Contents
 
Selected Extracts from the "Naval Sketch Book" Vol I

A New System of Signals

Colours may be wholly Dispensed with 1

IMPORTANT as this medium of communication has been ever considered to a maritime power, it is singular how little of the science of Signals - for such it may justly be called - is really understood in the navy. This remark may, at the

1 Rear-Admiral Raper.- Reviewed.


164

outset, startle the professional reader, who, perhaps, will pronounce it a gratuitous assumption; but we rather imagine, the observations which appear in the work before us, together with those we have ourselves to offer on the subject, will not tend to strengthen the too prevalent opinion that hitherto Naval Signals have arrived at any degree of perfection - nor can we lend our assent to the recorded assurance of a professional writer, that, in their "progressive improvement, they have advanced at a rapid rate." We fearlessly assert the reverse, and therefore it is, that we shall ever regret when impediments are thrown in the path of their progress.

At the close of the American war they were comparatively useless; for, through their medium, it was as difficult to command as to communicate. At that period, Vice-Adm. Kempenfeldt undertook their revision; - but, notwithstanding the various improvements introduced by that indefatigable officer, still the system was common place, and wretchedly defective.


165

The code of signals introduced in 1793 was the first in which flags had been made the representatives of figures. - Number one was a red flag; two, white with a blue rectangular cross; three, blue-white-blue, vertically; four, yellow, with a narrow black border at top and bottom ; ,five, quartered red-and-white; and so on in numerical order.

Capable as these numbers were of extensive combination, it is a positive fact, that the highest number expressive of purport in the flag-code of 1793 was only 184. There was also a separate code for the use of ‘private ships.' This was called the ‘tabular code;’ and a more unmeaning medium of communication was never conceived.

In 1799 the ‘general code’ underwent another alteration; ‘private ships’ were furnished with flags, and each captain was entrusted with a copy of the Admiralty code. As the war advanced, it became necessary to increase the ‘general code.’ Significations (nor were they


166

altogether of a local nature) were constantly added by the different commanders on different stations. This created confusion ; the blanks filled up by Cornwallis were unknown to Nelson ; and a ‘stranger from the Straits' ran considerable risk of being a ‘stranger' in reality to the signals of the Channel Chief. The fact is, we may say with the poet, we but "Lisp'd in numbers," until the work of our great lexicographer was pressed into the service, and promoted to a telegraph-book. This was in 1803; and since which period, from the unfortunate circumstance of each captain finding more words than men at command, an alarming loquacity has prevailed afloat.

But to be serious. The Johnsonian system or rather be it called the Popham-code'-was

1 It would appear by the following note in Gower's "Theory and Practice of Seamanship," that Sir Home Popham was not the original inventor of the telegraph code. "This mode," says Mr. Gower, " of communicating significations, and even a complete language, is the invention of the author, and was first published in the second edition of his 'Seamanship' in 1796. Having quitted the sea service since the year 1802, the author was not aware that a telegraph of this kind has been introduced into the navy, under the patronage of Government, until accidentally explaining his invention to a naval friend, and setting forth the advantages to be derived by secret information, he was informed, to his astonishment, that the thing was already done, by the recent introduction of Sir Home Popham's telegraph signals. The author himself cannot for an instant suppose, that Sir Home Popham would take merit for the invention of another; but as thought is the prerogative of man, the thoughts of Sir Home may run, by chance, parallel with the thoughts of the author. At the same time it must be observed, that had the author possessed sufficient influence to have introduced his telegraph signals previous to the introduction of Sir Home's, - Sir Home's would have remained dormant, and the author would have reaped whatever merit is, attached to them." - Third edition of Gower's 'Seamanship,' p. 208.


167

not unattended with evil; nay, it was constantly abused. The ‘general signals’ were deserted for the Telegraph-book, which, if fortunate enough to have escaped being plundered by the pirates 1 on the poop, was sure to be made the medium of indiscriminate, and, too often, indis

1 Chaplain, marine officers, and midshipmen.


168

creet communication. Private prattle and public orders were together seen flying in the face of the fleet; and as it was but natural a ‘sharper look-out' should be kept on the one than the other, curiosity sometimes succeeded in defeating discipline and delaying duty.

