Commerce raiding

Commerce raiding is a form of naval warfare used to destroy or disrupt logistics of the enemy on the open sea by attacking its merchant shipping, rather than engaging its combatants or enforcing a blockade against them.[1] It is also known, in French, as guerre de course (literally, "war of the chase") and, in German, Handelskrieg ("trade war"), from the nations most heavily committed to it historically as a strategy.

Bermuda Gazette - 12 November 1796
The Bermuda Gazette of 12 November 1796, calling for privateering against Spain and its allies, and with advertisements for crew for two privateer vessels.


The first sort of commerce raiding was for nations to commission privateers. Early instances of this type of warfare were by the English and Dutch against the Spanish treasure fleets of the 16th century, which resulted in financial gain for both captain and crew upon capture of enemy vessels ("prizes").

17th and 18th centuries

Privateers formed a large part of the total military force at sea during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the First Anglo-Dutch War, English privateers attacked the trade on which the United Provinces entirely depended, capturing over 1,000 Dutch merchant ships. During the subsequent war with Spain, Spanish and Flemish privateers in the service of the Spanish Crown, including the notorious Dunkirkers, captured 1,500 English merchant ships, helping to restore Dutch international trade.[2] Dutch privateers and others also attacked British trade, whether coastal, Atlantic, or Mediterranean, in the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch wars.

During the Nine Years War, French policy strongly encouraged privateers, including the famous Jean Bart, to attack English and Dutch shipping. England lost roughly 4,000 merchant ships during the war.[3] In the following War of Spanish Succession, privateer attacks continued, Britain losing 3,250 merchant ships.[4] Parliament passed an updated Cruisers and Convoys Act in 1708, allocating regular warships to the defence of trade.

In the War of Austrian Succession, the Royal Navy was able to concentrate more on defending British ships. Britain lost 3,238 merchantmen, a smaller fraction of her merchant marine than the enemy losses of 3,434.[3] While French losses were proportionally severe, the smaller but better-protected Spanish trade suffered the least, and Spanish privateers enjoyed much of the best allied plunder of British trade, particularly in the West Indies.

Napoleonic Wars

During Britain's wars against revolutionary and Napoleonic France, the Royal Navy dominated the seas. France adopted a guerre de course strategy by licensing civilian privateers to seize British shipping. British East Indiamen of the time were therefore heavily armed to protect themselves against such raids, at the cost of considerable speed and maneuverability. Some East Indiamen, such as the Arniston, were successfully able to fend off these attacks in other parts of the world; others, such as when Kent met Confiance in 1800, were less fortunate.[5]

U.S. and British privateers also actively raided each other's shipping during the War of 1812.[6]

American Civil War

During the American Civil War, the Confederate Navy operated a fleet of commissioned Confederate States Navy commerce raiders. These differed from privateers as they were state-owned ships with orders to destroy enemy commerce rather than privately owned ships with letters of marque. These included Sumter, Florida, Alabama, and Shenandoah. Most of the ships used in this period were built in Britain, which resulted in the Alabama Claims.

Steel navies

By the 1880s, the navies of Europe began to deploy warships made of iron and steel. The natural evolution that followed was the installation of more powerful guns to penetrate the new steel warships. No longer would navies fight for "prizes", in which capture of the enemy warship meant financial gain for captain and crew as well as government when the prize and her cargo were auctioned. The advent of steel armor and high explosive and armor-piercing shells meant the destruction and sinking of enemy "men o' war" was the priority. First seen at the Sinope in 1853, the change was little appreciated until 1905, when at Tsushima seven pre-dreadnoughts were sent to the bottom, and the only prizes were those that had voluntarily surrendered.

World War I

World War I saw Germany conducting a commerce war ("Handelskrieg") against Britain and her allies, principally with U-boats, but also with merchant raiders and light cruisers, and even occasionally with naval airships.[7]

World War II

During World War II, the Battle of the Atlantic saw Nazi Germany conducting guerre de course against Britain and its allies, again using U-boats, auxiliary cruisers, and small groups of cruisers and battleships (raiders).

