Archives For Indian Ocean

HMS Wellesley

As bombs rained down on London, Liverpool and other British cities during the dark days of the Blitz, one bomb not only made waves, but also revealed that truth is often stranger than fiction. Floating on the River Thames on the night of September 23, 1940 was the training ship Cornwall, a former British wooden hulled ship of the line converted to training duties for youngsters. During that night’s Luftwaffe raid, though, the ship was severely damaged and eventually sank to be refloated and broken up for scrap in 1948. In sinking, the ship became the last Royal Navy ship of the line to be lost to enemy action as well as the only one to be sunk in an air raid.

Although the Cornwall met a rather ignominious end at the bottom of the Thames, the ship was once a jewel in the British fleet. Laid down in 1812 and commissioned in 1815 as HMS Wellesley, the ship was built out of teak which made her incredibly resistant to rot. The ship spent much of her time in active service in the Indian Ocean and Far East. In 1839, the Wellesley led the successful attack on and capture of Karachi and was subsequently heavily involved in the First Opium War. By 1854 the ship was retired to guard duty and was opened on May 5, 1859 as a reformatory ship for 260 boys under the School Ship Society. The next 80 years saw her continue in this role as she bounced between ports in the UK. Sadly, the ship was the subject of some scandal when, in 1903, seven boys contracted typhoid from cheap blankets that had been sold to the ship unwashed and infected by army hospitals.

luftwaffe sinks british ship

TS Cornwall Bombed Out By Luftwaffe

CC Image Courtesy of goodhugh on Flickr

CC Image Courtesy of goodhugh on Flickr

As her sister ship USS Saratoga slowly makes her way to the scrap heap, USS Ranger (CV-61) sadly awaits the same fate. Launched in 1957, the Ranger was one of four new Forrestal-class super-carriers and the seventh US Navy warship to bear the name Ranger. Like an earlier USS Ranger (CV-4) which had been the first American aircraft carrier designed from the keel-up as an aircraft carrier, the Ranger was the first American carrier to be designed from the keel-up as an angled deck carrier.

During her nearly forty years in active service, the Ranger supported bombing sorties in North Vietnam, responded to unrest in Kenya/Uganda, deployed to the Middle East for Operation Desert Shield/Storm. On her final deployments, the Ranger assisted humanitarian efforts in Somalia as part of Operation Restore Hope, enforced the No-Fly Zone in Southern Iraq and launched a B-25 bomber in commemoration of Jimmy Doolittle’s 1942 raid on Japan. While never being actively attacked, the Ranger’s crew suffered at least 7 deaths during her service to accidents onboard.

In addition to serving on the frontlines, Ranger also served as a floating movie set for such notable movies and television shows as Baa Baa Black Sheep, Flight of the Intruder and Top Gun. While decommissioned in 1993, the ship remained part of the US Navy’s inactive reserve fleet. Despite a proposal in 2010 to convert the vessel into a museum ship, today the Ranger is slated for the scrap heap. A dedicated group of veterans and fans have recently stepped up in an effort to save the ship and breathe life back in to the museum ship proposal. Their petition can be found here on

Cape Rachado CC Image Courtesy of M. King on Flickr

Cape Rachado
CC Image Courtesy of M. King on Flickr

From August 16th to 18th, 1606 the seas off Cape Rachado (Tanjung Tuan) in modern-day Malaysia echoed with the sounds of naval gunfire as two European fleets wrestled for control of the Straits of Malacca. The Dutch East India Company had dispatched a fleet of eleven ships from Holland in mid-1605 in an effort to pry the Portuguese from their strongholds in the East Indies. The Dutch besieged the Portuguese garrison at Malacca in May 1606, however, in August a Portuguese fleet of twenty ships from its colony in Goa, modern-day India arrived to lift the siege.