This irregularity partly proceeded from the admitted inefficacy of the general signals. The orders of an admiral should emanate entirely from the Admiralty code ; and the system, indeed, must be sadly defective, if the movements and manoeuvres of a fleet cannot, all, be directed through its medium. The ‘Telegraph' should be resorted to as seldom as possible. One number is sooner answered than fifty. Brevity is as much the soul of business, as of wit : consequently, the sooner an order is conveyed, the sooner it can be carried into effect.

Imperfect as was the code of 1799, it lived out the war and part of the peace. In 1816 it was ‘returned into store,' and superseded by Popham's complicated code. Sir Home's signals


169

were 'reported' as applicable to all purposes afloat ; and no small boon was bestowed on the inventor. But. notwithstanding the report and the premium, experience pronounced them imperfect.

The signals before us are the production of an officer, who has long devoted his talents to the science :- they appear to be founded on a system peculiarly his own - at once clear-sighted and clever - embracing considerations, and providing for contingencies, too long overlooked in our Admiralty codes.

Comparing them with Popham's, we find that Admiral Raper employs twenty-three symbols less than his late competitor. This in itself is gaining a point of no mean importance, inasmuch as a multiplicity of flags leads to obscurity, in more senses than one.

In a short but pithy ‘explanation' of his system, Admiral R, makes the following just observation


170

"The inefficiency of the colours of signals being universally admitted, it seems surprising that they should so long have continued to be the only distinction, particularly when it is considered that the flags and pendants, by their respective positions, present the most perfect distinction that can be found; for it is evident that a flag over a pendant cannot, under any circumstance, be mistaken for a flag under a pendant, while the symbols themselves are discernible. This, then," adds our author, "is the principle of the system."

But to explain it more fully:

By the manner in which the Admiral has classified his code, the leading subject of the signal is announced by a specific combination of symbols; a due consideration being given to the character and importance of the purport. For instance ‘Signals by ships in chase,' are made by a flag over a pendant. How much better this, than a long flight of flags partly concealed by your


171

canvass aloft1 - or if not so hoisted, separated in halves at each mast-head. Again, ‘Signals to ships in chase,' by a flag under a pendant. In like manner, ‘danger and distress' are instantly recognized by symbolic combinations peculiarly striking.

Hence it is obvious, so long as a flag can be distinguished from a pendant, combinations cannot possibly be mistaken for each other.

CLASS I. "Contains the signals for Tacking, Wearing, and others of the most frequent occurrences under sail." - These come under the head of 'Signals by the Admiral or Senior officer.' --The combination which distinguishes this class is two flags, "and which, says Admiral Raper, "is selected for its convenience in blowing weather." - So far so good, - nothing can be better.

1 Ships in chase have been often compelled to clew-up their royals and top-gallant sails, so as to afford a full view of their flags; when, perhaps, it was of as much moment to ‘carry sail' as to communicate to the admiral.


172

CLASS II.- Is, in some measure, a continuation of Class I. and "contains the remainder of the signals for general purposes, which are of less importance than the preceding" - "The combination," (we quote the Admiral,) "is composed of three flags:-- the numbers begin with No. 101, and continue to No. 500 - this number being more than sufficient for every purpose that can be required of them."

For the latter reason we suggest the propriety of never employing numbers that require to be expressed by substitute symbols ; for example -- 11, 22, 222,--33, 333,--44, 444, &c. &c.- It is true in 500 numbers more than one hundred are lost; but four will be found sufficient for every possible purpose; and if not, it would be better to add a hundred, or even two more, than employ either of the two substitutes, in signals made by the admiral.' Besides, they are not only differently shaped from the numeral flags, but one, the first substitute we find, is assigned to the combination belonging to the ‘Compass


173

signals 1.' We may be wrong; but we nevertheless throw out the suggestion.

Colours. may not be perceptible; still, by our author's system, so long as the combination continues conspicuous, the class, or subject of the signal, is decided; and nothing remains to be ascertained but the number immediately pertaining to the purport 2. This is effected by means of the distant signal, of which we shall presently speak.

1 An oversight of no small importance appears in this portion of the present Admiralty code. The numerical flags are employed to indicate the points of the compass. A pendant over number five indicates N.E.B.E.

