Britain’s grasp of the tactics needed, to be successful whilst fighting at sea, has a history whose roots go back further than the Royal Navy itself.
- One of the most crushing defeats of any navy was suffered by the French at the hands of the English. In 1340, at the start of the hundred years war, the French were preparing to invade England from Flanders but they hadn’t reckoned on a surprise English attack.
- At Sulys in France as the French ships were awaiting final orders to invade, the English attacked, coming out of the sun the English attacked the French and destroyed 190 ships and 6,000 men.
Such was the enormity of the attack it changed the course of the war, with battles for the rest of it’s duration taking place on land
Early battles at sea relied upon ships getting close enough to each other to inflict the maximum damage possible allowed by their weaponry. As weapons advanced that distance increased but the skills, tactics and element of surprise required to defeat the enemy remained paramount.
- Nelson’s ability to fight definitive sea battles resulted in giving England a commanding position as ruler of the seas.
- In 1798, the French sought to take control of Eygpt by sending a fleet to the entrance of the Nile. The British viewed this move with horror and sent the English fleet with Nelson at it’s helm to scupper them and this he did. He carved through the French fleet attacking on all sides. With the destruction of 13 ships and 3000 killed and injured, the Royal Navy asserted it’s dominance in the Mediterranean
- Nelson continued carving through the fleets of both France and Spain at the Battle of Trafalgar, alas along with the loss of thousands of men Nelson also lost his life but had left a legacy of British Naval dominance that gave strength and resolution to the British nation as a whole
Britain’s skills to fight at sea were severely put to the test at the Battle of Jutland in 1916
- It was the largest naval battle of WWI and with characteristic heroism and belief in their abilities the Royal Navy engaged with the German Navy.
- There were 151 British ships and 91 German
- There were serious losses on both sides, 6000 British sailors were lost and 14 ships, 3000 German sailors and 85 of her ships were destroyed or damaged.
By the time of WWII, bombers were taking off from aircraft carriers. At Taranto in Italy in 1940, massive damage was inflicted on the Italian Navy as it sat in the harbour. It tipped the balance of Naval power in the Mediterranean and was closely observed by Admiral Yamamoto who copied the attack when he unleached his attack on Pearl Harbour a year later.
The last great battle fought by the Royal Navy was during the Falklands War 1982, where dominance of the seas, was once again to define the outcome of the battle.
Follow the link to listen to the people engaged in the Battle for the Falklands, thirty years on