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Bolitho Newsletter - Part III - Chain of Command (fwd)

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  • Edwin Russell Cuthbert
    I thinks it s about time we had the third installment of the newsletter. Happy Reading! Edwin - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 1999
      I thinks it's about time we had the third installment of the newsletter.

      Happy Reading!


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      Edwin Cuthbert (Postgrad.), Tel : 0797 1198910
      Department of Chemistry, Email: E.R.Cuthbert@...
      University of Reading,
      Whiteknights, Reading,
      Berkshire, RG6 6AH.
      As mentioned in the previous Newsletter, communications at sea were
      difficult and often unreliable. Within the ordered and disciplined world
      of a fleet or squadron, the importance of signals between ships,
      especially in the prelude to battle, was paramount. The mas whose flag of
      command flew over any force relied absolutely on a rapid exchange of
      signals, the briefer the better. From the line of battle to the smaller
      rated frigates, "the eyes of the fleet", immediate understanding and swift
      response could mean the difference between victory and bloody failure.

      Of necessity, admiral was a remote and often lonely appointment, but one
      so important that any serious misunderstanding in the heat of battle could
      not only wreck a campaign but bring runi and disgrace to that same man,
      although to his gun crews and hard-worked seaman and marines he might
      always appear invulnerable and beyond reach.

      In every flagship there were two officers who could provide the vital link
      between the admiral and his chain of command. The flag captain not only
      commanded the ship but was responsible for the exercises and manoeuvres of
      the squadron under sail, forging them into a single weapon which he
      considered competent enough to follow the flag, if necessary to the
      cannon's mouth. It was often said that to be appointed a flag captain was
      the shortest route to promotion, or to a court-martial. Hardy, who was one
      of Nelson's flag captains, was slow and careful, a necessary anchor for
      his admiral's mercurial ad unorthodox mind. On the other hand, Edward
      Berry, Nelson's flag captain at the Nile, rarely saw eye to eye with his
      admiral. I suspect that they were very much alike in many ways, and they
      were very good friends, often a disadvantage in such circumstances.

      Directly involved with his admiral and with the communications between all
      captains under his command, the flag lieutenant was often closer than any
      one to him.

      Ships, particularly the larger men-of-war, depended on clear and precise
      signals when manoeuvring in close company. Whether these signals were
      acted upon instantly or obeyed in succession allowing for the wind and the
      possible presence of an enemy, had to be kept uppermost in any admiral's
      mind. His aide, no matter how junior, had to be prepared to challenge any
      decision which he might consider a waster of valuable time or difficult
      for the ships furthest away from the Flag to interpret.

      Pasco, the Victory's flag lieutenant at Trafalgar, understood his admiral
      very well. With the Franco-Spanish fleet approaching in all its terrible
      splendour, and the English sailors forced to contain their nerves and
      endure casualites from the first, long-ranging shots, Nelson was
      determined to make a signal which would inspire every man in the fleet.
      That signal is so famous that most schoolchildren know it by heart...or
      did. Nelson wanted "England confides that....", but Lieutenant Pasco, who
      was using the original Home Popham's Telegraph Code, substituted expects,
      as he considered that the word confides would have to be spelled out
      letter by letter, and would take too long. Luckily for Mr Pasco and for
      history, the little admiral agreed.

      To order ships under his admiral's command to alter course, to make more
      sail, or even to anchor, the flag lieutenant could usually manage with
      single or paired flags. This was the fastest way to signal instructions to
      the fleet even up until the second world war. I have seen destroyers
      turning as one in response to the dip of a single flag, when semaphore or
      light would have taken far longer.

      In fiction as in real life, and I find them difficult to separate, those
      closest to Richard Bolitho have become well known, as individual people
      rather than parts of the chain of command.

      His flag captains have been several and varied. Who can forget Thomas
      Herrick's stubborn and sometimes maddening refusal to bend the rules?
      Equally, we must not overlook his compassion when he carried the news of
      Cheney's death to Bolitho. The loyal and eager Inch, and Keen, who matures
      from midshipman to flag rank in Bolitho's shadow, and with his example to
      follow. Captain James Tyacke, who finds the strength to rise above a
      terrible disfigurement, because of Bolitho, and for Bolitho. And his words
      after a bitter and hard won victory, "And for what?" It rings so true with
      people like me, who still wonder "Why?"

      And finally Adam Bolitho, who has served as both flag captain and flag
      lieutenant, and will perhaps carry the weight of all that he has seen, and
      learned from his beloved uncle. A frigate captain above all else, and one
      who has known the importance of communications at sea, when even a slight
      delay or a misunderstanding can lead to court-martial and worse. Given
      time, he will learn, like Bolitho, that enemies can be forged in envy as
      much as in war.

      There is nothin in the Fleet Signal Book for that. He will stand alone. He
      is quite alone.

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      Edwin Cuthbert (Postgrad.), Tel : 0797 1198910
      Department of Chemistry, Email: E.R.Cuthbert@...
      University of Reading,
      Whiteknights, Reading,
      Berkshire, RG6 6AH.
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