A danger is suddenly discovered. The ship that discovers it, desires to apprize her consort of its immediate ‘bearing.' But this announcement cannot be effected. The flag number five, is employed to express the previous purport, 'Danger in the direction pointed out by compass signal.' Consequently, as private ships have only one set of flags, the most important part of the purport of the signal, is necessarily reserved for a second operation. The ship is ashore before the compass signal can be made.- That is to say if young officers be ignorant (and many undoubtedly are so) of the precautionary practice of 'heaving about' on the instant the general purport of danger be answered.

2 In other words, the form under which a signal is displayed declares the class or subject to which it refers.


174

Hitherto purports of the first consequence were not infrequently preceded or followed by one of comparative unimportance.- ‘Ship standing into danger,’ preceded perhaps-, Ship's company has time to dine,' - a signal possibly suggested by some sympathizing member of the ‘Victualling Board,’ who, doubtless, considered it a sin to consign Jack to ‘Davy Jones’ upon an empty stomach.

Incalculable mischief may result from signals so totally regardless of classification.- For example, - Suppose that some four leagues to leeward of a fleet, a frigate is seen with three flags flying at the main - the number of the signal 343 - the purport ‘Sprung a leak, and in want of assistance - tho' not of immediate.’ – Well - the flags 3 and 4 are with difficulty made out by the nearest ‘repeater.’ - At length in the lower flag the mere colours of blue and white become, at times, barely distinguishable. - Though differently disposed, both these colours will be found in number two as well as number three. - Gratuitous assumptions are started - conjecture is


175

put to the push.- "It can't," say the officers of the ‘repeater,’ "be three-four-three, for that signifies, "Ship has sprung a leak;' and no guns are fired indicative of distress. - It must," they continue - "be three-four-two,- ‘Enemy the same when last reconnoitered.’" - This settles the matter - all doubt is dispelled - the signal is probably repeated - the stranger no longer is an object of interest - she passes for one of the ‘Inshore Squadron,' a fog suddenly envelopes the fleet, and the unfortunate frigate is left to her fate.

Admiral Raper has guarded against mistakes of this nature; and particular attention appears to have been paid in the application of opposite combinations to opposite purports : for instance, ‘Danger, steer to starboard,’ is flag No. 6. Danger, steer to Port,' is pendant No. 6.

In Sir Home Popham's late code, signals of importance were neither, as respects symbolic combination, nor classification of purport, contrasted. But on the contrary, such signals Were


176

not only made to follow each other in juxtaposition, but to resemble each other in form - the lower flag being the only guide to mark the difference of purport.

For example,

‘Can come up with the chase without parting co.’ - 3-1-D.

‘Can not come up with the chase without parting co.' - 3-1-E.

‘Bottom under 20 fathoms,’ - 2-5-6.

‘No bottom to be got,’ - 2-5-7.

‘In condition to renew the action,' - 1-2-C. ‘Noon condition to renew the action,' - 1-2-D.

‘Ship is in shoal water' - 2-6-D.

‘Ship is on fire,’ - 2-6- E.

As if so close the affinity between the two elementary dangers, that the difference could only be marked by a solitary letter. Besides, ‘a ship in shoal-water’ may have to haul her wind - on fire, it may be necessary to put her before it. But at all events, in no instance should a negative purport follow an affirmative signal.

Indeed, before now, we have known the Signalman of the fleet all at sea upon the subject of Orthography. Some, like Matthews's singer,


177

had ‘lost their G;’ others had found an F, whilst the majority, to prove their title, (for of course, according to Sir H., they were all men of letters,) were constantly exclaiming with Hamlet ‘To be or not to be:' and in their own ‘sea of troubles,’ equally perplexed with the Prince, to ‘decide the question.’ Not that, the Tars were quite so distracted as the Dane; for Men-of-warsmen are not permitted to be mad; moreover, mock-madness is cured with the cat.

But to ‘mind our course.’

"No flags or pendants," says the Admiral, "are admitted into this system, but such as serve for numeral purposes. The flags and pendants hitherto used, such as ‘Interrogative’-, ‘Preparative,’ – ‘Numeral,’ -, ‘Telegraph,’ - ‘Orthographical,' &c., are wholly dispensed with; these respective significations, being provided for in a different manner, as is shown in their proper places."