The two fleets engaged one another for several days with long-range cannon barrages but neither fleet gaining an advantage over the other. Finally, the Portuguese decided to close the distance and use their numerical superiority to overwhelm the Dutch fleet. Early on August 18th, the Portuguese closed with the Dutch and boarded the Dutch vessel Nassau. As additional ships from both sides sailed into the fray the cannonade set the Dutch ship Oranje ablaze threatening both the Nassau and the Oranje as well as the two engaged Portuguese vessels. Eventually all four of the vessels were set ablaze and a truce was declared to allow the fleets to lick their wounds and repair back to their respective anchorages. While the battle was a defeat for the Dutch as the siege of Malacca was relieved, it enabled the Dutch to gain favor with the Sultan of Johor, the local leader, and when the fleet returned two months later it destroyed a much reduced Portuguese fleet.

The dates of the final sinking of the four vessels lost in the battle: Sao Salvador, a Portuguese galleon, Nassau and Middelburg vary from August 18th to 22nd. Some sources claim the wreck of the Nassau finally succumbed to the sea on the 22nd, but what is not in dispute is that they were located in 1995 by British marine archaeologist Mensun Bound and successfully excavated. Some of the artifacts from the wrecks are now on display at the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur.


“We have decided to send the Corvette Galathea to the East Indian Islands and particularly the Nicobar Islands, over which We hold Sovereignty, in order to perform scientific Survey of the natural Products of this Group of Islands and their use for Cultivation and Trade.” ~King Christian VIII


In the early 1840s Danish King Christian VIII decided to embark upon an ambitious expedition of discovery and scientific research. King Christian ordered the Danish Navy to outfit a ship for an around the world adventure which would be part vanity project, part scientific voyage and part geopolitical gambit. On June 24, 1845, the 43 meter corvette Galathea departed Copenhagen on what would become a nearly two year voyage. Stuffed aboard the Galathea were 36 cannon, provisions for a year and 231 sailors, scientists and officers. Incredibly, the voyage cost the Danish treasury ~3% of its annual expenditures – by comparison NASA’s Apollo project was ~4% of the US federal budget.

Sailing south, the Galathea rounded the Horn of Africa and visited the Danish colonies at Tranquebar on the west coast of India. The expedition then called at the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean southwest of Sri Lanka. After a stopover in China to improve Sino-Danish trading ties, the Galathea headed for the Sandwich Islands (modern day Hawaii). Departing the Sandwich Islands, the Galathea and her crew made a couple stops in South America before sailing around Cape Horn for home.

During the course of the expedition, the Galathea’s science team gathered 93 boxes of organic and inorganic specimens as well as 21 boxes of local material culture and a large collection of objects from Java. Among the collection were 368 dragonflies from 107 different species with 37 of these unknown to scientists of the day. Sadly, the expedition’s royal sponsor perished shortly after the voyage returned in 1847 and Prussia and Denmark descended into conflict. These two events stifled the processing and publication of the expedition’s results and many of the boxes of specimens remained unopened for several years.

Battle of Diu

February 3, 2014 — Leave a comment

Diu Island
CC Image Courtesy of Vipul.Photography on Flickr

As the 1400s drew to a close, Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama and his intrepid crew continued to push their voyages ever farther eastward. Desiring to secure glory and spices for their tiny nation, the Portuguese began to establish small outposts in India and along the East African coastline. Inevitably this led to clashes with the various powers already in the region. Egyptian, Ottoman, Indian warlords (specifically the Zamorin of Calicut) and even Venetian forces opposed Portuguese expansion as it threatened their monopolistic grip on the lucrative spice trade.

Slowly the conflict simmered and built towards a climactic battle which finally occurred on February 3, 1509 off the coast of Diu, an important port on the Indian coast. A fleet of 18 Portuguese warships along with ~1,900 troops sailed into the harbor of Diu where they were opposed by nearly a hundred Egyptian, Ottoman and Indian vessels. Despite being numerically inferior, the Portuguese warships were better equipped and more technologically advanced than the Egyptian, Ottoman and Indian dhows and galleys. Taking advantage of this technological superiority, the Portuguese used their artillery to pound the allied forces into submission. The Portuguese victory allowed the country to continue to expand its fledgling trade empire and its effects echo even today as Portuguese is spoken in Goa and other Indian ports.


