Mayhem in the Mediterranean
A “Galleys and Galleons” Battle
As Faithfully Described by S. Pepys Esq. Clerk of the Acts
(Well… Peter Hunt really)
As fine a crew as any captain ever had the pleasure to flog
From L to R: Yeff Herbertzoom, Samuel Pepys, Sir Anthony Mathews, Jack Ward, Don Nicholas Al’Terra, The Dey of Tunis, The Bey of Algiers.
I knocked lightly at the door, politely awaited the growl that I knew to be permission to enter, went in with more than sufficient decorum and reverence, coughed timidly and finally addressed my Master:
“My Lord James, By the Grace of God Duke of York, High Admiral of England and Scotland, Governor of Portsmouth and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, I bid you good morning!”
again Pepys? What is it this time you snivelling, lickspittle,
ink-stained little quill pusher?”
This was indeed a gracious reply
from the Duke so I proceeded with half the truth. "
“I bring good news your Grace.”
“How so man?”
“Well Sire, you remember that unfortunate affair at Sidi Bir Tee where you were able to sell your shares in Company of Merchants of England trading to the Seas of the Levant before their value crashed, and have since been able to buy them back at a not inconsiderable discount, thus greatly enhancing your dividend payout in terms of capital expenditure?”
The Duke raised a suspicious eyebrow, fixed me in his stare and offered a suitably non-committal,
“Well Sire, if you are swift, you could get to Jonathon’s Coffee House
and sell the shares again before the latest news from The Straits
becomes widely known…” .
The Duke raised his eyes imploringly to the heavens for succour, but for all his authoritarian manner, disinclination to seek or listen to advice, and ambiguous religious affiliations, he was no fool and immediately saw to the heart of the temporal matter:
“Rear-Admiral Sir Anthony Mathews and the Smyrna Convoy?”
I nodded gravely. “Bought and sold by a Dutchman, and he didn’t even know he was on the market by all accounts.”
“How bad is it?”
“Six tenths of our convoy and escort lost whilst the Dutch got off scot free. The losses will only increase the value of the remaining cargo, so the Butterballs will benefit twice over.”
“Call my chair. You can explain on the way.”
And so, running alongside My Lord’s chair whilst inwardly reflecting that such untoward exertion would render me defussus of pleasuring Mistress Lane in the forenoon, explain I did...
The situation in the Straits (as the Mediterranean was habitually known,) was, shall we say, confused…
With the continuing political turmoil in the Grand Porte at Istanbul, the Barbary Corsair rulers, the Bey of Algiers and the Dey of Tunis, were both seeking to assert their influence, and, perhaps with the kudos of a significant victory under their belt, achieve the position of Kapudan Pasha, (Grand Admiral,) of the Ottoman Empire. Both sent forth sizable galley squadrons into the Western Mediterranean in search of plunder and glory.
The Bey of Algiers’ Fine Fleet
The pins on the sterns are to hold bead damage markers instead of using dice as in the rules as written: an elegant idea.
The Bey and the Dey also had the presence of the Renegardoes to consider: Northern Europeans who had “Turned Turk” and sailed in “roundships” rather than galleys. These men were certainly loyal to the Faith, as the Christians would hang any apostates that they captured, after they had extensively tortured them first of course, but they could also be a law unto themselves and hard to control. The Bey and the Dey had to vie amongst themselves to offer the Renegardoes the most lucrative deal and thus attempt to direct their aggression to best advantage.
It is through these troubled waters that the British and the Dutch had to sail their Smyrna Convoys: rich argosies laden with the wonders of the Orient. Both proud nations had a convoy and an escort squadron en route from the East, with a fair wind behind them. It was the accepted practice to purchase a “licence” from one or other of the Corsair sanjaks to buy a safe passage, but such expenses are open to negotiation and can cut into the profits of what is, after all, a strictly commercial venture.
To the West, out of the Alboran Sea sailed the Spanish. Torn between their dislike of the Northern Protestants and the Eastern Musselmen the Don’s were happy to bring down a “plague on both your houses” and fight anyone.
