Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Arab Muslim raiding in the Atlantic and North Atlantic

While on convoy duty in the Mediterranean, Captain John Kempthorne in the ‘Mary Rose’ was attacked by seven Algerine corsairs. With the help of only a ketch, the ‘Roe’, they were none the less repulsed and the whole convoy saved.

This well-finished drawing is based on Hollar’s etching of the incident in Ogilby’s ‘Africa’ (1670), though the drawing has more smoke and the ships are more accurate. It has a high horizon and in the centre middle distance shows a port-broadside view of the ‘Mary Rose’. On her port bow is a pink (copied from the incorrect etching) and the ‘Hamborough’ frigate. On her beam is a Scotch merchantman and, on her quarter, the ‘Roe’. In line to starboard are six of the Algerines, the ‘Half Moon’, ‘Orange Tree’, ‘Seven Stars’, ‘White Horse’, ‘Hart’ and ‘Golden Lion. In the left foreground is a French merhantman and in the right distance the Algerine ‘Rose Leaf’ pursuing a prize that was cast adrift.
After expulsion of the Arabs from the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th Century, Moslems frequently raided the coasts of Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, France, England, Ireland, and Iceland and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and Cyprus, sacked their towns and carried their inhabitants back to North Africa, where they were enslaved because they were 'infidels.

The Barbary pirates of North Africa were sometimes called "Turkish corsairs". Operating out of North Africa they were the terror of the Mediterranean (and elsewhere...a Lutheran preacher and his family were once abducted from Iceland) for several centuries. They raided European shipping and even coastal Europe, and at one point, collectively had one million European slaves (many lighter-skinned North Africans are supposedly their descendants). The Catholic Church had a specific order dedicated to ransoming prisoners; one famous prisoner of the pirates was Cervantes.

Due to their usefulness as potential military allies, most European states preferred to pay them not to bother their shipping. It took two wars in the early 1800s for them to stop molesting US shipping; the Europeans paid tribute until the 1830s. However, increasing international intolerance of piracy and European conquest of Northern Africa put an end to their shenanigans.

Their apogee was in the early 17th Century. Between 1616 and 1642, fourteen Cornish ships were brought into Algiers alone -- out of a total of eighty-four owned in the county in 1626.

1627 raids against Iceland which took 300+people.

1629 Barbary Coast pirates (navy) attacked the Faeroe Islands and took some 30 women as slaves.

1630 raid against Weston-super-Mare

1631 sack of Baltimore (i.e. Baltimore, Ireland) and took 109 captives.

The Isles of Scilly which lie about thirty miles off the south west tip of England were raided. They are strategically important as they hold the weather gage for the English Channel.  Traditionally they had been rented from the monarch by the Godolphin family for ten pounds per year although the rent had been paid in puffins, a bird very prolific on the islands and said to be such a delicacy that it had been classified as fish so that it could be eaten on Fridays.

It was as late as 1636 that Sir Francis Godolphin, his brother and their wives were captured and killed by what contemporary reports called 'Turkish pirates'. This was a generic term to cover Turk, Moors and Algerians who were frequently seen off the Isles, though their traditional prey had become the fishing fleets returning from Newfoundland. Their activities only ceased in 1816 when a combined fleet of English and Dutch ships destroyed Algiers.


In that age the technological dependence upon the wind made it quite possible for single ships or even a handful of ships sailing together to evade interception or even detection. A prevailing wind moving inshore that would pin the defenders' ships in port could still be used by hostile ships at sea to descend upon undefended parts of the coast. In just one instance, John Paul Jones was able during the American Revolution to sail around the British Isles in a single ship, even carrying one attack in Ireland to within sight of Carrickfergus Castle and the town of Belfast itself. The pirates of Algiers used vessels equipped with lateen sails rather than square sails, enabling them to sail closer to the direction of the wind than the European vessels with their square rigs.

The problem lies in the understanding of "maritime power" in relation to the technology of the time. In the 16th and early 17th Century, "command of the seas" was not even worth considering in the context most people refer to it from the Napoleonic period to modern times. In his seminal work, "The Influence of Sea Power on History", Alfred Thayer Mahan dismisses the period entirely. Difficulties in accurate longitudinal measurement (centered around accurate timekeeping), limitations in ship and sail design in relation to the wind, poor food preservation and cost of maintaining a navy prevented a continuous 'at sea' capability by the world's navies until very late in the 17th Century, if not the 18th Century.

Witness the actions of the English fleet in the months prior to the sailing of the Armada in 1588. Despite the fervent pleas from captains Howard, Hawkins and Drake, for Elizabeth to keep the fleet in port and with skeleton crews until the very last possible moment, primarily due to the cost and difficulty of keeping it at 'battle readiness' for an attack they knew was eventually coming. Even when it became apparent the battle was won in the weeks after the last combat at the Gravelines, she put the ships to port and released as many crews as possible. The crown simply lacked the wherewithal to maintain such a force beyond the time of crisis.

