The Shell Case Short 4 – Winner 2

The second winner is David Bartley (@mephistonag ) for his outstanding piece on the history of the Falkland Island Squadron of the Britannian Navy from Dystopian Wars. Just to be clear David is not 2nd but an equal and worthy winner alongside Chris. David will be receiving his signed copy of Salamander by Nick Kyme very soon.

An extract from:-  A review of the Kingdom of Britannia Naval Armada, 1870 by Charles Aubrey.

The Falkland Island Squadron

HISTORY

Little did Her Majesty’s government realise how important the decision to colonise the remote and windswept Falkland Islands was to become in later years. The ever-growing need for resources highlighted the need for a deep water port in the South Atlantic, and the Falkland Islands were the perfect choice. Captain James Onslow and the cruiser Clio were ordered to restate the Britannia claim to the islands, and evict any illegal colonies they found. They soon displaced a settlement founded by the United Provinces of the River Plate and set about surveying the islands for both military and civilian use.

Onslow rapidly determined that the best military real estate would be the coasts either side of Falkland Sound. With the deep water of the sound allowing for even the largest of vessels a safe protected anchorage.  Turning San Carlos bay into a fully functional naval base would be a trivial taks for her majesties engineers. As more ships and workers began to arrive Onslow was ordered to oversee both the establishment of a base ashore, and to survey the islands in as much detail as he was able. By the middle of the year the first buildings had been erected and a functional port created at San Carlos.

Civilian prospectors were sent to survey the islands and they reported little of real importance on the islands itself, however as a hub of both fishing and seal hunting the islands would be of use. To this end they were directed to plan for the establishment of a colony on the islands and selected the Berkley Sound area as the most suitable. In 1831 they began initial work on the settlement of Port Stanley on the eastern most coast of the islands. By 1835 the town and port were established and the first Governor was able to take seat in Government House.

The military had not been idle during these years. Port San Carlos was now a fully developed permanent naval base, with a port capable of servicing ships as large as battleships. The permanent garrison was made up of a small contingent of the Land Armada, name Naval Party 8901, drawn from the contingents of ships docked for repair at the time. With most of Britannia’s military resources engaged in operations in other theatres, the threat to the islands was judged to be too low to require further resources.

When the then Federated States expanded its sphere of influence by annexing Mexico the Britannia government began to realise the true strategic nature of its colony in the South Atlantic. Bills were quickly passed in parliament and the admiralty ordered to raise a standing force in the Falkland Islands, formally named the Falkland Island Squadron (FIS). This force was to include a permanent company of soldiers from the 34th Sheffield (Sea) Regiment to form Naval Party 8901, a squadron of attack and fighter aircraft from the Air Armada, and a small force of frigates and cruisers from the Navy. This was in place by late 1839, under the command of Commodore Wynstanley, whose permanent headquarters were established at Port San Carlos.

Wynstanley saw that the current dispositions of forces on the island would never be sufficient should the US ever push further south and begin to harass British holdings to the south of the continent. Lacking both the resources, military and financial backing after the establishment of the permanent base, he set about the task of preparing the ground work for expansion of both San Carlos and potential bases on West Falkland. Using the cover of manoeuvres and exercises by both land and air armada large areas around Port Howard and Fox bay were bombed and assaulted repeatedly, leaving them suitably disrupted that the engineers had little trouble moving in and clearing the land ready for future exploitation.  By the time Wynstanley was recalled from his command in shame, he had done much to prepare the Islands for their future crucial role. However the admiralty considered his wanton use of valuable ordinance needed elsewhere on manoeuvres in a passive province to be both wasteful and underhand. He was never placed in a position of command again and retired a year later from the service.

When Lord Sturgeon arrived at Port Stanley in late 1844, to take on final provisions before embarking on his historic expedition, little was thought of the endeavour that would forever change our world. Backed by all nations no military escort of the ships was allowed and they passed beyond patrol boarders of the Falkland Island Squadrons into the frozen wastes of Antarctica. The few that had ventured onto that vast continent spoke of ice and rock as far as they could see, with little cover to the constant shifting weather. In truth no one on the Islands ever expected to see any of the explorers again when they left Port Stanley. How wrong they were.

The next 12 years were a prosperous time for the Falkland Islands. As the exploration and expansion of the frontier settlements took hold on Antarctica, more and more ships and people passed through the island. Port Stanley grew in size and stature as the money these travellers brought was invested in the Island. Despite its rugged and harsh environment, familiar at once to any inhabitant of Exmoor or the Scottish Highlands, the island was a green and fertile land compared to the harsh conditions of those early years of the expedition. Many workers came to the island to rest and recuperate, spending even more as they did. The FIS during this time did not enjoy such a similar rise to prominence. The posting as Officer commanding was never seen as a career enhancing one, and a string of competent, yet uninspiring, commanders followed in the wake of Wynstanley. Many times the ships and crews sent south were both on the verge of retirement, and many saw their tour as one that had to be endured, spending as much time as possible enduring it in the pleasures that Port Stanley had grown to provide.

