The Sixties Live On

Since it's the fashionable thing around here to post interesting news stories, I shall do just that. Of course, this news story isn't as interesting to me as it is grimly depressing -- anyone who periodically breezes over to the Royal Navy's jazzy little skiff afloat the Net and reads the diaries of HM Ships on the high seas knows both their bravery and rakish dash and their woeful inadequacies in quality and quantity of force at sea.

What makes all this even more disappointing is the knowledge that only a few years ago the Royal Navy had far more frigates and submarines: 42 frigates versus 30 today, 31 submarines versus 14. While there have been one or two noteworthy qualitative improvements (Vanguard class SSBNs in place of Resolutions), the decline in power for submarines alone is mournful:

(Figures are for 1991)

Valiant class SSNs: 5

Swiftsure class SSNs: 6

Trafalgar class SSNs: 7

Oberon class SSs: 9

Resolution class SSBNs: 4


Swiftsure class SSNs: 3

Trafalgar class SSNs: 7

Vanguard class SSBNs: 4

(plus 3 Astute class SSNs building).

Indeed, the jolly old Royal Navy has been retreating and rusting away since the end of the Big One.

For those of us who know the stirring brace of history and perspective and the salve of knowledge of days smiled upon more by the Trinity's providence, may I recommend a little book I have recently finished: British Sea Power: How Britain Became Sovereign of the Seas by David Howarth. (AKA Sovereign of the Seas; ISBN 078671249x). While I disagree with some of the author's later conclusions (particularly about the efficacy of a battle fleet in the twentieth century), the book is wonderful in two ways. First, and most sparklingly, Howarth gives us dozens of the stirring tales of Britons (I would have said Englishmen, and would be right, but Richard might get his shorts torqued, to use a phrase that I heard came from one of his brothers). These are the stories we (yea, e'en I) ought to have known but didn't, like the adventuresome voyage of George Anson in the Pacific. I won't say more -- legete librum. Also, Howarth is a competent historian, noting the pattern of several decades of corruption followed by a half century of gallantry and observing frequently the "magnanimity in victory" practiced by the English.