Limitations set by the Treaty of Versailles meant Germany could not build a large battle fleet as she had in the time leading up to the World War I, and chose to covertly develop her submarines instead. U-boats were cheaper and quicker to build than capital ships, and consequently Germany built up a submarine force rather than a surface fleet. This meant Germany was not able to fight a war of "guerre d'escadre" (battles between fleets), and therefore pursued guerre de course; what small numbers of surface warships Germany possessed, such as the Deutschlands, as well as her auxiliary cruisers, also participated in this strategy. In addition, a number of commercial vessels were converted, perhaps the most famous being Atlantis.

During World War II, elements of the United States Navy based in Brazil conducted operations in the Atlantic against German commerce raiders and blockade runners. In the Pacific, the U.S. Navy operated against Japanese merchant shipping, as well as engaging in offensive operations against ships of the Japanese Imperial Navy. The bulk of the Japanese merchant marine was sunk by American submarines. By the end of the war, only 12% of Japan's pre-war merchant tonnage was still afloat.[8]

The Indian Ocean raid was a naval sortie by the Carrier Striking Task Force of the Japanese Navy from 31 March to 10 April 1942 against Allied shipping and bases in the Indian Ocean. It was an early engagement of the Pacific campaign of World War II.

The staff of the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to send some raiders to Indian Ocean waters during December 12, 1941 – July 12, 1942.[9] The Germans had already been operating in the area and conducted mutual aid with Japanese submarines, in the form of re-supply and military intelligence.[10] The Indian Ocean was the largest operating area involving direct contact between the two Axis partners, in which their primary objective was to keep pressure on the shipping lanes. The Japanese Navy participated in some commerce raiding, but concentrated its efforts toward a "decisive battle" in the Pacific, which never took place.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Norman Friedman (2001). Seapower as Strategy: Navies and National Interests. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-291-9.
  2. ^ Spanish Privateers
  3. ^ a b Privateering and the Private Production of Naval Power, by Gary M. Anderson and Adam Gifford Jr.
  4. ^ Brewer, John. The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English State, 1688-1783 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), p.197.
  5. ^ James, William (1835). "Light Squadrons and Single Ships: Kent and Confiance". The Naval History of Great Britain From the Declaration of War by France in 1793, to the Accession of George IV. London: Richard Bentley.
  6. ^ Coggeshall, George (1851). Voyages to various parts of the world, made between the years 1799 and 1844. 200 Broadway, New-York: D. Appleton & Company.
  7. ^ Lehmann Chapter VI
  8. ^ George W. Baer (1996). One Hundred Years of Sea Power. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-2794-5.
  9. ^ Visser, Jan (1999–2000). "The Ondina Story". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941–1942. Archived from the original on 2011-03-21.
  10. ^ Rosselli, Alberto (1999–2000). "The U-Boat War in the Indian Ocean". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. Archived from the original on 2011-03-21.

Further reading

  • Brown, David. Warship Losses Of World War II. 1995. ISBN 1-55750-914-X.
  • Blair, Clay, Jr. Silent Victory. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975.
  • Mahan, Alfred, Captain. Influence of Seapower on History.
  • Reeman, Douglas. The Last Raider. Arrow Books. ISBN 0-09-905580-5. Novel detailing the last voyage of a WWI German commerce raider.
Atlantic campaign of May 1794

The Atlantic campaign of May 1794 was a series of operations conducted by the British Royal Navy's Channel Fleet against the French Navy's Atlantic Fleet, with the aim of preventing the passage of a strategically important French grain convoy travelling from the United States to France. The campaign involved commerce raiding by detached forces and two minor engagements, eventually culminating in the full fleet action of the Glorious First of June 1794, at which both fleets were badly mauled and both Britain and France claimed victory. The French lost seven battleships; the British none, but the battle distracted the British fleet long enough for the French convoy to safely reach port.

