Ironclads and blockade: Britain vs Union

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Dilandu

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The idea of "Britain enter the war against Union/Union&Russia" seems to be one of the most interesting in realm of alternate history. Mainly because such alternative could have a serious historical basics, and was, actually, not very long from becoming a reality.

In this small article, I'd like to address the question "would the Royal Navy be bable to sucsessfully blockade the Union coastline in 1863-1865"?

The general british strategy always favoured close blockade. In the era before radio, this was, basically, the only way to prevent large number of raiders from exiting and entering the enemy ports - if the enemy coastline was relatively long. Such strategy was the backbone of all planning against France, such strategy was implemented against United States in 1812-1815 with sufficient sucsess. So, we could assume that the Royal Navy would at least consider the close blockade seriously.

The main Union strategy would be the "punchers & runners" type of strategy; i.e. small forces of heavy units, capable to sortie and engage the blockade squadrons and either drive them avay or at least divert their attention, and number of fast raiders, who would use such moments to exit or enter ports. Such strategy was born after the experience of latter parts of 1812-1815 war, where the tight blockade prevented the USN raiders from entering and exiting.

So the question is: which side could be more sucsessfull in 1860s, at the dawn of ironclad revolution that shattered all centuries-long tactical and shipbuilding experience?

Let's calculate the ironclads first:

Royal Navy ironclads, 1861-1865:

* Warrior (1861)
* Black Prince (1862)
* Defence (1861)
* Resistance (1862)
* Royal Oak (1863)
* Hector (1864)
* Achilles (1864)
* Prince Consort (1864)
* Researhc (1864, small)
* Enterprize (1864, small)
* Royal Sovereign (1864, coastal)
* Caledonia (1865)
* Scorpion (1865, coastal)
* Wyvern (1865, coastal)

Assuming that the British would boost the production, we could also consider possible to comission some additional ironclads in late 1865; "Ocean", "Lord Clyde", "Lord Warden", "Pallas", "Zealous" & "Bellerophon".

Union ironclads, 1862-1865:

* New Ironsides (1862)
* Galena (1862, small)
* Keokuk (1862, small)
* Roanok (1863)
* Onondaga (1864)
* (Italian-ordered ironclad No.1 from Webb) (1864) - let's call her "Lafayette"
* (Italian-ordered ironclad No.2 from Webb) (1864) - let's call her "Rochambeau"
* Dictator (1864)
* Agamenticus (1864)
* Monadnock (1864)
* Miantonomoh (1865)
* Tonawanda (1865)

Assuming that the Union would also boost production, and cancel river monitor program (Casco-class were useless anyway) they would probably be able to bring "Dunderberg", "Puritan", and Steven's Battery in comission in 1865. And, I don't count the coastal monitors here - only the ships with as least limited ability to operate in sea.

As we could see, the numbers of ironclads comissioned is, actually, comparable. Of course, the Royal Navy still have numerical superiority, but the ratio is close to 1.5-to-1 or 1.7-to-1 - not the general 5-to-1 advantage that Royal Navy enjoyed over the Union wooden ships. One of the reasons for such, is that the Union Navy - who tended to act in home waters - could build smaller, coastal ironclads, with ilimited seaworhtness, while the Royal Navy would be forced to use large, sea-capable ironclads. In other terms - the Union could have same fighting power for the less cost than Britain, because the Union ships don't need to cross ocean and stay in open sea for long time.

And that we must adress the ultimate advantage of the Union.

Their naval bases.

The situation is, that the Union ironclads have their supply and repair bases - and quite good bases - exactly nearby. They have all Union coastlines for that. They stand on their bases, and sortie into sea from them to engage the Royal Navy blockade forces in close proximity.