The purchase or agreement of licences to ensure safe passage through the Mediterranean was often negotiated at state level with the British, French or Dutch paying off, and implying recognition of, the Barbary state in question. It was never a totally secure arrangement as Corsairs from one Barbary State would not recognise the license from another. And to make matters worse the more ardent Christians such as the Spanish and the Knights of St John recognised no deal with the Ottomans and so felt free to act in their own piratical way against northern European ships carrying Muslims or Ottoman owned goods. However, in this particular case the admirals were left to negotiate their own licenses being empowered to offer one or both of the Corsair leaders part of the convoys’ profits. That, at least was the theory, but a long afternoon in the great cabin of the Dutch flagship “Helderenburgh” changed all that.
It might have been the Mediterranean heat after a fine repast that fuddled Rear-Admiral Sir Anthony Mathews’ brain. Certainly the copious quantities of good Maderia Wine, followed by toasts in jonge jenever, to the King, the Grand Pensionary, the Royal Navy, the Five Admiralties, Olde England, the Zeven Provincien, and many more beside, did not help his calculations, especially when the Dutch admiral insisted on toasting his wives and sweethearts individually rather than collectively as the Royal Navy is wont to do, and it wasn’t even a Saturday! Maybe Mathews fell into braggadocio to impress the young ladies who seemed to adorn the Admiral’s cabin, an unusual, but not unheard of, occurrence in a man-o-war in this modern age, prohibited in the Royal Navy but the Dutch are much more “continental” when it comes to this sort of thing. Perhaps it was just Mathews’ natural English obduracy and preference to pick a fight when compromise would be easy, acceptable, and in the long term much cheaper. Probably the young Mathews was just overawed by that force of nature that is the old seadog Schout-bij-Nacht Yeff Herbertzoom.
So, the precise reason will remain unknown but by the time that his barge came alongside to take him back to his own ship Mathews had agreed wholeheartedly that it would be ungodly, unmanly, and unnecessary given the evident strength of his fleet, to even consider negotiating with a bunch of heathen pirates and paying for a licence to traverse the sea which by all the laws and traditions of man and God was free to all men. Only one point remained to be resolved: which fleet would take the shorter, but more dangerous inside passage past the Corsairs’ lairs and which would sail further from the arid, North African shore? Both would want the position of honour nearest the threat. Herbertzoom suggested that they toss a coin for it.
“Call Sir!” Invited Herbertzoom.
“Heads!” Cried Mathews.
Herbertzoom took a coin from his pocket, flicked it high with forefinger and thumb, adroitly caught the spinning disc on the way down and slapped it on the taffrail. The Schout bij Nacht withrew his hand slowly, looked down, and the smile drained from his face. “Egad Sir…Heads it is!” He said with more than a hint of sadness, “I so wanted the position of glory but I know that you would not consider giving it up now, and neither would I if I had won!”
Mathews nodded his agreement, offered, “Don’t worry old chap, I’m sure that your chance will come one day soon too,” in somewhat insincere commiseration. As he climbed down the ship’s ladder he felt pride and good fortune washing over him. Was he not doubly blessed? He had already won the lottery of life by being born an Englishman and now, on the toss of a coin, he had won the chance for untold glory as the epitome of British pugnaciousness by taking the position of highest risk and honour in the inevitable victory that would follow.
Herbertzoom took the coin from the taffrail, inspected the head on each side, replaced it carefully in his right pocket to distinguish it from the double tailed coin in his left pocket, and waved farewell to his fellow admiral in the barge below him, all without ever letting his visage of sadness slip.
The Approach to Battle
From the bottom clockwise: The Spanish, The Dutch Merchants, The Dutch Escorts, The British Merchants, The British Escorts, The Dey of Tunis, Jack Ward’s Renegardoes, The Bey of Algiers. The wind is blowing down the table from top to bottom with the Dutch and British running before it. North is on the right of the woodcut.