By the spring of 1794, the French Republic, under the rule of the National Convention, was at war with all its neighbours. With famine imminent, the French Committee of Public Safety looked to France's colonies and the United States to provide an infusion of grain; this was to be convoyed across the Atlantic during April, May and June, accompanied by a small escort squadron and supported by a second, larger squadron in the Bay of Biscay. However, political upheaval had severely reduced the French Navy's ability to fight coherently and supply shortages had devastated its morale, significantly weakening the fleet. Britain, by contrast, was at a high state of readiness with a well-organised command structure, but was suffering from a severe shortage of trained seamen with which to man its large navy. The French Atlantic Fleet, under Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse, was tasked with keeping the British Channel Fleet occupied long enough for the convoy to reach France safely. The Channel Fleet, commanded by Lord Howe, knew of the convoy's passage, and dispatched squadrons to protect British commerce while pursuing Villaret himself with the main body of the Royal Navy's Channel Fleet. For over a week the two battlefleets manoeuvred around one another, Villaret drawing Howe deeper westwards into the Atlantic and away from the convoy. Two partial but inconclusive fleet actions on 28 and 29 May followed, during which Howe seized the weather gage from Villaret, granting him freedom to choose the time and place of his next attack.

The culminating action of the campaign took place over 400 nautical miles (740 km) into the Atlantic, and became known as the Glorious First of June. This final engagement saw Howe use the weather gage to attack Villaret directly while his opponent attempted to fight in a traditional line of battle formation. In the battle, the British fleet inflicted a heavy defeat on the French after a bitterly contested day of fighting. Forcing Villaret to retreat, Howe's force captured seven French battleships, one of which later sank, and inflicted 7,000 casualties on the enemy. Villaret however, claimed strategic success as his delaying tactics had bought enough time for the convoy to reach France safely. The battle was the first in a series of defeats the French Navy suffered during the early years of the war, which bred a defeatist attitude and an unwillingness among the French officer corps to engage the British at sea.

Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries

The Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries (August 28–29, 1861) was the first combined operation of the Union Army and Navy in the American Civil War, resulting in Union domination of the strategically important North Carolina Sounds.

Two forts on the Outer Banks (Fort Clark and Fort Hatteras) had been built by the Confederates, to protect their commerce-raiding activity. But these were lightly-defended, and their artillery could not engage the bombarding fleet under Flag Officer Silas H. Stringham, commandant of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, which had been ordered to keep moving, to avoid presenting a static target. Although held up by bad weather, the fleet was able to land troops under General Ben Butler, who took the surrender of Flag Officer Samuel Barron.

This battle represented the first application of the naval blockading strategy. The Union retained both forts, providing valuable access to the sounds, and commerce raiding was much reduced. The victory was welcomed by a demoralised Northern public after the humiliation of 1st Bull Run. The engagement is sometimes known as the Battle of Forts Hatteras and Clark.

CSS Archer

CSS Archer was originally a fishing schooner captured by the Confederate cruiser CSS Tacony during the American Civil War and converted into a Confederate cruiser for commerce raiding.

The CSS Tacony, commanded by Lt. Charles W. Read, captured the Archer on June 25, 1863 off the coast of Portland, Maine. Knowing that the Union was on a hunt for his ship, he transferred the crew and armaments to it and destroyed the Tacony.

Read decided to try to capture the revenue cutter Caleb Cushing on his way down the coast of New England. On June 27, 1863, the Archer sailed into Portland, Maine harbor in Maine and docked, disguising itself as schooner. At night, the Cushing was boarded and the crew placed below decks. The Archer and the Caleb Cushing then sailed out of the harbor in the dawn. When the disappearance of the Cushing was noticed, ships were sent in pursuit, and due to the failing wind, were able to catch up and capture the Archer, but not before Read had set the magazine on board the Cushing on fire.

CSS Clarence

CSS Clarence, also known as Coquette, was originally a brig from Baltimore captured by the Confederate cruiser CSS Florida during the American Civil War and converted into a Confederate cruiser for commerce raiding.

