One reason why Britannia ruled the waves: TQM 18th C style

 

An Englishman enters a naval action with the firm conviction that his duty is to hurt his enemies and help his friends and allies without looking out for directions in the midst of the fight; and while he thus clears his mind of all subsidiary distractions, he rests in confidence on the certainty that his comrades, actuated by the same principles as himself, will be bound by the sacred and priceless law of mutual support. Accordingly, both he and all his fellows fix their minds on acting with zeal and judgment upon the spur of the moment and with the certainty that they will not be deserted. Experience shows, on the contrary, that a Frenchman or a Spaniard, working under a system which leans to formality and strict order being maintained in battle, has no feeling for mutual support, and goes into action with hesitation, preoccupied with the anxiety of see­ing or hearing the commander-in-chief’s signals for such and such manoeuvres. . . . Thus they can never make up their minds to seize any favourable opportunity that may present itself. They are fettered by the strict rule to keep station, which is enforced upon them in both navies, and the usual result is that in one place ten of their ships may be firing on four, while in another four of their comrades may be receiving the fire of ten of the enemy. Worst of all, they are denied the confidence inspired by mutual support, which is as surely maintained by the English as it is neglected by us, who will not learn from them.

Source:

Nelson leaves men onboard to whack polar bear: Inadvertently shoots own arm off

Don Domingo Perez de Grandallana, a Spaniard writing of the Battle of St Vincent where a relatively obscure Commodore Horatio Nelson first rocketed to celebrity thrill-seeker status. Disobeying orders, he headed his 74 gun third rate straight into six of the heaviest Spanish ships three of which were 112-gun three-deckers and a fourth the 130-gun flagship. With his ship’s wheel shot away, he led his troops to board an enemy ship and then with cries of “Westminster Abbey or Glorious Victory” ordered them to board another ship. Everyone ended up very impressed. The rest is history. 

 

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Ken Parish
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Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
7 years ago

I was under the impression that TQM was effected in those days by liberal application of rum, sodomy and the lash …

Ken Parish
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Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
7 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

Horatio’s internal TQM dialogue: “I wonder what the difference is between “do” and “act”? How can I know? Is it just management gobbledegook to create a spurious virtuous circle? Christ, I’d better duck before I get shot! …. oops! Too late … Kiss me Hardie.”

I used to be and still am Not Trampis
I used to be and still am Not Trampis
7 years ago

of course they operated under canon law~

I used to be and still am Not Trampis
I used to be and still am Not Trampis
7 years ago

Hey Nick,
Whilst in hospital I heard you interviewed on ABC radio talking about PPPs.
you were very good of course. You really should put it up here

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
7 years ago

I once read a history of the 1812 war (by, I thought, Patrick O’Brian but I can’t find it on Wikipedia) which explained that the English were used to taking on anyone, even when outgunned. It was the done thing: you sighted the enemy and you closed and engaged. They were invincible.

They thought. They came to grief with the Americans and it might have been for reasons given in your post. As usual for a bureaucracy, it took some catasprophic defeats for the message to hit home.

Fyodor
7 years ago

A bit late to this one, but I found this bit rather curious:

In any event, it makes the case that the British rules of naval engagement, which involved the Brits taking the windward side of an engagement forced them into the aggressive stance that Nelson was famous for. The French were to the lee side and so could run away like the surrender monkeys the Americans discovered when they changed the name of their national dish from French fries to Freedom fries. You can’t run away if the wind is blowing you towards your enemy.

There’s nothing particularly “British” about seizing the weather-gauge. In the age of sail, being on the windward side of an engagement was in all but extraordinary circumstances the best tactical position as you could give or evade battle. The (imperfect) analogy with land battles is seizing higher ground.

That said, being on the windward side of an engagement doesn’t “force” one into an aggressive stance. You obviously CAN run away from the enemy if the enemy is before you and the wind is at your back by running before the wind, e.g. to port or starboard, away from the enemy, and taking advantage of the fact that the enemy can only approach you by sailing against the wind, necessarily more slowly and with the risk of exposing himself to a broadside of cannonfire.