When it came the battle did fall on a Saturday, and many a wife and sweetheart would rue the day. With 47 vessels, eight squadrons and six commanders it was a confused and bloody affair. Sailing out of the East with a fair following wind came the British escorts, the British convoy, the Dutch escorts, and the Dutch convoy; each squadron in line ahead and each further from the hostile shore. To their South-West stood the galleys of the Dey of Tunis, coming on fast in two columns. The Dey had invested heavily in gaining the support of the Renegardoes and had placed them on his port side, presumably to make a double envelopment of the enemy, but the roundships would have difficulty working against the wind to do so. Still further to the South-West came the galleys of the Bey of Algiers in line. Finally, out of the West tacked the Spanish squadron, making slow progress against the wind.
This was no meeting of the leviathan fleets that fought it out in the North Sea. There were no mighty line-of battleships on any side. The focus was on the large, lumbering merchantmen that made up the largest ships on either side and their small escorts and prey. The Spanish and Renegardo flagships were both the match for the merchants in size but most of the ships on both sides were 5th and 6th rates and nimble galleys, lanternas and galliots. The merchants were well armed but without trained gun crews and sea-soldiers their long range gunnery was poor and they were vulnerable to boarding.
Leading the English line in a scouting role the little sloop Henrietta was exposed to the long range fire of the Dey’s galleys and the Renegardoe’s roundships and suffered heavily. Minutes later the Corsairs crashed into the centre of the British line boarding the two 5th rate frigates “Charles Galley” and “Sophia.” Behind them the 6th rate “Lark” pulled out of line to take the Corsair column in the flank but she, in turn, was boarded and the melee became general.
The First Onslaught
The Dey’s galleys assault the rear of Sir Anthony’s Line.
Thus, in one fell swoop, the British convoy had lost all of its escorts, although the three frigates were tying down nearly 40% of the total Corsair strength, so although the merchants were exposed there was, for now at least, no immediate threat to them. The answer to this predicament seemed easy and clear…. The convoy gybed up on a North-Westerly course to bring them to their fastest speed broad reaching away from the enemy which would carry them through the Dutch escort squadron to safety beyond.
There now followed the most controversial moment of the battle: As the British merchants bore down upon the line of Dutch escorts Herbertzoon stood foursquare on the poop of the “Helderenburgh,” raised his speaking trumpet and bellowed at the British Commodore “Bear away, you will not pass through my line, the risk of collision is too great!” The Commodore remonstrated, after all the Dutch had only to back sails with the rear part of their line and the British could safely pass through. But Herbertzoom was adamant and would not sacrifice his own tactical cohesion to save the British. The Commodore could have, literally, pushed the issue and tried to force a way through the Dutch formation at the risk of collision, but at the last moment he turned away and ran parallel to them…. And in a reversal of the natural order of things now the line of British merchants would protect the Dutch warships from the Corsair onslaught. Then Herbertzoom, never one to waste a good idea, signalled his own merchantmen to do just what the British merchants had been hoping to do, and they turned North-West to take them as far away from the Turkish onslaught as possible.
The Critical Decision
Herbertzoom has closed ranks to prevent the British merchants (the third squadron from the left) passing through his line so they have altered course exposing themselves to the Bey’s clever curving approach. Clockwise from the British merchants the woodcut shows the British warships and the Dey’s galleys in their life and death struggle, the Renegardoes sparing with the British small fry, the Dons and the Dutch.
The consequences of Herbertzoom’s decision were soon evident. In a display of the advantages of the galley in the benign waters of the Mediterranean the Bey of Algiers had turned his column into line and then led them across the wind, neatly allowing space for the Renegardoes’ line to pass, and then turned directly into the wind to launch a head on attack on the British merchants. This manoeuvre, which would have been impossible for sailing ships, allowed him to close the British without exposing himself to their broadsides, pass beyond the front of their line and then, with his galleys turning as individuals to pick their targets, bring four of his vessels against the first three British merchants.
Mathews’ squadrons were now caught up in two swirling melees. Whilst the two front ships of the escorts and the two rear ships of the convoy were able to break off and escape towards the South-West, every other British ship was embroiled in a fierce boarding action, taking on the forces of both the Dey and the Bey as the Dutch sailed blithely on.