Built in 1857 for Baltimore, Maryland fruit dealer J. Crosby, it was transporting a cargo of coffee from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Baltimore when the CSS Florida captured the Clarence off the coast of Brazil. Lt. Charles W. Read was appointed commander and a sufficient number of the Florida's crew were transferred to the new cruiser to man the ship.Lieutenant Read had requested that, rather than burn Clarence, he might try, with the ship's papers, to sail into Hampton Roads, Virginia, and if possible destroy or capture a Union gunboat and burn Union merchant vessels congregated at Fortress Monroe. Florida's Commander John Newland Maffitt armed Clarence with one gun so that Read might capture prizes on his way to Hampton Roads.In its brief career as a Confederate cruiser it captured a number of ships: The Whistling Wind, Kate Stewart, Mary Alvina, Mary Schindler were burned, and the Alfred H. Partridge was bonded. Its final capture was the bark Tacony on June 12, 1863, which being a better ship suited for commerce raiding, the crew and armaments were transferred to it and the Clarence was destroyed.

CSS Tacony

CSS Tacony was originally a bark captured by the Confederate cruiser CSS Clarence during the American Civil War and converted into a Confederate cruiser for commerce raiding.

The CSS Clarence, commanded by Lt. Charles W. Read, captured the Tacony on June 12, 1863, and since it was a better ship suited for commerce raiding, the crew and armaments were transferred to it and the Clarence was destroyed.

In its brief career as a Confederate cruiser it captured a number of ships: The Whistling Ada, Arabella, Byzantium, Elizabeth Ann, Florence, Goodspeed, Isaac Webb, Z.A. Macomber, Marengo, Ripple, Rufus Choate, Shattemuc, Umpire and Wanderer. Its final capture was the schooner Archer on June 25, 1863, which being a better ship suited for commerce raiding, the crew and armaments were transferred to it and the Tacony was destroyed.

CSS Tallahassee

The CSS Tallahassee was a twin-screw steamer and cruiser in the Confederate States Navy, purchased in 1864, and used for commerce raiding off the Atlantic coast. She later operated under the names CSS Olustee and CSS Chameleon.

Constantinople Flotilla

The Constantinople Flotilla (German: U-Flottille Konstantinopel) was an Imperial German Navy formation set up during World War I to prosecute the U-boat campaign against Allied shipping in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea in support of Germany's ally, the Ottoman Empire. Despite its official name, the "U-boats of the Mediterranean Division in Constantinople" (U-Boote der Mittelmeerdivision in Konstantinopel), it saw little service there, operating mostly against Russian shipping in the Black Sea.

The Constantinople Flotilla had a maximum strength of 11 U–boats but due to the unfavourable conditions for commerce raiding in the Black Sea saw little success during its three years of operations. In three years of operation, the force sank ships totalling 117,093 GRT.

15 U-boats served in the Constantinople Flotilla; 7 were lost operationally: 5 in the Black Sea and 2 in the Mediterranean. One U-boat was sold to Bulgaria. Two more U-boats were assigned to the Flotilla, but were lost en route to Constantinople.

In 1917 the force was amalgamated with the Pola Flotilla, coming under the command of the U-Boat Leader, Mediterranean (Führer der U-boote im Mittelmeer) there; the unit was renamed the Constantinople Half-Flotilla (U-Halbflotille Konstantinopel).

In 1918, with the collapse of the Central Powers, the U-boats were scuttled, or fled to join the Pola boats in their evacuation to Germany.

French cruiser Châteaurenault (1898)

Châteaurenault was a protected cruiser of the French Navy intended for commerce raiding. She was the first ship of the French Navy named in honour of François Louis de Rousselet, Marquis de Châteaurenault. Launched on 24 March 1898, Châteaurenault was commissioned in October 1902. In 1904, she was damaged after hitting a submerged rock. In 1910, she ran aground on Spartel, and had to be taken in tow by French cruiser Victor Hugo. From 1913, she was used as a school ship in Toulon.

Recommissioned at the outbreak of the First World War, Châteaurenault patrolled the Mediterranean. In 1917, she was used as a troopship, ferrying soldiers from Taranto to Itea. On 5 October 1917, she rescued survivors of the liner Gallia, torpedoed by the Imperial German Navy submarine U-35, and saved 1,200 men.

Hitachi Maru Incident

The Hitachi Maru Incident (常陸丸事件, Hitachi-maru jiken) was a maritime incident which occurred during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, in which three Japanese transports were sunk in a Russian commerce raiding sortie by a Vladivostok-based armored cruiser squadron of the Imperial Russian Navy.