The Spanish themselves could not hope to assemble the Armada without purchasing and contracting merchant ships for the temporary purpose of the invasion. They even "conscripted" an entire squadron from the Genoese and used the captured galleons of the Portuguese fleet in the enterprise. For Phillip II the worst tragedy of the Armada was not the missed opportunity, nor the combat losses, nor the loss of men. What really galled him were the costs incurred in the extended time it took to assemble, outfit and prepare the fleet and the disastrous replacement and repair costs of the ships once they returned.

This was just for major fleet action. Coastal raiders, navigating by hugging the coast and landing in essentially a 'snatch' operation, would be almost unmolested. This is why the coast of the Mediterranean is dotted with watch towers and small forts. Sea power through the Renaissance was never enough to stop raiders. When they moved into the Atlantic, it was more in response to the relative "cost" of raiding the minimally fortified coastline of the Med than the nearly defenceless coastlines mentioned above. Additionally, since the increase of trade with the new world and Far East increasingly became an Atlantic endeavour, it only stands to reason that the pirates, corsairs and raiders would 'follow the money' out of the Med and into the Atlantic.

It may have also been a "peace dividend" of sorts. The principle source of slaves for the Turks, Christian and Pirate navies of the Med were the captured sailors and soldiers in naval battles, either fleet or small squadrons. As the Turkish Empire receded and the maritime operations of the Med decreased, the supply of fresh slaves decreased dramatically.


Barbary Powers

The Barbary Powers Wars were the first wars officially declared against America following our victory in the War for Independence.

The Barbary "pirates" used mainly small sailing craft, usually no larger than the corvette range (brigs, sloops, etc): prominent among them were Mediterranean-adapted types, including Xebecx, Feluccas, etc.

Almost forgotten today are the several expeditions against the Barbary pirates that involved neither the US nor the Brits.

Some Spanish, some French, some combined Italian states, etc.  Even an occasional Danish one.

R.C. Anderson, Naval Wars in the Levant, 1559-1853 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), covers many of these expeditions, especially the last Venetian one that lasted several years; he also mentions the Danish force sent to the Mediterranean to suppress the Barbary pirates. Not mentioned is the Spanish-Portuguese expedition against Algiers in 1784 and some earlier Spanish expeditions--the Spanish navy did more than just lose battles to the all-important British. The Portuguese often patrolled outside the Strait of Gibraltar, using ships of the line for the purpose, to keep the Barbary corsairs away from their lucrative trade with Brazil and the East Indies. In doing so, of course, they kept them away from everyone else's Atlantic trade.

The Portuguese maintained what we would nowadays call a "high operational tempo," even in "peacetime" annually mobilizing a high proportion of their small fleet, including ships of the line, to protect their valuable Brazilian and East Indies commerce against Barbary raiders. When the US had no navy to speak of, American commerce in the Atlantic was protected from North African corsairs by Portuguese patrols just outside of Gibraltar, meant to keep those raiders away from Portuguese Atlantic shipping.

Anderson has long been out of print and must be sought from out-of-print or rare book dealers. I know someone who just bought a copy. Libraries are always a possibility, too, of course. I'm not aware of a detailed English-language account of the Iberian expeditions. The Spanish participation may be found in Cesáreo Fernandez Duro, Armada española desde la unión de los reinos de Castilla y de Aragón (9 vols.; Madrid: Est. tipografico "Sucesores de Rivadeneyra", 1895-1903), recently reprinted by the Museo Naval. At the individual ship level, the Portuguese exploits are described in António Marques Esparteiro, Três séculos no mar (30 vols.; Lisbon: [n. publ., 1974-87]). There are also shorter Spanish-language histories of the Spanish navy but I'm not sure if they would be detailed enough to devote much more than a line or two to these expeditions. I have not looked for a detailed account of the Danish expedition. The most detailed Danish naval history of which I am aware is H[ans] G[eorg] Garde, Efterretninger om den danske og norske Søemagt (4 vols.; Copenhagen: Udgiverens Forlag, 1835).

Tangiers/Tripoli/Tunis: The North African pirate states, making up what was termed “the Barbary Coast” were run-away Ottoman vassal states whose corsairs preyed upon merchant shipping in and around the Mediterranean. Many powers of the day paid hefty tributes to the corsairs to bribe them from attacking merchant shipping, and forcing them to allocate much-needed warships to low-priority escort duties. The chief corsair state, Tangiers, was ruled by the self-made “Pirate King” Ahmed er Raisuli and boasted the largest “navy” during this time.  The power of Barbary Coast pirates was largely ended during a campaign by the United States in the Tripolitan War of 1801-1805. 

Years: pre-- 1792
Years: 1792-1799
Years: 1800-1808
Years: 1809-1815
1st Rate
2nd Rate
3rd Rate
* Tangiers only, over-sized frigates that may be considered to be 5-damage point line ships, with a 1 to combat damage rolls.

It’s many years since I gamed a Barbary pirates scenario but I remember that shallows, sandbanks, tides, winds according to time of day threw a big wrench into any plans. Americans tendered to be better shooters but remember that the pirates tend to have very large crews and being boarded by them is real problem, this affects tactics big time. Enjoy, let us know the results.

Algerian Navy is relatively good documented.