From where he stood on the poop of his flagship “Sophia” it seemed to Admiral Mathews that the wine dark Mediterranean had turned into a sea of fire. Ahead of him the Tunisian capitana “The Rose” assisted by the smaller “Half Moon” had captured the frigate “Charles Galley” after a bloody melee. Alongside him the first attempt to board the “Sophia” by the large galley “Flying Horse” had been repulsed and a devastating broadside from the flagship had set the Turk ablaze, so at least here there was cause for hope. Behind him the plucky little “Lark” had captured the small galley “Full Moon” but being assailed by the galliot “Kalat” and a flotilla of fustas the “Lark” could not afford to put a prize crew on her and so fired the galley instead. The blaze soon spread to the “Lark” and the “Kalat” so as Mathews looked on it seemed that all the ships abeam and astern of him were being consumed in one giant conflagration. It was clearly time to cut the grapples and make off before the fires reached the magazines.
The Sea of Fire
The Kalat, Lark, Full Moon and Flying Horse all ablaze
The commodore of the British merchant convoy did not even have the satisfaction of seeing off one of his enemies. The lead merchantman “Hercules,” assailed by two Turks quickly struck, although command problems on the Algerian side prevented them from putting a prize crew on her. The other two merchants put up a better fight against lesser odds but the writing was on the wall for them too. As the British vainly battled the Corsairs on their larboard Herbertzoom’s Dutch warships sailed serenely by on their starboard and then, in everyone’s minds but the Dutch, added insult to injury by firing broadsides into the “Hercules” to ensure that when the Turks eventually did board her she would be a wreck.
The Second Onslaught
As the British East India Merchant and John & Katherine break off and run for safety the three lead British merchants are left to their own devices against the Bey’s galleys as the Dutch warships pass to their starboard without helping. Beyond them the Renegardoes and the Dons are working against the wind to come into action.
Slowly tacking towards this melee came the squadron of “foul Renegardoes” under the Englishman Jack “Birdy” Ward, also known as Yusuf Reis. Ward was considered by the Venetians to be “beyond a doubt the greatest scoundrel that ever sailed from England,” and by the British as “lewd and ill-disposed,” but today his lewdness was restrained and his mind focused on rewards of a more financial nature. Off to his larboard tacked the Spanish under Don Nicholas Al’ Terra. Initially the two admirals kept a wary eye on each other but did not engage, their task being made more difficult by the wind backing from West to North-West. But Spaniards and Renegades could not co-exist in the same sea for long and the account was opened by Spanish outlier the Havana Fregata “Santa Anna” successfully taking on the tiny “Little John” and “Carminati” at the rear of Ward’s line. This skirmish meant little to Ward and Al’Terra however as they both had bigger fish to catch: the fast approaching Dutch squadrons.
The Big Picture
At the bottom of this woodcut from right to left we see the Dons and the Renegardoes converging on the Dutch merchants. Herbertzoom has just changed course to bring his frigates crashing into the Renegardoe’s line.
When it came to his dealings with the English and the Turks Herbertzoom’s attitude may readily be described as self-serving. But when it came to his own countrymen Herbertzoom clearly knew where his duty lay. As the renegades bore down on the Dutch merchants he left the English to their fate behind him and set his warships straight for Ward’s flagship. The two leading Dutch frigates “Asperen” and “Helderenburgh” crashed into Ward’s line. But a mere frigate was not enough to stop Ward’s flagship, the “Reniere e Soderina,” a mighty Venetian argosy captured and now pierced for 60 guns. With the fat, juicy merchants directly ahead Ward would not be delayed, and shaking off the frigates like a bear in the pit shakes off the snarling dogs the “Reniere” swept down on her prey. Less than a cable separated Ward from his prize, if he could make that distance he would board and easily carry any of the merchantmen and disrupt the line of the remainder which would then fall easy victim to the rest of the Renegardoes and the Spanish.