Italian auxiliary cruiser Ramb III

The Italian auxiliary cruiser Ramb III was built at Genoa by Ansaldo in 1938.

Ramb III was the third of four sister ships all built to the same design. The other ships were the Ramb I, the Ramb II, and the Ramb IV. The four ships were built for the Royal Banana Monopoly Business (Regia Azienda Monopolio Banane). These ships were originally built to be "banana boats", built for transporting refrigerated bananas to Europe from Somaliland and Eritrea in Italian East Africa.

However, in the event of war, the design of Ramb III allowed it to be refitted for commerce raiding. She was 3,667 tons displacement, oil powered and capable of 18½ knots.

Italian hospital ship Ramb IV

Ramb IV was an Italian hospital ship, built at Monfalcone by the United Yards of the Adriatic (Cantieri Riuniti dell'Adriatico, CRDA) in 1938.

Ramb IV was the last of four sister ships all built to the same design. The other ships were the Ramb I, Ramb II, and the Ramb III.

The four ships were built for the Royal Banana Monopoly Business (Regia Azienda Monopolio Banane). These ships were originally devised as "banana boats" for transporting refrigerated bananas from Somaliland and Eritrea in Italian East Africa.

In the event of war, the design of Ramb IV allowed it to be refitted as an "auxiliary cruiser" for commerce raiding. She was 3,667 tons displacement, oil powered, and capable of 18.5 knots (34.3 km/h) knots. Following a declaration of war, Ramb IV was capable of being armed with two 120-millimetre (4.7 in) guns and eight 13.2 mm (0.52 in) anti-aircraft guns and of becoming an auxiliary cruiser.

Instead, Ramb IV was converted into a hospital ship for the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina). The goal of Ramb IV, in case of fall of Eritrea, was transporting Italian wounded back to Italy. However, this mission was impossible because of the British control of the Suez Canal. In addition, it would have been suicide to attempt to round the Cape of Good Hope and enter the Mediterranean Sea past Gibraltar. The work to convert the banana boat to a hospital ship was performed at the Eritrean port of Massawa. Ramb IV was part of the Italian Navy's Red Sea Flotilla.

When the port of Massawa fell on 10 April 1941 during the East African Campaign, the British captured Ramb IV. Pressed into British service, she then operated in the Red Sea and later off Libya. Ramb IV was bombed and set afire by German aircraft and sank off Alexandria in Egypt on 10 May 1942.

Jean-Baptiste Perrée

Jean-Baptiste Perrée (Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, 19 December 1761 – Généreux, off La Valette, 18 February 1800) was a French Navy officer and Rear-admiral.

Kandyan commerce raiding against Portugal (1612–13)

The Kandyan naval raid was a series of commerce raidings by the Kingdom of Kandy against the Portuguese empire from 16 May 1612 to 6 March 1613. With the help of Dutch envoy Marcellus de Bochouwer, King Senarat of Kandy commissioned a fleet of 3 war galleys and 3 yachts under the Admiralty of a nephew of Kuruwita Rala, the prince of Uva. They sailed from Koddiyar bay and managed to engage and inflict losses on Portuguese shipping around Ceylon and along the coast line from Cape Comorin to Calicut.

M-class cruiser

The M-class cruisers were a class of light cruisers planned, but never built, by Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine before World War II. The ships were designed for commerce raiding in the Atlantic Ocean. The design for the first four ships suffered from a number of problems, and so the fifth and sixth ships were substantially redesigned.

The name of the class is taken from the letter designating the first projected unit. As long as the ships were not named, they were referred to by letters assigned in the chronological order of their planned construction. The first planned unit would have been the thirteenth German cruiser and was therefore listed as cruiser M in the navy's documents. Had any of the ships been built, the class would have been named after the first completed unit.

Merchant raider

Merchant raiders are armed commerce raiding ships that disguise themselves as non-combatant merchant vessels.

