Anecdotes V

    Equally typical of the dour toughness of the [Napoleonic] period was a British soldier's response to the cries of a wounded Frenchman, undergoing treatment alongside of him.  The latter's screams: "seemed to annoy the Englishman more than anything else, and so much so, that as soon as his arm was amputated he struck the Frenchman a sharp blow across the breech with the severed limb, holding it by the wrist, saying, "Here, take that, and stuff it down your throat, and stop your damned bellowing."

    ---John Keegan and Richard Holmes

    [The Croats and Cossacks] were in the first place exceedingly literal-minded.  Ordered to rummage through the Spanish and Neapolitan headquarters at Velletri in 1744, the Croats returned with sheets of blank paper, not imagining that their masters would be interested in anything which bore writing.  In 1762 Frederick [the Great] borrowed a force of 2,000 Cossacks from his new Russian allies, and decided to try them out by sending them to seize a detachment of Austrian cavalry.  In his instructions he used the word 'horse' for cavalry, with the result that the Cossacks overran the Austrian position, let the astonished troopers go, and returned to the king with their animals.

    ---Christopher Duffy

    Voyage of the Damned - 1905

    During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, the Russian Baltic Fleet made an epic 18,000 mile journey all the way to the Far East.  The voyage was beset with numerous difficulties, perhaps best epitomized by the fleet repair ship, the Kamchatka.

    - As if to lighten the gloom the Kamchatka...reported that she was under attack by torpedo boats.  When [Admiral] Rozhestvensky asked how many, the vessel replied, "About eight.  From all directions."  Naturally it was a false alarm.

    - When the fleet reached Tangier the Kamchatka, which had been detached for some days, caught up and excitedly reported to Rozhestvensky that she had survived a battle in the North Sea, having fired 300 shells in a tussle with three Japanese ships, and vehemently denying that these had in fact been a Swedish merchantman, a German trawler and a French schooner.

    - Disease was rife in the fleet.  Malaria, dysentry and typhoid took their toll and funeral services were a daily event.  A shell was fired to honour one of [Kamchatka's] dead turned out to be live and ricocheted off the unfortunate and long-suffering cruiser Aurora.

    - The torpedoes were even worse - of seven that were fired, one jammed, while two swung at right angles to port, one at right angles to starboard, two chugged slowly ahead but missed the target, and the last went around in circles causing all ships to scatter in panic.  The Kamchatka, robbed of her chance to join in these capers, signalled instead that she was sinking.  Further investigation revealed a cracked pipe in the engine room.

    ---Geoffrey Regan

    The Sassand king Firuz, son of Yazdegird II, had gained a temporary peace with the White Huns by vowing that he and his army would not pass by a certain landmark/pillar.  This vow essentially meant that he could not attack their cities, which lay beyond the landmark.

    Using a bit of creative thinking and guile, the king brought up his army and fifty elephants.  The beasts pulled down the pillar, the army harnessed it to the elephants, and the pachyderms dragged it in front of the army so that Firuz could destroy his enemies without breaking his vow!

    ---John M. Kistler

    WWI East African naval actions on Lake Tanganyika

    When presented with his two launches - requisitioned from the Greek Air Force - Admiral Jackson asked him to name them as they only had numbers and were "not convicts".  Spicer-Simpson was not amused and called them "Dog" and "Cat".  The First Sea Lord was disappointed - presumably expecting them to be dubbed something more appropriate like "Thunderer" or "Conqueror" - and asked the expedition's commander to come up with something better.  "Mimi" and "Toutou" was Spicer-Simpson's next effort; the Admiralty gave up and the names were adopted.

    ---Geoffrey Regan

    At the age of nineteen [Ghaznavid Sultan] Mahmud controlled an army.  Defeated in his first battle, Mahmud returned a few months later and bested his foes, retaking his lost elephants.  Brave in war, in his final years his body carried seventy-two scars and wounds.  In one battle Mahmud killed so many opponents with his sword that only a bath of hot water could loose the hilt from the congealed blood cementing it to his hand.

    ---John M. Kistler

    British Naval Visionaries

    "Lads, war is declared with a numerous and bold enemy.  Should they meet us and offer battle, you know how to dispose of them.  Should they remain in port, we must try and get at them.  Success depends upon the quickness and precision of your firing.  Also, lads, sharpen your cutlasses and the day is ours."
    Admiral Sir Charles Napier, advising his officers that boarding actions with cutlasses would be useful during an age of steam and ironclads in the Crimean War, 1854.

    "The holding of a number of patents would, in their Lordships' opinion, constitute a grave objection to his being selected for any scientific or administrative post in her Majesty's service."
    The Admiralty referring to Sir Percy Scott's attempt to patent his inventions, 1896, actively discouraging any attempts by naval officers to improve their technical skills.

    "Even if the propellor had the power of propelling a vessel it would be found altogether useless in practice, because of the power being applied in the stern it would be absolutely impossible to make the vessel steer."
    Sir William Symonds, Surveyor of the Navy, 1837.

    "The system of several ships sailing together in a convoy is not recommended in any area where submarine attack is a possibility."
    An Admiralty Memorandum on Convoys, 1917.

    "The submarine can only operate by day and in clear weather, and it is practically useless in misty weather."
    "A submarine cannot stay any length of time under water, because it must frequently come into harbour to replenish its electric batteries."
    Admiral Lord Charles Beresford.

    "Underwater weapons?  I call them underhand, unfair and un-English."
    The Comptroller of the Admiralty, 1914.

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