The Royal Navy situation is much worse, because, simply speaking, they don't have any bases - or even simple stations - on Union coastline. Their closest shipyards are in Halifax (300 nm from Boston, over 500 nm from New York) and on Bermudas (over 600 nm from Hampton-Roads). To get repair or to be supplied, they would be forced to sail for days - even just to get coal, which they would need constantly. The Confederacy ports aren't the solution either; the majority of them simply could not service any large naval force, and the closest - Wilmington - is still 300 nm away.

So the general situation is, that Union ironclads have the advantage of acting from their operational bases, and the RN ironclads are forced to operate from bases hundreds of miles away. And - with all respect to Halifax naval engineers - said bases aren't as well equipped and supplied as Union ports. I.e. the damaged Union ironclad could be reparied and put back in comission several times faster than damaged RN ironclad.

And the Union coastline is big. To provide any blockade that would no be completely meaningless, the Royal Navy would be forced to have independent squadrons for:

- Hampton Roads
- Delaware Bay
- Lower Bay
- Long Island & Rhode Island
- Maine Gulf & Cape Cod

I.e at least five points.

For example:

Let's take Norfolk and Hampton-Roads. Due to the value of Norfolk and Cheasapeake Bay, and the existence of numerous shipyards nearby, we could assume that this region would be heavily protected with Union mobile forces - and the existence of Cheaspeake-Delaware channel also.

So, if blockade squadrons were recalled, it would means that both "New Ironsides" and "Roanoke" (and, probably, "Keokuk") would stand here, aided with "Minesotta" and "Wabash" and at least twenty or more both screw and sidewheel gunboats.

To block such force, the Royal Navy, of course, would be forced to send no less than two ironclads just to have similar numbers. To have some superiority, they would need to send three. The large advantage that Royal Navy have in wooden units basically have no value; if the RN ironclads would be beaten, the screw frigates and ships-of-the-line would have to run or be destroyed by Union ironclads.

But would three ironclads suffice? Let's assume that Union forces sortie, clash with RN ironclads, make serious damage to one, and escape back in base. Both Union ironclads would, probably, be damaged also, but they have their shipyards nearby. So they could be repaired quickly. The RN danaged ironclad would be forced to sail to Bermudas and have the repair here. It would probably took three-four times more time ( :smile: ) to repair the British ironclad. Which means, that the Union ships would have even odds until the repaired ironclad return. And if two RN ironclads would be damaged (not only in combat, but by accidents), the Union forces would have numerical advantage. And we not even started to addres the matter of coaling of RN ships near enemy coastlines, without so much as safe station.

So, to block the "New Ironsides" and "Roanoke", the Royal Navy would be forced to send at least two times more ironclad. Say, four. Problem is, that this number is exactly two-thirds of all avaliable RN ironclads in 1863. And all those ships are used to blockade one single point.

Now, let's assume that in 1864 the Union would have two "italians" in New York and "Onondaga" also here... Which would means that the Royal Navy would be forced to send at least six ironclads to watch over New York and still have at least four to block Hampton-Roads.

And Royal Navy simply haven't got as many ironclads. They only have 11 ironclads in 1864, of which two are small ironclad sloops and one - coastal unit, unfit for long ocean campaing. So, they basically have only nine ironclads.

In late 1864, the Royal Navy would also be forced to deal with "Dictator" in New York, "Agameticus" and "Monadnock" in Boston (not counting coastal units), which would require sixteen ironclads to blockade them. They obviously haven't got that kind of sea power. Even in early 1865, the number of comissioned Royal Navy ironclads was barely 14 (counting the coastal and small units). If such ships would be separated - assuming that they left no one on any other theater (the French Navy would surely be quite delighted by such action - which left the English Channel and Mediterranian at the mercy of French ironclads, which they have the same number as Britain) and no one is repaired or refitted in Britain - this would mean no more than limited forces at each blockade point.

This, basically, made close blockade for Royal Navy... impractical.