178

Speaking of the inutility of the ‘Interrogative,' he observes:-

"As certain combinations are assigned to the exclusive use of the Admiral, if a ship in the fleet employs any one of them in his presence, with or without her own distinguishing pendants, it becomes at once interrogative; and the same argument applies to the signals assigned to the use of the ships of the fleet when employed by the Admiral. Thus, for example, - the signal which signifies – ‘I can come up with the chase, without parting company,’ when addressed by the Admiral to a ship in chase, demands of the chaser whether he can come up with the chase without parting company: by this means, the whole of the signals are rendered interrogative without employing an additional symbol ; and thus interrogation, when colours fail, which has never before been practicable, is expressed by the distant signals with the same facility as any other communications."


179

The above named pendants we should have long since ‘condemned as unfit for service;’ and only that the surgeons of the navy have always objected to bunting bandages, we should have slit them into regular lengths, and consigned them to Haslaar (sic). With respect to the ‘preparative,’ we cannot altogether assent to the total rejection of that flag. On this subject says the Admiral:-

"The frequent and unnecessary employment of a preparative flag having made it a matter of doubt when the signal itself was to be hauled down, in this plan the hauling down of the signal directs the execution of it; as in fact it always has done when it was not accompanied by the preparative flag. - There are few services requiring preparation which have not already specific signals assigned to them, - such as ‘prepare for action’ – ‘prepare to anchor,’ &c. ; and therefore when an operation, not provided for in this manner, is to be executed, preparation for that purpose will be intimated by hoisting a ship's


180

pendent 1 under the signal, to denote that it is then shown only preparatory."

Here we differ from the Admiral. - In the first place a ship's pendant, even of the widest description – the ‘regular dock-yard-cut' - is much too narrow to be seen at a distance; and, in the second, - ‘in the event of a calm, too ‘long and lazy’ to be extended by a ‘stretcher.’ We therefore suggest to the Admiral the propriety of employing the cypher flag to mark a preparative purport not previously provided for in the general code. By this arrangement the uniformity of his system would not be disturbed, nor an additional symbol added to the code. Nor need there be any doubt on the subject of ‘directing the execution of the signal.’ If the interval be distant, ere the execution of the signal be required, repeating it as heretofore, without the preparative, would answer every

1 The lengthy pendant, worn by men-of-war at the masthead, to distinguish them from merchantmen.


181

possible purpose. And if the time of action be immediate, ‘dipping,' the preparative might serve as a caution ere marking the moment of execution by hauling down the ‘general number.’

These are not hypercriticisms : we can assure the Rear-Admiral our remarks are offered as friendly suggestions.

"Some useful signals," says the Admiral, in the explanation of his system, "may probably have been omitted, and other imperfections may be discovered by the professional reader, more attention having been bestowed on perfecting the system itself than on minor arrangements of the signal book, which would have undergone revision had it been adopted."

And the Admiral might have added that had his code been put to the test of practical proof, improvements, as to both the cut and colour of his flags, would probably have suggested themselves. But so far as relates to the ‘system itself,’ we have little hesitation in asserting, it comes nearer to perfection than any we have ever yet seen.


182

It is simple, well conceived, and well digested ; and works its own way out of every apparent perplexity. There is nothing left to chance, and few objections can be started which are not met by considerations, evincing considerable forethought and professional precaution.

The Admiral, and we shall follow his example, reminds the reader that

"Care has been taken to adopt the most simple and conspicuous combinations to the most important subjects: for this reason the single flags and pendants are each assigned to communications of the most consequence."

This distinction (so valuable on every consideration) was sacrificed sadly in Popham's signals - and why? - Merely to allow the telegraphic code to begin with flag number four. Had all the combinations of two symbols been assigned to the ‘general signals' only, more than half of those numbers which had been expressed by three, (and many were of sufficient importance to have demanded a distinction so material)


183

would have been expressed by only two. Nor was the telegraph book free from similar defects, for all the combinations relating to ‘board,’ ‘chase,’ ‘bearing and distance,’ ‘enemy,’ ‘intelligence,’ ‘reconnoitre,’ ‘reinforce,’ ‘sound,’ ‘stranger,’ &c., which are certainly the most important subjects on which the telegraph can be possibly employed, were expressed by three symbols, while eleven numbers by two symbols only were appropriated to the word ‘able.’

Many of the ‘telegraph signals’ were repeated from the ‘general code.’ Thus, not only counteracting the precision, and distinction so desirable to attain, by making the same signals in a certain determinate manner; but multiplying purports to an enormous and unnecessary degree.

