ABERDEEN, United Kingdom -- An Aberdeen-headquartered firm has donated specialist subsea equipment to help solve one of the most tragic mysteries of the Second World War.
In the 235 years since the 22-year-old Marquis de Lafayette arrived in Boston aboard L'Hermione, Americans have sometimes forgotten that French military support tipped the balance in our war against the British. As General Lafayette set out by land towards New Jersey to deliver the message to Washington, along with the added tidings that King Louis XVI had agreed to supply three other newly designed Concorde Class war frigates that would soon follow L'Hermione across the Atlantic, the 34-gun flagship with her crew of 302 set out on a reconnaissance mission of Penobscot Bay with Commander Louis-Rene de Latouche at the helm.
On Sunday, May 14, 1780, Latouche wrote in the ship's log that L'Hermione was under way:
Having made an offer to the council of the State of Massachusetts Bay to sally forth with my frigate to drive away, take or fight the British privateers or frigates which might get into the Bay (and) to harass their commerce . . .
Latouche intended to disrupt supply routes headed up to a British garrison that was being built at the current location of Castine on the east side of Penobscot Bay. The site was one of the most favorable ports in the Bay. The headland provided views down the Bay, the strong tidal and river currents assisted ships in and out of the harbor if they followed the tides, and a protected deepwater harbor was located next to sloping easy access to the small village that had been established as a trading post a hundred years earlier by the French Baron Castin. British troops had taken it the year before, 1779, and had begun to build Fort George on the high ground. With its location near the mouth of the Penobscot River and its favorable geography and harbor, it was a strategic coup for the British.
By the time L'Hermione reached Monhegan at the mouth of the Bay, Latouche mentioned the changeable winds and currents and the inaccuracy of his charts, an observation he would make several times in his ship's log. Fortunately, he had an American pilot aboard who apparently knew the Bay. He sent the man ashore at Monhegan to gather intelligence. The American came back with the news that an English frigate with 22 cannon accompanied by two transport ships, one carrying 18 guns, had passed carrying supplies to the garrison at Fort George 12 days earlier.
Latouche steered for Owls Head, where he anchored in "20 fathoms of black mud" and once again sent the pilot ashore. Between the intelligence he gathered there and from another stop in what was then a small American revolutionary military camp at Glen Cove in Rockport, the commander solidified his plans.
The Glen Cove camp was headed by the revolutionary General Peleg Wadsworth, a veteran of a humiliating attempt to take Fort George from the British the previous year in the failed American Penobscot Expedition, which had been plagued with squabbling between American commanders about how to proceed and insubordination by Paul Revere, leaving the British time to rally sea support. The 1,200 American troops had been routed and fled up the Penobscot River with the British at their heels, scuttled their 19 vessels, then headed overland south, a rag-tag lot in a military defeat that had left the Commonwealth of Massachusetts near bankruptcy.
In the Rockland area, Latouche obtained a plan of Fort George that showed the garrison held 18 cannon and 600 men and that two British warships were in the port at Castine, accompanied by a "boat" and a schooner, for a total of an additional 44 cannon. The size of the cannon and weight of the cannon balls determined their power and reach, so the commander knew what he faced.
Latouche was undeterred. With this information in hand, Latouche writes that he is determined to sail up the Bay, apparently on the other side of Islesboro, anchor and send in longboats and cutters to "capture the boat and schooner." The French frigate was fast and nimble, with the ability to outmaneuver the British frigates, and Latouche knew the ship better than any mariner. He had commanded her during the French sea trials before setting out across the Atlantic with Lafayette.
The following day, on Tuesday, May 16, 1780, Latouche raised the British colors to fool those at the garrison. It apparently worked - though it is a mystery why the British would mistake the classy French frigate, which has been described as a Formula One race car of its era, for one of their own. Fort George responded by raising the British flag. Perhaps a swirling fog provided enough cover to make L'Hermione's lines indistinct.
Latouche anchored some distance away and quietly sent in boats on a spy mission, while setting his onboard mapmaker to work to draw an accurate plan of the fort and the approach.
Latouche placed his cannons, crew, and land arms at ready, he writes. When the reconnaissance revealed additional boats and cannon at the port, Latouche apparently decided that even L'Hermione was outgunned.
At six a.m. on Wednesday, May 17, 1780, L'Hermione prepared to depart.
I set sail after hoisting the French colors and pennant, which I emphasized with a cannon shot, Latouche wrote.
L'Hermione and another French frigate were victorious against the British in a battle at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, on behalf of the American military, though they had motives to take Halifax for the French flag. That didn't happen. L'Hermione sailed south to engage in battle as part of the French fleet at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781 - a battle that signalled the defeat of the British and turned the war towards American victory. Latouche went on to further military successes and ended his career as an admiral in the French Navy.
One Man Fosters International Diplomacy in CastineIn 2013, David Adams of Castine was aware that the long-awaited launching of the reproduction of the 18th- century French frigate L'Hermione, which was being built in Rochefort, France, was finally drawing near. L'Hermione played a crucial role in American revolutionary history and Adams knew the new ship was destined to sail on an unofficial diplomatic mission to visit American ports of historical significance.