Like Bulldogs on a Bear
The Dutch frigates Asperen and Helderenburghhead for the Renegardoe’s line.
And then the wind changed…
The “Reniere” had been close hauled on the starboard tack when the wind backed again, throwing her into irons. She was taken aback and stopped in her tracks. Worse she was stopped in her tracks within point blank range of the Dutch merchants. The merchants were well armed and, although for lack of trained gun crews they would have difficulties hitting anything at long range, at this short range and presented with a tempting bow rake all that they had to do was load and fire. And load and fire they did, the merchants each spewing out broadside after broadside as they sped past broad reaching. Perhaps now Ward regretted having the “Reniere” pierced for 60 guns, as in doing so he had weakened her structure. She could not stand up to the rakes and several holes twixt wind and water saw her slipping ‘neath the pellucid Mediterranean. As the waters closed over him Ward’s language, whether out of anguish or anger, was certainly “lewd and ill-disposed” as befits an Englishman cheated of his just deserts.
A Mighty Argosy
Ward’s flagship the Reniere e Soderina. This woodcut was carved only minutes before she met her fate at the guns of the Dutch merchant squadron mercilessly raking her at point blank range as she was taken aback by the wind change.
The same wind change that had stymied Ward stymied Don Nicholas, with the Dutch squadrons broad reaching past him he could worry them with his bow chasers but not stop them. Herbertzoom saw the way to the West, the way to safety and considerable profit, open and free.
So spare a thought for the anguish of Ward and Al’Terra, to come so close to great riches and glory yet to be denied by Aeolus’ whims. Spare a thought too for the anguish of Rear Admiral Mathews, breaking free from the “Flying Horse” just in time to see her put out her fire and live to fight another day, whilst the “Lark” burnt on and the “Charles Galley” was taken as a handsome prize for the Dey’s fleet. Spare a thought, if you can, for the Bey of Algeirs who by seizing the “Hercules” and her consorts stood to make a tidy profit from the day’s proceedings only to have his margin substantially reduced when, in the very last act of the battle the Spanish “Esteyvar’s Galley,” rowing straight into the wind, quickly disposed of the “Hercules’” prize crew and in as neat a case of daylight robbery as you will ever see stole her out from under the Corsairs’ noses.
At the bottom left of this woodcut the Tunisians have put out the fire on the Flying Horse but the Lark, Kalat and Full Moon are consigned to the flames. They have captured the Charles Galley but Sir Anthony has successfully broken off in the Sophia and will shepherd his last two merchantmen to safety. At the top right the Renegardoes, and Dons are converging on the Dutch but the wind change will stop them dead. In the middle the Algerians have already cut loose the Hercules with a prize crew aboard as they finish off the other two British merchants. They have yet to notice Esteyvars’s Galley lurking at the rear of the Spanish line which, not constrained by the wind, will swoop in and make a prize of their prize.
And, if you have any humanity at all, spare a thought for the anguish of the poor sailors on the “Hercules”: refused refuge by the Dutch, then cut down by the Turks, then shot at by the Dutch, then captured by the Turks to face a lifetime chained to the benches of a Corsair galley, and then, finally, captured by the Dons to face a lifetime chained to the benches of a Spanish galley. Surely “them that survived would envy them that died.” Well might they lament:
The nightingales are sobbing
And that My Lord James, By the Grace of God Duke of York, High Admiral of England and Scotland, Governor of Portsmouth and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, is what happened that fateful day, without exaggeration, embellishment or omission.
The Game was staged to celebrate the fleeting return of Nick to Home Waters. It was played on All Fools Day, which suited us to a tee, using Nick Wright’s splendid “Galleys and Galleons” Rules with my amendments that allow for ships to move and fire in squadrons. Turn order was decided by a simple card pull with one card in the deck for each squadron, but even this proved problematic for a bunch of admirals who were recovering from old hangovers, or working on new ones, or who couldn’t remember if they were a heart or a diamond, or who couldn’t tell the difference between a spade and a club. Despite this in four hours we got through eight moves which amounted to 64 squadron moves at a little under four minutes each. This speed of play is a fine tribute to the basic rule system that survived the “herding cats” nature of staging a six player game.