Main sources are.
1) A Devoulx, "La Marine de la Regence d'Alger", Revue Africaine; 1869 Alger: Vol 13(77) pp 384-420.
2) E. Dupuy: "Americans et Barbaresques" , Paris 1910
3) M.Belhamissi "Historie de la Marine Algierienne(1516-1830)
4) Howard Chapelle: "The American Sailing Navy", pg. 135-136.
5) "Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers".

The best source is:
Pierre Grandchamp
"Documents Relatifs aux Corsaires Tunisiens
(Octobre 1777 - 4 Mai 1824)" Tunis 1925

There are no ships names but only names of Rais.
Very interesting that Bey possessed in 1816 three
frigates ex French gabares bought from the Royal Navy.
All 48 guns , and all lost in tempoes off La Goulette 7-9 February 1821. One of them was DROMADAIRE built 1808 at La Ciotat and seized in 1811 by HMS AJAX and bought by Bey at Mata soon after (noted 3 Aug 1811). Spource E.Plantet "Correspondence des Beys de Tunis et des Consuls de France avec la cour 1577-1830. TIII( 1770-1830) Paris 1899.

Very interesting that in December 1808 a British brig of the Cherokee class HMS PRINCE ARTHUR was sold to Emperor of Morocco.

Moroccan Navy

1760 5 pirate vessels at Laraiche, only one with 40 guns
1766 10 ships 165 guns 1430 men
1 frigate 45 guns 330 men
1 frigate 24 guns 150 men
1 frigate 20 guns 150 men
1 zebek 16 guns 130 men
1 zebek 16 guns 126 men
1 zebek 12 guns 124 men
1 galiot 8 guns 30 oars 120 men
1 galiot 6 guns 30 oars 100 men
1 galiot 2 guns 24 oars 80 men
1769 10 ships 142 guns
1770 11 ships 179 guns 1370 men
1771 10 ships 154 guns 1135 men
1772 16 ships 135 guns 1321 men
1773 21 ships 190 guns 1480 men
1775 : At Laraiche 2 frigates of 30 guns and 200men
3 of 24 guns and 150 men each
2 of 20 guns and 130 men
1 galliot of 22 oars 12 guns 90 men
At Tetuan: 2 xebecs of 30 oars 20 guns and 90ß men
1 galliot of 32 oars 16 guns 100 men
3 galliots of 24 oars 10 guns 90 men
1 galliot of 22 oars 12 guns 90 men
alse ready for launching
1 xebec of 26 oars 16 guns
3 galliots of 22 oars 12 guns
At Salee: 1 vessel of 24 guns and 130 men
1 xebec of 20 oars 18 guns 120 men
3 galliot of 30 oars 10 guns 130 men
At Tangier:
1 Galliot of 36 oars 10 guns 160 men
1780 15 ships 100 guns 786 men
1788 11 ships 1200 men
6-7 frigates of 200 bm tone 14-18 6pdr guns
dozen galleys
1790 15 small frigates + chebeck + 20-30 oared gunboats
manned by 6000 men under one admiral
1793 10 frigates, 4 brigs, 14 galiotes, 19 shaloups
1805 4 frigates:
MAIMONA (i) 30 guns 70 men built 1804 Lisbon
MAIMONA (ii) 32 guns
SUWARROW 209 gift from England
1 brig 16 guns
1 sloop 16 guns from Holland
1815 1 frigate 700t 32 guns AL MANSURA of the British origin
1 brig ES SAWIRA 18 guns gift from a Mogador Jew
also of the British origin
1 frigate 500t 32 guns
1817-20 all ships transferred to Alger

The good sources ale:
1) L Chenier: "Recherches historiques sur le Maures et historie de l'Empire de Maroc" Paris 1787
2) G. Hoest "Nachrichten von Marokos und Fes , im Lande selbstr gesammlet, in den Jahren 1760 bis 1768" Kopenhagen 1781. Numerous pictures of the Maroccan ships.
3) Ch.Penz "Journal du Consulat General de France a Maroc (1767-1785)" Casablanca 1943
Perhaps somebody has access to them.

I have read that most of the Moroccan ships were of the poor quality. They built a few ships yearly, but as you could show there were no raising of the Moroccan Navy. Especially in 1760s and 1770s they build a number of 36-45 guns frigates, which were served 2-3 years. Some ships as 12 oared galoets were still 1780 extant, since w 8-14 years. Many old xebec were used late for coastal trade. In 1780 of 15 warships 5 (including one 10 gun brig) were moved to cabotage trade.

W.H. Smyth, Sailor's Word-Book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, rev. E. Belcher (1867; repr. London: Conway Maritime Press, 1996), defines "Xebec, or Zebec," as follows:
A small three-masted vessel of the Mediterranean, distinguished from all other European vessels by the great projection of her bow and overhanging of her stern. Being generally equipped as a corsair, the xebec was constructed with a narrow floor, for speed, and of great breadth, to enable her to carry a great press of sail. On the Barbary coast the xebec rig was deemed to vary from the felucca, which in hull is the same, by having the foremast square-rigged."