Today marks the thirty-second anniversary of the first, and thus far, only sinking of an Indian naval vessel. On December 3, 1971, tensions between India and Pakistan reached a fever pitch and the countries began a thirteen day shooting war. On December 9, Indian early warning posts detected a submarine patrolling close to the harbor of Diu and a squadron of frigates was dispatched to dispense with the trespasser.

The submarine in question was the Pakistani Hangor, a sub completed by the French in 1970 for Pakistan’s Navy. Sallying forth against the Hangor were the two British built frigates, Khukri and Kirpan. The Hangor launched two (although some sources claim three) homing torpedoes which struck the Khukri and sent her to the bottom in short order. Despite being attacked with depth charges, the Hangor successfully returned to Pakistan where she served until 2006 when she was transformed into a museum ship. The Khukri was the first ship sunk by a submarine since World War Two and would remain so until the HMS Conqueror sank the ANA General Belgrano during the Falklands War. All told 194 Indian sailors lost their lives and hostilities ceased just 7 days later.

HMAS Sydney

CC Image courtesy of Horatio Kookaburra on Flickr

German naval strategy during World War II was similar to that employed in World War I – strangle the United Kingdom by sinking or disrupting its merchant shipping. In addition to the ubiquitous U-boat, the Kriegsmarine utilized surface warships and camouflaged merchant vessels to target Allied shipping in all theaters of the war. One such camouflaged merchant vessel was the HSK Kormoran. Formerly the merchantman Steiermark, the ship was converted in 1940 to carry mines and hidden armaments as well as two float planes. Departing Germany in December 1940, Kormoran captured or sunk 11 merchant ships as it cruised through the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

The Kormoran’s luck ran out, though, when it happened upon the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney on November 19, 1941. Sydney was returning to port from escorting a troopship and decided to investigate what appeared to be a suspicious vessel. The two ships exchanged signals until the Kormoran, posing as the Dutch ship Straat Malaka, failed to identify itself by the Straat Malaka’s secondary secret signal. Realizing he could no longer keep up the ruse, Kormoran’s captain ordered the Dutch ensign struck, raised the German naval ensign and opened fire. The two ships engaged in their deadly duel for about an hour at which point the heavily damaged Sydney, struck by hundreds of rounds of 5.9 inch shells as well as several torpedoes, drifted off to the southwest.

The Sydney disappeared with its entire crew complement of 645 officers and sailors. The Kormoran, irreparably damaged by Sydney’s broadsides, was ordered scuttled by her captain and the crew took to the lifeboats. Only 317 of the Kormoran’s 400 man crew were rescued. While Sydney’s sinking of the Kormoran was a pyrrhic victory for her crew, it helped eliminate the threat of continued predation on Allied merchant shipping and the lives of Sydney’s crew were not lost in vain. On March 12, 2008, searchers from the Finding Sydney Foundation located the wreck of the Kormoran in 2,500 meters of water. Five days later, the wreck of the Sydney was finally located approximately 11 miles from the Kormoran. Today, a new HMAS Sydney proudly serves the Royal Australian Navy and its replacement will be christened with the same name when it enters service in 2017.

Edward Pellew

Stephen Taylor’s latest book, Commander, documents the life of Edward Pellew, a British naval officer who rose to fame during the Napoleonic Wars. Taylor builds on the work of two previous biographies to present the most complete and balanced description of a man considered to be the greatest frigate captain of the Royal Navy. Most Americans, and perhaps many British citizens, associate Pellew with the same-named fictional commander of HMS Indefatigable in C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels. Pellew, though, is considered the inspiration (along with Sir Thomas Cochrane) for Forester’s Hornblower character as well as Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey character.

Taylor meticulously documents Pellew’s entire life including his youth in Cornwall, his path to the sea, and his early service in the American Revolution on the Great Lakes. Relying on personal correspondence and the efforts of Pellew’s son at preserving his father’s legacy, Taylor reconstructs for the reader Pellew’s various single ship commands and joint operations, including his most famous command, HMS Indefatigable. Especially noteworthy is the behind the scene squabbles that occurred between Pellew and various members of the British nobility and naval establishment.