The most probable outcome is, that Royal Navy would be forced to abandon blockade, instead concentrating on sea denial strategy - i.e. by positioning squadrons of sea-capable ironclads in Canada and in Confederacy ports, to block any Union naval advance against such regions. They lose initative, of course - but it's best than lose ironclads in unspecified numbers. The disadvantage, of course, would be that Union would be able to concentrate the forces - and also that the Union raiders would be able to exit and enter Union ports unopposed. But it seems to be more viable strategy, than risking destruction of Royal Navy battleline piece by piece in prolonged war of attrition!
 

67th Tigers

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As per my last, this is a fantasy set-up not reflecting the reality of the time.
 
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TFSmith121

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Well, since you never ever tried to prove anything of your "reality", I see no reason to assume that it is, actually, "real".
Thanks for a detailed OP; if someone chooses not to respond in the same level of detail, but is merely critical without any actual response, it's a fair question as to why they bothered. Perhaps you should ask the moderators to inquire; civility is valued here, obviously.

I'd disagree with some of your numbers in the OP, but the basic reality you are making clear is that in terms of ironclads in the winter-spring of 1862 and afterwards, the race starts with three in commission in the Western Hemisphere (one RN in Bermuda, one CSN in Norfolk, and one USN in New York); from there, any questions of the correlation of forces has to be built on the facts that:

A) the US can and did build ironclads in North America, and only has to deploy them there;
B) the UK could only build ironclads in the UK, and had to deploy them in home waters, and be ready to do so (potentially) in both North American waters and the Baltic and the Med;
C) with Virginia, the rebels have pretty much shot their bolt in terms of a ironclad warship of any significance.

Best,
 
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Drew

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The general british strategy always favoured close blockade. In the era before radio, this was, basically, the only way to prevent large number of raiders from exiting and entering the enemy ports - if the enemy coastline was relatively long. Such strategy was the backbone of all planning against France, such strategy was implemented against United States in 1812-1815 with sufficient sucsess.
Actually, the Royal Navy was repulsed in the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Those events are recounted in America's national anthem to this day.

I don't understand the premise of this thread, though. Why would the British want to blockade the U.S. coast in the 1860s? It seems to me had they had an interest, they would have opened the Union blockade against Southern ports.

No reasonable person should think that would have been any problem, had the British made that choice.
 

TFSmith121

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Actually, the Royal Navy was repulsed in the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Those events are recounted in America's national anthem to this day.

I don't understand the premise of this thread, though. Why would the British want to blockade the U.S. coast in the 1860s? It seems to me had they had an interest, they would have opened the Union blockade against Southern ports.

No reasonable person should think that would have been any problem, had the British made that choice.
No reasonable person does (albeit such an action would mean war, of course :wink:); it's what comes next that is in question.

Best,
 
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galveston bay

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Actually, the Royal Navy was repulsed in the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Those events are recounted in America's national anthem to this day.

I don't understand the premise of this thread, though. Why would the British want to blockade the U.S. coast in the 1860s? It seems to me had they had an interest, they would have opened the Union blockade against Southern ports.

No reasonable person should think that would have been any problem, had the British made that choice.
there was the Trent Affair, which came close to war in November/December 1861 and thus could have been a war as early as the winter of 1862

In 1863 the Russians sent two sizeable squadrons to New York City and San Francisco as the possibility of war between them and the British threatened, during this same period tensions rose between the US and Britain over the building of several ships, including the Alabama, but also a couple of ironclads that were meant to break the blockade. A serious mistake by either sides could have again brought about crisis, particularly if those ironclads had been commissioned.

This would have been considered a hostile act against the United States. The US Navy had a loose cannon by the name of Wilkes who almost triggered a war not once but twice. So there is that too.

There is also the open blockade running by British merchant ships, many commanded by British naval officers on extended leave of absence.

Any of these things could have created a crisis that led to war.