Five and forty changes were rung on the verb ‘do.’ Such grammatical niceties are not required in the tarrish tongue. Nor yet in communications by telegraph, where simple words (or at most combinations of the negative and


184

certain prepositions) are sufficient for every purpose required. Besides, they are not only superfluous, but detrimental, because such critical delicacies create delay, and in business of bunting, - ‘time should be taken by the fore_ock.’ (sic)

Thirty-five numbers were ‘assigned to the word ‘if,’ of which many were expressed by two symbols only; thirty to the word ‘have,’ twenty two to ‘it,’ ‘should,’ ‘that,’ ‘will,’ &c., &c. ; which, if added together 1, would turn out a ‘leader’ sufficiently lengthy for a quarterly work, and certainly more prolix and prosy than our present critique. Such words as ‘allurement,’ ‘fascinating,’ ‘fashionable,’ ‘felicity,’ &c. may answer very well for the columns of the ‘Morning Post,’ but we question, whether the ‘navy gentlemen’ - or indeed, the ‘gentlemen of the navy,’ (for it seems there is that delicate

1 In Admiral Raper's code, four thousand useless words are rejected.


185

distinction,) were ever sufficiently fascinating to warrant the word in their vocabulary.

Fancy a bluff weather-beaten captain of a battle ship, repeating the following signal, flying from the mast-head of some fashionable fop from port. – ‘The fascinating Mrs. F. lately eloped with Col. G. of the Guards.' - Imagine the signalman turning his quid, as he bends on his tack, ‘and d----g sky-high the fascinating fair ‘or a-fol-loin the sogers.' - But to turn to the Admiral's

TELEGRAPH.

"The increase of flags and pendants required for the Telegraph," (he observes) "has introduced such confusion in their colours, that the signals can no longer be distinguished so far off as they could be formerly; and there being no distinction but colour between the telegraph and the other signals, it follows that signals of consequence are liable to be mistaken for telagraphic communications of little or no importance ;" and


186

again, "The addition of so many flags and pendants, has not only destroyed the simplicity of the numeral method, but causes great delay and confusion in selecting them as they are wanted for use, when the deck is covered with them."

This absurd, and indeed we may add, expensive superfluity of flags and pendants, owes its origin solely to the unnecessary amalgamation of letters and numbers. Telegraphing by Popham's code, we have seen as much bunting strewed upon the deck of a ten-gun brig, as would nearly suffice to dress a three-decker for a Royal visit. Letters and numbers lay mingled together; B, blushing for the blunders of C, and G trampled under foot for usurping the place of Four. The scene was one of fun and confusion - captain cursing the code-lieutenants averring it harder to work than a lunar and the master d-----g it for regular algebra.

The algebraic system, as it may be designated, the Admiral properly rejects; and by


187

numbers alone produces, without availing himself of the elaborate auxiliaries of the code lately in use, a work infinitely more copious 1, and incomparably superior in point of efficiency.

The following combinations are assigned to his telegraph

"A pendant combined with two flags; and a flag combined with two pendants."

These combinations admit of six different forms, each form representing ten pages in the code; for example, the combination of a pendant over two flags, expresses all purports contained between page 1 and 10: two flags over a pendant, page 21 to 30, and so on, varying in form

1 By a supplementary system of four symbols (for the admiral, except in this case, employs no more than three) 40,000 numbers are obtained; a number nearly four times as extensive as Sir H. P.'s system of telegraph and general signal together.--" Accordingly," as the Admiral observes, "by a signal for this purpose, any dictionary, vocabulary, or other book of reference whatever, may be employed. And it may be remarked that the above combinations are not more complicated than many of the chasing signals in the late code, when used interrogatively."


188

through the six symbolic combinations. Hence, by this plan six thousand numbers are produced, and which, as the admiral observes, "are fully adequate to express all communications of a professional or political nature."

The utility of assigning to each division of pages a specific combination is obvious, because, should colours be invisible, the distant signal not only repeats the page, but the number of the purport: the one thereby acting as a check upon the other.