For instance, while serving as commander of the Indian naval station, Pellew engaged in rigorous conflict with the Admiralty in England as well as another commander on station. Taylor highlights how this particular conflict not only hurt Pellew’s career, but also prevented the taking of the French island of Mauritius (an idea Pellew was pursuing) until later in the war. As a result, French privateers and men of war continued to operate from Mauritius at great cost to British shipping. Taylor concludes with Pellew’s masterful victory over the Barbary Pirates at Algiers in August 1816 and his retirement in England.

Overall, Taylor presents the reader with a well-documented and readable account of Pellew’s life. While some readers may wish for more swashbuckling tales a la Horatio Hornblower, Taylor’s intent was to present a well-rounded account of Pellew’s entire life and not just the daring exploits for which he became famous. Commander is an excellent read and anyone wishing to better understand the Napoleonic Wars and a central figure from them would do well to purchase and read it.

british destroyer

HMS Edinburgh Firing Sea Dart Missiles
© UK MOD/Crown Copyright 2012

Today the Royal Navy retired the HMS York, its second to last Type 42 destroyer. Its last Type 42, HMS Edinburgh, sailed on its final deployment earlier this week and will be retired upon its return. The Type 42 destroyer class has served the Royal Navy since the 1970s and two were lost in the Falklands War. York and Edinburgh will soon be replaced by new Type 45 destroyers which are among the most powerful and sophisticated anti-aircraft vessels in the world.

During her long career, York sailed 750,000 miles in defense of British interests and saw service in Iraq (2003), Lebanon (2006) and most recently Libya (2011). Her sister ship Edinburgh also served in the 2003 Iraq conflict and has deployed on numerous anti-terrorism and narcotics interdiction missions around the globe. Both ships are currently for sale on the UK MoD’s disposal site and their sale will be used as a diplomatic tool to further relations with another nation(s). Another notable warship sale occurred earlier this year when the US Navy sold for scrap the Sea Shadow, a copy of which appeared in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

The last vessel to bear the Edinburgh name was a Town-class cruiser lost in World War 2 in the Arctic Sea. The ship fell prey to Nazi sea and air forces while escorting a convoy from Murmansk, Russia to Great Britain. Aboard the vessel was 465 bars of gold bullion weighing 4.5 tons. Several salvage efforts were launched but it wasn’t until September 1981 that the first bar of gold was recovered. Over the course of two dive seasons, 460 of the 465 bars were successfully recovered. The recovery operations were performed under a contract similar to that between the UK government and Odyssey Marine for the Gairsoppa and Mantola recoveries in 2012.

jolly roger

CC Image Pirated From Scott Vandehey on Flickr

To recognize International Talk Like a Pirate Day, here are a few piratical items of note…

Captain Morgan, the Diageo owned rum distiller, funded excavations at the site of the real Admiral Morgan’s shipwreck this summer. No word if any rum has been found aboard the wreck or if the salvage crew were cited for operating an ROV under the influence.

Excavations continue on both Captain Sam Bellamy’s Whydah and Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge. Artifacts from both wrecks can be viewed at their respective museums in Provincetown, Massachusetts and Beaufort, North Carolina.

According to the Maritime Executive, there were 17 pirate attacks just last month. This month, pirates even fired upon an Italian naval helicopter. A map of pirate attacks in 2012 can be viewed here.

Last year, 35 people lost their lives while being held hostage by Somali pirates. As of August 30, there were 11 vessels and 188 hostages being held by Somali pirates. In addition to the human costs of piracy, experts estimate that the financial costs of piracy was around $6.6 – 6.9 billion in 2011 alone.

Piracy along the coast of Somalia has become such a problem that one of the primary reasons for the 2007 creation of the US’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) was the fighting of piracy. It’s rumored that the servicemen of AFRICOM will star in Disney’s upcoming film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Somali Tides.