Pacific Coast Theater of the American Civil War

The Pacific Coast Theater of the American Civil War consists of major military operations in the United States on the Pacific Ocean and in the states and Territories west of the Continental Divide. The theater was encompassed by the Department of the Pacific that included the states of California, Oregon, and Nevada, the territories of Washington, Utah, and later Idaho.The operations of Union volunteer troop detachments, primarily from California, some from Oregon, and a few companies from Washington Territory, were directed mostly against Indians in the theater. Union and Confederate regular forces did not meet directly within the Pacific Department except in New Mexico Territory. However, operations were directed against Confederate irregulars in California and strong garrisons were placed in Southern California and southern New Mexico Territory to control the region which had strong secessionist sympathies.

Confederate States Navy warships operated in the Pacific Ocean, but the naval operations did not succeed in interrupting commerce to the Eastern United States. The last of these commerce raiders, CSS Shenandoah, fired the last shot of the War in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska. Attempts by the Confederacy to buy or seize ships for commerce raiding on the West Coast were thwarted by alert Union officials and the Pacific Squadron.

Pola Flotilla

The Pola flotilla (U-Flottille Pola) was an Imperial German Navy (IGN) formation set up to prosecute the U-boat campaign against Allied shipping in the Mediterranean during the First World War in support of Germany’s ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was formed in 1915 from the previously established U-Halbflottille Pola (German U-Boat Half-Flotilla, Pola). Despite its official name, it operated mainly from an advanced base at Cattaro in the Adriatic.

The flotilla was made up of U-boats dispatched from German home ports, which travelled via the Atlantic and the Strait of Gibraltar, and coastal type UB- and UC-boats, which were moved in segments by rail to Pola and assembled there at the See-Arsenal of the Austro-Hungarian Navy (kaiserliche und königliche Kriegsmarine: k.u.k.).

The Pola Flotilla had a maximum strength of 33 U–boats. Due to the favourable conditions for commerce raiding in the Mediterranean, they caused a disproportionately large number of Allied losses during the U-boat campaign. 3.6 million tons of the 14 million tons lost by the Allies were sunk in the Mediterranean. Eight of the IGNs top dozen U-boat aces served in the Pola flotilla, including Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière and Waldemar Kophamel.

In all, 45 U-boats served in the Pola Flotilla; 11 boats were lost operationally.

In 1917 the unit was renamed 1918 U-Flottille Mittelmeer and in 1918 it was divided into two separate Flotillas; the first, based at Pola, and the second, at Cattaro, while the commander, re-titled (''Führer der Unterseeboote im Mittelmeer: U-Boat Leader, Mediterranean) assumed overall command of the forces here and at Constantinople.

In 1918 at the end of the campaign, the Pola Flotilla was evacuated to Germany. One of its boats, SM UB-50 sank the battleship HMS Britannia, the last British warship sunk during the U-Boat Campaign in World War I.

SS Clement

TSS Clement, was a British turbine steamship operated by the Booth Steamship Company from 1934 to 1939 until she was intercepted and sunk by the German pocket battleship Admiral Graff Spee off the east coast of Brazil becoming the first victim of Graf Spee's commerce raiding sortie.

William Jones (statesman)

William Jones (1760 – September 6, 1831) was an American politician.

Jones was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Apprenticed in a shipyard, during the American Revolutionary War, he saw combat in the battles of Trenton and Princeton and later served at sea. In the decades that followed the war, he was a successful merchant in Charleston, South Carolina, and in Philadelphia. He was elected as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives in 1800 and was offered the office of Secretary of the Navy in 1801, but declined and remained in Congress to the end of his term in 1803.

With the War of 1812 raging, Jones became Secretary of the Navy in January 1813. His policies contributed greatly to American success on the Great Lakes and to a strategy of coastal defense and commerce raiding on the high seas. In late 1814, near the end of his term, he made recommendations on the reorganization of the Navy Department. These led to the establishment of the Board of Commissioners system which operated from 1815 until 1842.

From May 1813 to February 1814, Jones also served as acting Secretary of the Treasury and in 1816 was appointed President of the Second Bank of the United States. He returned to commercial pursuits in 1819. Jones died in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

The destroyer USS William Jones (DD-308) was named in his honor.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.