The shockwave of Lord Sturgeon’s announcement of the formation of the Covenant of Antarctica was felt as keenly in Port Stanley as it was in the corridors of power back in London. Many feared that a war would be declared and they would become the focus of any reprisals by the newly created nation. The inhabitants of the Falklands knew full well that the innovations that had been released to the world were only the tip of the iceberg as to what could be lurking in the depths of the mythical Vault. While many of the rumours and tales that had escaped the frozen outpost sounded too fanciful even for the amazing modern world we live in some had more than a grain of truth in them. The Britannia government, after much bluster and rhetoric from the back benches, eventually came to realise that a military response was not an option, and dispatched an Ambassador to the Covenant, thereby formally recognising its legitimacy as an independent nation. To not do so was consider too large a risk, without the technological marvels that the scientist had let out into the world over the previous decase the Kingdom would run the risk of other nations gaining an unacceptable advantage.

While her majesty’s government was forced to accept this turn of events, the admiralty turned its thoughts to what would be required if war was ever declared on this new world power.  It was quickly realised that the prominence and capabilities of the FIS and its bases on the islands had to be reviewed and increased with all alacrity. To this end Admiral Shaftsbury was dispatched to assume command of the FIS, the first officer of flag rank ever to hold the post, and indicating to all in the service that the FIS was no longer to be viewed as a second-rate arm of the Naval Armada. Shaftsbury at first appeared as an odd choice to a public demanding the turncoat Sturgeon be taken to task. His commands at sea had been uninspiring. He had not been involved in any major actions, his career one of steady promotion without the headline catching prominence of more hawkish colleagues.

While Shaftsbury may not have been the ideal candidate to launch an invasion of the Antarctic, he was the perfect man to plan and organise the build up of forces in the FIS, and the infrastructure needed to support them. When his flag was raised at his HQ in San Carlos in 1858 he quickly came to realise what a god send the ground work that Wynstanley had covertly laid was. With two areas all ready cleared, effectively ready for the construction,  plans for 2 permanent bases could be put into action immediately. With a new commander came a new flagship, and for the first time ever a battleship was permanently part of the FIS. Its arrival was to highlight that even the naval base at San Carlos would require a massive overhaul to bring it up to the standard to maintain and support the modern fleet that the FIS would have to become.

Admiral Shaftsbury spent an unprecedented period of 10 years as the commander of the FIS. During this time the area either side of Falkland sound was changed beyond recognition. He oversaw the construction of permanent bases for the Air Armada and Land forces assigned to the FIS, with additional staging areas built and provisioned should either need to be enlarged for operations in the South Atlantic. The port facilities were also been massively upgraded in both size and capability. Capable of handling even the brutish Majesty class dreadnoughts and Avenger fleet carriers separate and secret facilities were constructed to support the Vanguard submarines coming into service with the fleet.

As the facilities grew so did the compliment of ships and personnel assigned to the FIS.  No longer were obsolete ships assigned with each new class of ship finding its way south early in their lives with the Navy. Shaftsbury’s insistence on this was founded that the conditions found in the seas around Antarctica were unlike any other, and ships designed and tested to operate in the North Atlantic may prove unserviceable in the endless southern ocean.  It is a great credit to the ingenuity and skill of the ship building engineers of Britannia that no class of ship has ever proven to be unsuited to deployment in the southern ocean.

During the 10 years of growth no major engagements between ships occurred despite the FIS beginning to actively patrol Britannia’s territorial waters around the Falklands, and further afield into international waters. It was not until 1865 that ships bearing the flag of the Covenant were encountered in international waters, and began making visits to Port Stanley. Tensions continued to rise as ships of both fleets encountered each other more frequently out in open waters.

It was not until November 1868 that ships from the FIS and Covenant exchanged fire. The cruiser Lion was on patrol with the frigates Undaunted and Endymoin in international waters off the coast of Antarctica. A ship roughly the size of a cruiser, but of an unknown design, was observed approaching rapidly. The ship hailed the FIS squadron and claimed they were sailing in Covenant waters and demand they depart North at full speed. Captain Bellows replied that he was sailing legally in international waters and the ship should change course or he would have no choice but to declare it as hostile, and take action as his orders dictated. The Covenant vessel refused to change course, and for reasons that are to this day hotly debated, Bellows gave the order to launch a full spread of torpedoes from his foreword tubes while he began to manoeuvre his ships into position to finish the task. The battle was brief and somewhat one-sided with the Covenant ship sunk after inflicting minor damage to Lion and Undaunted. Diplomatic exchanges following this incident were long and heated. After some months, where war seemed a distinct possibility a treaty was agreed and territorial waters surrounding both the Falkland Islands and Covenant of Antarctica were agreed. No warships of either side would enter the others waters without prior agreement and escort. Trade between the Covenant and Falkland Islands were resumed, much to the relief of the civilians on the island who had began to feel the financial pinch of the isolation.