The winner would be the player with the highest profit as a proportion of his starting strength. My idea was that the British and Dutch would negotiate prices for licences with the Corsairs, so they would probably end up only facing one Corsair each, with the merchantmen and corsairs who negotiated a better deal having an advantage in terms of profitability. This went right out the window before we even started as Jeff and Tony decided that they would not negotiate anything. They really did toss a coin to see who would have the dubious distinction of sailing closest to the Corsairs. Only the romantic in me believes that Jeff used a double sided coin. On the Corsair side James bid massively for Neil’s services and later admitted that he had lip-read Frankie’s, (already silly,) bid to me and simply topped it… hardly a sound investment strategy on several levels.
The battle went as described, with very little exaggeration, embellishment or omission. There really was a heated discussion about the British merchants seeking safety behind the Dutch warships, with the stated result. There were only two wind changes in the entire game, both of which helped the Dutch, but equally important was the versatility of the galleys and Frankie and Nick both exploited their ability to row where they want, regardless of wind direction. In victory points terms Tony was taken to the cleaners, James recouped his investment to Neil, Neil only had only to stay alive to win but having your flagship sunk underneath you has to go down in the accounts as an extraordinary loss, Frankie would have won if Nick hadn’t nicked the “Hercules” off him, which left Nick ahead on points when we called the game as there was dinner to eat before Nick had a plane to catch. But really the day belonged to Schout-bij-Nacht Yeff Herbertzoom. After the game Jeff summed it up with his usual modesty and humility:
“Took no losses, sunk one... then the losers won on points... yawn. Still celebrating my victory...hic....”
Me: “"Took no losses...." Errmmm, that is because the British took all the losses for you....”
Jeff: “And your point is?”
Afterthought: “I Blame the Dice”
Although they would be the first to dispute, it the British were quite lucky in their swirling melees with the Tunisians and Algerians, simply because both of the Corsairs managed to throw a goodly number of “turnovers” -two or more fails- in their action attempts. This slowed down both attacks and with better luck the Turks would have overwhelmed the British much more quickly.
Which set me to thinking: what is “better luck” in “Galleys and Galleons?” What are the odds that you can expect? I would argue that this is a pointless question on two counts: statistical and psychological.
Statistically you can work out the overall odds easily enough but they are still subject to the deviation that comes from rolling one, two or three dice, and no game will be so long or have anywhere near enough dice throws for that deviation to approach the average result. So, in that respect, whilst you can hope to “play the odds” it still remains a game of chance. And even more a game of chance since all dice throws are not created equal. A turnover that happens in the early approach phase of the battle when everybody is out of range may have no significant effect. A turnover at the beginning of a turn when your ships are all engaged in life-or-death struggles could have a devastating effect on your chances. So even if you had an “average” number of turnovers it is when they happen, not really how many happen, that can be the decisive factor.
Psychologically the thing that I like most about the “Songs of…” activation system in “Galleys and Galleons is that “you only have yourself to blame,” because you choose how many activations you want to attempt by throwing that number of dice and a turnover only occurs if you throw two or three fails. Theoretically you could play completely safely and just attempt one activation for each vessel. In this case although you might fail some activations you would never suffer a turnover since you could not fail with two or three dice. However, if you did adopt this strategy I suspect two things: First that you would be quickly beaten by a bolder opponent. Second that you are not a real wargamer, for real wargamers, as we all know, are congenitally incapable of telling the difference between what they need, and what they want. T’were it not so real wargamers would not have so much lead lying around their homes that they can confidently absorb the effects of a nuclear near-miss.
But I worked out the odds anyway so, if you do not wish to ascribe your defeat to statistical deviation or mental aberration, here are your chances of getting actions and turnovers computed for a crew quality of 4, which I use as pretty much standard, and a crew quality of 3, which clearly shows the advantages of a better crew or of gaining a +1 on the dice by sticking near your admiral.
The Galleys and Galleons Blame it On the Dice Table
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