Moments Which Changed Naval History

Today in History, November 11: 1940 – A History changing event. The British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious launches several obsolete aircraft, “Fairey Swordfish” torpedo aircraft…flying kites, really, in an attack on the Italian Naval Base at Taranto, Italy.

The Harbor was shallow, so the Italians thought they were safe. In this, the first attack by aircraft from a carrier, the Italian navy was devastated, by what many naval officers considered a gimmick…the airplane. On the other side of the world, someone took notice of the successful attack. The Imperial Japanese Navy was encouraged in their plans against Pearl Harbor…also a shallow anchorage considered safe. Naval History was changed…tactics forever adapted by those few British pilots.

USS Constitution “Old Ironsides” Earns Respect for the Nation


Today in History, August 18: 1812 – During the War of 1812, the USS Constitution defeats the Royal Navy Frigate Guerriere off Boston. It had been assumed that the Royal Navy had better ships, better commanders, better tactics than the young American Navy. On this date, the British sailors said their shot bounced off of the Constitution as if she were made of iron rather than wood, thus her historic name “Old Ironsides”.

The Frigate had originally been one of six ships built for defense and to fight Barbary Pirates.  The peace treaty ending the Barbary wars was signed on her deck.

The American ship out maneuvered and out fought the British ship, de-masting her and leaving her a wreck. This was not to be a one time affair, either, as the Constitution went on to defeat 7 more of the King’s best during the war. From fighting Barbary Pirates to a world good will tour in the 1840’s, Old Ironsides served the nation well. Today she is the world oldest commissioned warship, docked at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.

She has been in the news lately as she was placed in dry dock and underwent and extensive refurbishment, returning to “sea” just recently.

Gunboat Diplomacy

Today in History, March 24: 1927 – Gunboat Diplomacy. Chinese nationalists and communists had been struggling for control of the country. When the fight reached Nanking (Nanjing), the nationalist forces left the city. The communist soldiers that entered the city raided the consulates of western nations there; British and American citizens were injured and some killed. All of the western nations that had commercial interests in China had a Naval presence in the region. In response to the assaults, the Royal Navy and the United States Navy vessels on the Yangtze fired on the soldiers and civilians sacking the western sections of the city, driving them away. Marines evacuated the western civilians to ships that were then escorted out of the area. In the process, the escorting ships, mostly the USS William B. Preston, had to suppress fire from the shore several times. The Nationalist forces eventually took back the city. By the next year the government had apologized for the incident and the communist forces agreed to pay reparations.