The political fallout of this engagement was felt far and wide within both the government and admiralty. It became obvious that Captain Bellows felt he was operating under clear orders that he was able to defend his ship against any threat with deadly force. However no such standing orders could be found to cover the FIS. Indeed the existence of the Covenant was not acknowledged in the standing orders. While Shaftsbury was the perfect commander to oversee the building of the fleet, it quickly became apparent that his focus had remained on planning and logistics, and that the FIS was operating under the rules of engagement that had existed over a decade ago. It was time that a greater military mind was in command lest such encounters between ships become common and escalated out of control of either government.

The appointment of the current Commanding officer, Admiral Moorhouse, in March 1869 was to cause much muttering and disquiet within the admiralty. On paper he does indeed look to be an odd choice to command such a vital part of the naval armada. Many point to his limited experience in command of capital class vessels. Indeed, Moorhouse has only one command of such a ship, the battleship Resolution of the Mediterranean fleet. Moorhouse has spent most of his career working in the silent service, the submarine arm of the naval armada. His previous appointment was a commander of submarines for the Mediterranean fleet and many expected him to assume this post within the home fleet. He is widely acknowledged as the foremost expert in submersible operations. At the end of his first full year in command all those that have visited the Falklands and seen the men and ships of the FIS operate have reported favourable on them. Admiral Moorhouse has replaced the old rules of engagement with ones suitable to the conditions that now prevail in the South Atlantic. Not only is the growth of military prowess of the Covenant a concern, but the purchase of land in Argentina by the Empire of the blazing sun, and the resultant military build up have once again proved the worth of this small outpost of the empire to all in the home island.

THE FLEET

The modern FIS is, in truth, as powerful and capable as any of the other fleets in the Naval Armada. Many in the admiralty have lobbied to change the name to reflect the military power of the command, yet this has been resisted largely on political grounds. Many feel that to formally acknowledge the military build up in the Falkland Islands could cause protests from the Covenant’s government and whatever the military reality the ability to pass the formation off as a mere squadron is politically expedient.

Admiral Moorhouse’s flagship is currently the Majesty class dreadnought Howe. Though he spends more time ashore Moorhouse’s ship is rarely in port. It is often out in the ocean undergoing exercises at both ship and squadron level as command of Alpha squadron. The ruler class battleship Conqueror is the lead ship for Bravo squadron. While the two squadrons are permanent structures ships within the fleet are assigned as required, with ships moving between the two often. Such a flexible arrangement is a foreign concept to most commanders, but Admiral Moorhouse quickly came to realise that both the remote location, and harshness of conditions found in the South Atlantic required such measures. Ships require far more maintenance in these unforgiving conditions and as such spend more time in port, on average, than any others in the Britannia navy.

The surface compliment is made up of 6 Tribal class cruisers, 6 Orion class destroyers, 12 Attack class frigates and 12 Bastion class escorts. The avenger class fleet carrier Hermes is nominally attached to the fleet. However it rarely operates with the fleet in the waters between the islands and Antarctica. The sea conditions commonly found there have made flight operations off its deck impossible much of the time and it is normally found patrolling the area to the north, escorting ships being sold to the Socialist Union of South America into their ports.

The one real anomaly with the FIS is that a larger than expected number of Vanguard class submarines operate as part of the fleet. While the exact number was not revealed to the author it can be assumed that there are more than 10 available to Admiral Moorhouse at any given time. While at first it may seem ridiculous to have so many of these valuable ships assigned to one fleet further consideration makes their deployment a master stroke of planning on Moorhouse’s part. These ships can operate for long periods without the need to surface, and are therefore not subjected to the harsh sea conditions that the surface ships have to endure. There rugged hulls designed to smash opponents hulls in too are equally suitable for dealing with the ice flows found around the border waters between Britannia and Covenant territory.  One must also consider the potential for a submarine to go places undiscovered and undertake operations that other ships just could not. In these uncertain times we live in the author takes comfort that such ships are out in the South Atlantic, learning all they can of the abilities of the Covenant forces. Without their brave crews and commander the world would indeed be a much more dangerous place.

In summary the Falkland Island Squadron has grown rapidly in both power and prominence since its inception in 1839. It is impossible to believe that it will ever again be left to drift as it did in its early years. What threat to the sovereignty of Britannia the Covenant of Antarctica may ultimately prove will become known over the coming years. That there will be conflict between the fleets in the South Atlantic seems increasingly likely, and the appearance of Empire of the blazing suns fleet assets of the coast of Argentina will only further inflame the situation. This author is encouraged by what he saw of the FIS, and has total confidence that Admiral Moorhouse is the man to lead it.

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