In Popham's code no specific combination was assigned to the telegraph. The only guide was the number of the upper symbol; consequently when colours were invisible, no possible notion could be formed of the purport or importance of the signal. By the Admiral's system, so long its the combination is distinct, (we are unavoidably compelled to repeat the remark,) the class or subject of the signal is decided ; for though the gloom of the atmosphere may render the colours composing the combination of a signal totally


189

indistinct, yet so long as the latter presents a clear outline, - a palpable form, the difficulty of communication is at once overcome. Hence, should a pendant between two flags be descried, without reference whatever to colour, the class is instantly known to pertain to the telegraph; and should doubt exist in the identification of the number, it is at once removed by having recourse to those admirable and truly original auxiliaries-----

The Distant Signals

On this important branch of the Admiral's code, he observes, that:

"It is shown in the general view, that when colours are not visible, the combinations become more perfect as Distant Signals than any that have yet appeared, because they point out, in the clearest manner, the subject of every signal as soon as a flag can be distinguished from a pendant; and, therefore, its number only


190

remains to be denoted by the Distant Signals. This peculiar quality arises out of the principle here employed, and renders the Distant Signals available for every point of service, with a certainty and expedition which have never, till now, been obtained; while those lately in use, could express no more than two hundred and fifty-six signals by a process so complicated, and liable to mistake, that they were rarely, if ever, resorted to with success."

Few in the profession will attempt to refute these remarks. For two-and-thirty years ’under the fly of a pendant,’ we never had recourse to the Distant Signals. We have known what it is to be bored with bunting - we have hid our eyes so tired and tortured in ‘squinting at signals’ in the sun, that we have shed more tears in a ‘watch,’ than a watery-widow would shed in a week. Colours at sun-set, sun-rise, and at times in an easterly wind, assume as many hues as a dying dolphin. Red has ‘looked blue,’ like ourselves; blue-white; and ‘white - no colour at all.'


191

Berge 1 was invariably beaten, and if we saw not double with Dolland, he played us the part of the pirate. What would we not have given for a patent stentor, or a forty horse-power trumpet that would have borne our words against wind, tide, glare, and gloom, and thus roared in the ear of the stranger:-

"We see not what you mean."

Another source of embarrassment attending the employment of the distant signals, was this : the signal which denoted ‘the Distant Signals will be used,’ was distinguished by its colours only - under the very circumstances which declared colours themselves to be invisible. An oversight like this was not likely to have escaped the notice of the author of the Code before us, in which the same communication is conveyed by a ball, unaided by a bull.

To bring before the mind of the reader the mechanism of the system, we extract the illustrative example given in the Admiral's "General View :"

1The celebrated optician.


192

"A ship charged with important intelligence, on first seeing the fleet, shows her number (932) on the list of the navy, as in fig. 1.

The ship nearest to her, being too far off to distinguish colours, sees the signal as it is represented by fig. 2;

and, on referring to the Signal Table, finds it is a ‘ship's number.’ Instead, then, of waiting till the colours become visible - a delay which has hitherto been wholly unavoidable she immediately hoists a ball ; on seeing which, the stranger hauls down her signal, and represents the number of it by the Distant Signals, as in fig. 3 ;

and then proceeds to telegraph her intelligence with the same facility with which she made herself known."

This example supersedes the necessity of further description or comment. We could have


193

wished, however, the Admiral had made his graphic illustrations a little more ‘shipshape.’

Speaking of ‘ships' numbers,’ we are not altogether satisfied that the Admiral has selected the best form of combination assigned to that purpose. A ship-of-war should write her name in Capital letters, or, at all events, ‘make her mark’ in a manner sufficiently masculine to prevent the possibility of its being mistaken for the crow quill hand of a boarding-school miss: three pendants border too much upon this: they may answer very well for the I Yarborough yachts - but for ‘Men-of-war’ we prefer a striking character, that at once says, with the song,

" My name you see’s Tom Tough."

But this is of minor import; for, without disturbing materially his "General View," the Admiral could easily substitute another combination (which indeed appears a specific for all complaints in his system.) Besides, his


194

distant signals can be always resorted to in cases of defect of vision.

