style and bearing. However, every four years or so, they start again with a new Head of State who is also their Commander-in-Chief who bring in new ideas and ways which clearly are not good and American's in particular right now would I am sure agree!  Finally, since its a long time ago now, let's be gracious in the fact that the events at Quiberon in 1793 didn't do the French any favours, but it did us: for that we should be grateful.

Go well and just be glad that we are UK'ites, note not British, because that side-lines our dear brothers over in Northern Ireland.