He also knew the role the French frigate had played in his small town on the east side of Penobscot Bay and was determined that the new L'Hermione, which would stop in Yorktown, New York, and Boston, would also come to Castine, Maine, where the original L'Hermione had spied on the British in 1780 for the American cause.
Adams went to a New York reception at the French Consulate on 5th Avenue carrying a copy of a map.
His goal was to meet prominent French politician Ségolène Royal, who currently serves as the minister of ecology and energy and was the president of the French region where the reproduction of L'Hermione was being built. He wanted to show her the copy of the hand-drawn map of the British garrison at Castine that was made by a crew member of L'Hermione in 1780 under orders of the ship's commander during a spy mission in Penobscot Bay and to provide her with documents that showed the historical connection between the ship and the town.
Adams' success as the envoy of Castine came quickly. Within less than two weeks, Castine was the only Maine port put on the itinerary of the commemorative voyage - an event that was voluntarily managed by seasonal Castine resident Katie Bergen, the executive director of CARS, a Los Angles culture and arts company that designs large festivals and cultural events in southern California.
French was as common as English in the cheering crowds on the Castine waterfront last week, as the reproduction of the French frigate docked on Tuesday, July 14 - with visitors coming from France, Florida, Michigan, and many from Quebec, as well as from all over Maine, for the return of L'Hermione.
|Italian security forces practice protection of US nuclear weapons at Ghedi Air Base in 2014.|
By Hans M. Kristensen
The Ministry of Defence has released figures showing that 125 members of the UK armed forces have been killed in training or on exercise since 2000.
According to the statistics, a response to a Freedom of Information request released by the ministry, an average of eight military personnel have died while on training across the army, navy and the RAF each year over the past 15 years.
The army is by far the most dangerous of the services with regards to deaths during training. The numbers show that deaths within the army while on exercise account for 86 out of the 125 total.
Twenty-two members of the Royal Navy, including Royal Marines, were killed in training or on exercise over the period and 17 members of the RAF.
An MOD spokesman told IBTimes UK in reference to the figures that: "It will always be necessary to train and test our military personnel to the highest possible level so that they can meet the challenges to national security that we face both in the UK and overseas.
"Achieving this end does involve individuals having to push themselves and take some risks. However, as an organisation, we must ensure that this is balanced with the need to ensure these risks are effectively mitigated."
The MoD has faced sharp criticism over the deaths of some personnel during training. The coroner presiding over an inquest into the deaths of three SAS recruits on a selection march in 2013 has said the reservists had died as a result of a "failure to properly organize and manage" a 16-mile selection march in the Brecon Beacons on one of the hottest days of the year.
Lance Corporals Edward Maher and Craig Roberts died of heatstroke while on the military exercise. Coporal James Dunsby died two weeks later in hospital from multiple organ failure. Coroner Louise Hunt said neglect and delays in providing medical treatment contributed to the deaths of three British army reservists.
The army has since apologised for the deaths.
The figures include deaths caused by accident, assault or by natural causes. The MOD also included those deaths for which the cause is yet unknown.
The MOD is still making investigations into the death of Lieutenant Gareth Jenkins who died in May while on a selection march with the Royal Marines. The 25-year-old was described as incredibly fit and was two thirds of his way through training for the Commandos when he collapsed on the 30-mile march.
Despite recent revelations, the figures show that the frequency of deaths during military training or on exercise has fallen. Between 2009-14 there were seven deaths each year. Between 2000-08 a there were an average of 10 deaths each year. The reduction in Armed Forces deaths on training or exercise is welcome, and illustrates the improvements to health and safety over the years," the MOD said of the decrease
President Obama finally ordered the U.S. flag to be lowered to half-staff Tuesday, five days after four Marines and a sailor were gunned down at two military facilities in Tennessee. Obama announced his decision during a speech to the National Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Pittsburgh, following days of intense national criticism of White House silence.
"As a grateful nation, we must stand up for them and honor them forever," Obama said in tribute to the fallen service members, yet did not comment on any reason for delaying the proclamation.
Obama immediately issued proclamations to lower the flag following similar attacks on the Washington Navy Yard in 2013 and Fort Hood in 2009, as well as after several other recent mass shootings, but the lack of response to the Chattanooga attack left many service members and veterans baffled.
"I was appalled," Marine veteran and former recruiter Richard Linck told Marine Corps Times after he noticed the flag flying high over Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, was not at half-staff following the attacks.
"Why? In over 20 years here, I've seen flags at half-staff for celebrities, so why couldn't we do it for these four Marines and the sailor who were murdered? It's disrespectful," Linck said.
A Facebook page titled "Half-Mast Challenge; Teach Obama Respect," was launched on Monday. Followers posted photos of their own flags flying at half-staff. Others took to Twitter to encourage the president to order flags to be flown at half-mast.