On the TACTICAL part of the work we cannot now enter into critical detail ; suffice it to say, that whilst Admiral Raper has exercised a sound discretion in rejecting all the obsolete and unnecessary illustrative movements with which former codes were wont to be encumbered, he has introduced essential evolutions hitherto totally untouched. We allude in particular to the interchange of stations by squadrons' - a manoeuvre of a widely different nature from that of the interchange of single ships. It is truer (at least as far as relates to the mere mandatory part of the purport,) a signal to that effect has hitherto appeared in our Admiralty codes; - but the mode of executing the manoeuvre was in no instance ever pointed out. The manner, also, in which the Admiral restores the ‘order of sailing’ on the wind shifting forward, appears to partake of novelty, and is deserving of attention as well on account of its simplicity as of its


195

tactical precision. And we are satisfied the profession at large will duly appreciate the following observations upon the propriety of placing the Commander-in-chief on the weather-beam of the fleet.

"It is most probable, that the position which the Admiral has hitherto taken, namely, that of leading the weather-division of the fleet, has occasioned tacking and wearing all the ships together to be so little practised, because by these movements he became the sternmost ship of his own division. In the first and third evolutions he is therefore placed abreast of the centre ship of the weather division, where his repeating frigate has hitherto been stationed. In this position, the fleet, however numerous, is more under his immediate observation, and he is also better seen by the ships in general: and whether he is abreast of the centre ship of the weather division on one tack, or on her weather bow on the other; his signals will always be sooner circulated, both by day and night, particularly those by blue


196

lights, which may, in cases of necessity, be sufficiently effective without repetition, and thus hasten the operation where expedition might be necessary.

"In foggy weather also this is the most favourable position for his signal guns being heard.

"The commanders of squadrons are to be in the centres of their respective divisions.

"This is, perhaps, a fit occasion to notice what must have been observed by every officer conversant with fleets, namely, the advantages of performing movements altogether, in preference to performing them, in succession 1. In the

1Such movements are not only more convenient and expeditious, but are likewise, especially in bad weather, much safer than when they are executed by the ships in succession. When movements are performed together, all the ships are under the same circumstances at the same moment, and hence the relative distances are liable to be only slightly disturbed.

In Rear-Admiral Ekins's Naval Battles, an anonymous correspondent observes, on Admiral Cornwallis's novel manoeuvre of wearing, "The signal being made by the Commander-in-chief for wearing, the second astern shortened all sail and 'manoeuvred,' (a strange application, by-the-bye, of the term Ships in chase former case, the danger so likely to occur from ships crossing each other in the night, is wholly when a ship is stationary,) "so as to admit the Admiral to pass ahead of him ; all sail was then made by the second astern until he had wore and gained his station astern of the Admiral. The same operation was continued in succession through the line."


197

To say nothing of the danger likely to occur from the head most ships heaving-to first, especially at night, the distances of the ships from each other are by this mode of proceeding entirely thrown out. In the first instance, they are unavoidably compelled to shorten sail in order to give their respective leaders room to come round ; and in the next, to carry perhaps a press of sail to gain their stations on the opposite tack.

Those officers who have served under Cornwallis, Gardiner, Cotton, and others, will remember that the interval between the first making of the signals, and the completion of the manoeuvre by the sternmost ships, occupied sometimes a period of four hours ! During the whole of this time, it was necessary to keep the "watch," and, if the weather was bad, "all hands" upon deck, consequently at night, it was exceedingly harassing to the crews of the fleet. On the contrary, by performing this movement simultaneously, the whole fleet could be brought round on the other tack in less than ten minutes, with very little loss of ground, and no unnecessary wear and tear of His Majesty's stores.

Although these considerations would seem definitive in favour of the latter mode, yet such was the predilection for antiquated systems, that this method was only at a late period of the war adopted by our commanders of fleets. Nor must the greater degree of tactical experience which the officers of the fleet derive by performing operations together be overlooked.


198

prevented; and they are besides performed with so much more expedition, that a fleet which would require an hour and a half to tack or wear in succession, would perform that movement all together in a quarter of an hour. Thus, at the relief of the watch, the time generally preferred for these operations, during the night the service may be executed by two watches, if necessary, without breaking in upon the repose of the crews."

To conclude.- Of the merits or demerits of our author's work, we shall no further speak. Let the reader judge of both from our criticism and illustrative extracts. In our opinion, (and we feel it professionally at stake,) Admiral Raper has produced the best code of signals yet known to the Navy.

When the fleet in the order of sailing by the wind, tacks together, the ships which were before ahead and astern of each other respectively, are now thrown on a bow and quarter line, that is, on the line of bearing. In this position, it is much more difficult to preserve order ; and the skill of the officers is consequently more called into action.

^ back to top ^