More broadly, and more to the point of the post, the so-called “British” tactics that you refer to – i.e. sailing at the enemy line, into gunfire – were not universally applied. Nelson is known for them, because he won several celebrated battles by breaking the enemies’ line of battle this way, but by no means did all RN fleet actions proceed on the same basis. Different situations called for different tactics.

Nelson was willing and able to point his ships into an enemy line, because he knew that the enemy’s lower standard of gunnery would result in less accuracy and volume of fire (thus less damage on approaching the enemy line) and that once brought into action his crew would outfight the enemy in gunfire and boarding action. Why? Because by the late 18th century the Royal Navy had been at almost constant war for nearly a century and was the largest, most experienced and professional navy in the world. Years of blockading enemy fleets in port meant that opposing naval crews lacked training, experience and morale whereas the RN had highly experienced and motivated crews led by professional officers. These facts meant that British fleets were able to delegate authority down to individual captains and to allow flexible tactics in a way that their opponents could not. RN captains would expect to defeat any enemy ship of similar, or even slightly superior, rating. Better training provided the freedom for aggression and innovation. This didn’t work so well for them against American frigates because: 1) the Americans had equivalently trained and experienced crews (many of the members were ex-RN); and 2) the US frigates were typically bigger and better-armed than the RN equivalents.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_1812#Single-ship_actions

James
James
7 years ago

The Soviet Army had a similar command structure to the French and Spanish:

An ordinary tank crew member or infantry soldier does not need a map. He does not take operational decisions, he obeys them. Remember Soviet tactical theory-no battalion, no regiment, division or Army advances independently. Even a Front can only operate independently in exceptional circumstances. A Soviet offensive is a massive avalanche of tanks, supported by a storm of artillery fire. All this is directed at a single, narrow sector of the enemy’s front. Individual initiative could ruin the overall plan. In many cases, regimental and divisional commanders have no authority to deviate from the route they have been ordered to follow. In this situation an ordinary soldier does not need a map. His function is to keep his weapons and equipment in good order and to use them skilfully, to advance bravely and with determination in the direction indicated by his commander, and to push forward at all costs and whatever the losses. The Soviet soldier is not expected to pore over a map-there are any number of others who are doing that-but to refuel a tank quickly, to unload ammunition as fast as he can, to aim accurately and to fire cold-bloodedly. His task is to work as fast as he can, repairing damage to his personal weapons or changing rollers or tracks on tanks, putting out fires, driving his tank under water towards the enemy’s shore. He must go without sleep for three days and without food for five, he must sleep in the snow in his shabby greatcoat and carry out the orders of his commander unquestioningly. The Soviet Army teaches him to do all this. But it only teaches map reading to those who will command and direct this soldier.

The Soldier’s Lot, Viktor Suvorov

john Walker
john Walker(@johnrwalker)
7 years ago
Reply to  James

James one of the soviet army’s bigger problems in WW2 was that Stalin in the 30s had purged (often shot) most of its higher level officers and largely replaced them with political commissars. And therefore their ability to organise-coordinate complex large scale multiple unit maneuvers was pretty limited.

Fyodor
7 years ago

James one of the soviet army’s bigger problems in WW2 was that Stalin in the 30s had purged (often shot) most of its higher level officers and largely replaced them with political commissars. And therefore their ability to organise-coordinate complex large scale multiple unit maneuvers was pretty limited.

Not entirely true. Commissars did not lead units, but effectively supervised the officers who did. The officer corps was heavily purged in the 1930s and then again in 1941, but there were still many talented generals able to employ the Deep Battle approach to operational art developed by the Red Army in the 1930s, e.g. Zhukov in 1939:

Battles of Khalkhin Gol

john Walker
john Walker(@johnrwalker)
7 years ago
Reply to  Fyodor

Yes
Zhukov did more than survive in ‘Siberia’ and of course went on to pull off the pincer move on Stalingrad.