Archives For Indian Ocean

civil war navy

Pulitzer Prize winning author James M. McPherson’s latest book, War on the Waters, is a concise naval history of the American Civil War. Most authors and historians focus on the great generals (Lee, Jackson, Grant, Sherman, etc.) or the great battles (Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Shiloh etc.) and often ignore the vital role the navies played in the conflict both on the rivers of the western Confederacy and the high seas. Entire books have been written on various aspects of the naval war – riverine warfare in the west, blockade running, Confederate merchant raiders, foreign intrigue in Europe and the innovations that made their debut in the conflict. McPherson neatly summarizes each of these topics and arranges them in easily digestible chapters that proceed in chronological order.

McPherson’s organization and writing style allow both the uninitiated reader and the Civil War buff to understand the ebb and flow of the conflict and the various personalities, events and inventions that influenced the war. Perhaps most importantly, McPherson accompanies his chapters with strategic or tactical level maps that enable the reader to understand the events which occur in the chapter. McPherson understands the unwritten rule that the inclusion of a relevant map is worth multiple pages of text in helping a reader establish an awareness of the events being described. Along with the maps, various etchings and photos accompany each chapter and neither maps nor illustrations are confined to a few pages in the center or the beginning of the book. This allows the reader to visually grasp the crux of each chapter and makes both the maps and the illustrations more relevant to the narrative being told.

Overall, War on the Waters is a fantastic single volume history of the Civil War’s naval history. McPherson hits all of the highlights of the Civil War – CSS Virginia vs. USS Monitor, blockade running, William B. Cushing’s daring raid on the CSS Albemarle, and the first successful attack by a submarine – in only 225 pages. War on the Waters is a welcome addition to the naval literature of the Civil War and will be enjoyed by anyone interested in American history, naval history or the Civil War.

helicopter carrier

Hull of LHD Canberra aboard heavy lift ship MV Blue Marlin
Photo: Royal Australian Navy

The first of the Royal Australian Navy’s new Landing Helicopter Dock ships is ~1/3 of its way to Australia. Launched in February 2011, the LHD Canberra is the first of two Canberra class Landing Helicopter Dock ships being built for the Royal Australian Navy. The ships are based on the design of Spain’s SPS Juan Carlos I which entered service in the Spanish Navy in 2010. The hull and flight deck were built in a Spanish shipyard and are being transported to Australia via heavy lift ship. The same lift ship was used to transport the USS Cole back to the United States after it was bombed by Islamic fundamentalists on October 12, 2000. Upon arrival in Australia in November, the Canberra’s final fitting out will be performed by BAE Systems. Once commissioned in 2014, the Canberra will be the largest warship to ever serve in the Royal Australian Navy.

Australian helicopter carrier

LHD Canberra Cutaway
Photo: Royal Australian Navy

Depending upon mission needs, the Canberra class LHDs can accomodate up to 1,000 troops and 110 vehicles in its multiple decks. The Canberra’s welldeck can hold and launch 4 landing craft and RHIBs. Air capabilities include 6 medium helicopter launch spaces and room for 26 medium-helicopters (up to CH-47 Chinook size) in its hanger and light vehicle deck. The ship is approximately the same size as the United States’ Wasp class amphibious assault ships and as such could most likely operate V-22 Ospreys as well as the F-35B if/when it becomes available. Additionally, the ship was designed with the lightest draft possible so as to be able to operate in the littorals and secondary ports. The addition of the Canberra and her sister ship Adelaide in 2015 will give the Royal Australian Navy further power projection capabilities and help maintain the balance of power in a region increasingly under the influence of Chinese autocracy.

Aagtekerke

CC Image courtesy of Enrique Ruiz Crespo on Flickr

Australian shipwreck diver Hugh Edwards believes he has located the wreck of the 18th century Dutch East Indiaman Aagtekerke in waters off the Abrolhos Islands in Western Australia. Lost in 1726, the Aagtekerke was en route from Africa to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Indonesia). This isn’t the first wreck Edwards has discovered in his 50+ year diving career. In 1963, Edwards located the Dutch East Indiaman Batavia which had wrecked on its maiden voyage in 1629. Over a period of four years from 1970 – 1974, marine archaeologists worked to recover and preserve artifacts from the Batavia and they are now housed in the Western Australia Museum in Perth. The author intends to make a site visit to the museum in the near future and will post his findings when he does so. Additionally, a replica of the Batavia serves as a museum ship in Leylstad, Netherlands.

In the same year Edwards found the Batavia, he located another Dutch East Indiaman, the Zeewyck, which had sunk in 1727. In subsequent trips to the wreck site Edwards discovered several artifacts including an elephant tusk that didn’t coincide with the historical record for the Zeewyck. After nearly 50 years of piecing together various clues, Edwards has come to the conclusion that the Zeewyck and the Aagtekerke sank within 300 meters of one another and their debris field intermixed. Translated journal entries from survivors of the Zeewyck indicate that they had come across debris from another shipwreck when their own ship sank and the presence of the elephant tusk (the Aagtekerke was carrying 214 tusks and the Zeewyck none) seem to confirm his thesis.

Edwards is continuing to explore the site and is hoping to locate the ~30,000 silver coins believed to be among the Aagtekerke’s cargo. Under Australian law, any artifacts raised from the site would belong to the Australian government, however, under generally recognized principles of admiralty/salvage law, Edwards might be entitled to a salvage award for any artifacts he recovers.