So the question that comes up, what would have happened if the United States and the British Empire had gone to war while the Union was fighting the Confederacy, and extending from that, what if the Russian and US governments have fought as co belligerents against the British Empire, and one can extend that to France as well, which was busy trying to conquer Mexico while the Union and Confederacy fought there war.

There are several possibilities between late 1861 and late 1863 and even extending into early 1864

There seems to be rather passionate feelings on the matter
 
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FenianPirate

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If the USN and British ironclad fleets faced each other, the two theories on ordinance would be tested, as discussed in the lengthy thread: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/smooth-bore-against-ironclads.125707/#post-1357546

I also don't see the reason for a US blockade as a use of British seapower, because they surely could not get it in place in time to prevent large numbers of US cruisers to get to sea, and that would be "all she wrote" for the very essential and (as proven with the Union marine by the mere half-dozen CSN cruisers) very vulnerable British merchant marine.

By 1863, much of the seagoing Union marine had been sold or registered foreign, and remember that the Union's industrial and agricultural lifeblood flowed via its railroads. Besides, ironclads made poor blockaders for the Union against fast steamers. A more likely scenario, I think, would be a concentrated and decisive ironclad attack upon New York and then Boston.

Absent such an attack on the two ports, the Americans could invade Canada at their leisure, and rely on their interior lines to wear down the Confederates on land, while their river and coastal ironclads, plus 15-inch smoothbores in shore batteries and torpedoes, could frustrate the British all along the Northeast coast. So I think you don't need to think much about ships delivered in 1864 and 1865.
 

TFSmith121

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If the USN and British ironclad fleets faced each other, the two theories on ordinance would be tested, as discussed in the lengthy thread: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/smooth-bore-against-ironclads.125707/#post-1357546

I also don't see the reason for a US blockade as a use of British seapower, because they surely could not get it in place in time to prevent large numbers of US cruisers to get to sea, and that would be "all she wrote" for the very essential and (as proven with the Union marine by the mere half-dozen CSN cruisers) very vulnerable British merchant marine.

By 1863, much of the seagoing Union marine had been sold or registered foreign, and remember that the Union's industrial and agricultural lifeblood flowed via its railroads. Besides, ironclads made poor blockaders for the Union against fast steamers. A more likely scenario, I think, would be a concentrated and decisive ironclad attack upon New York and then Boston.

Absent such an attack on the two ports, the Americans could invade Canada at their leisure, and rely on their interior lines to wear down the Confederates on land, while their river and coastal ironclads, plus 15-inch smoothbores in shore batteries and torpedoes, could frustrate the British all along the Northeast coast. So I think you don't need to think much about ships delivered in 1864 and 1865.
Unfortunately for the RN, the lessons of history are entirely against the concept of a naval attack against a defended port in the steam era, absent a large, expensive, and difficult to deploy and sustain expeditionary force as a combined operation.

The British tried warships alone against shore defenses at the Peiho/Taku Forts in 1859 and the Dardanelles in 1915; in both cases the results were dismal failures. Even with an expeditionary force, of course, the results were not stellar for the British or their allies, as witness Tanga and Gallipoli/Suvla Bay.

And given that the Allied expeditionary force in the Crimea by the end amounted to 100,000 French, 45,000 Turks, 28,000 British., and 15,000 Sardinians (yes, the military powerhouse known as the Kingdom of Sardinia put more than half as many troops into the Crimea than the British Empire), it's not like any available British Army expeditionary force in 1861-65 is going to be significant in terms of the forces arrayed in North America in the same period.

Best,
 
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Tielhard

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Dilandu,

Can I suggest you do some further research on the capabilities of monitors and British Oceanic ironclads? You have some very strange and incorrect ideas on guns, armour and seaworthiness, everything actually. I'm sure 67th Tigers can point yoi towards some ancient debates on some more specialist websites that would be well worth your time reading.
 

67th Tigers

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Dilandu,

Can I suggest you do some further research on the capabilities of monitors and British Oceanic ironclads? You have some very strange and incorrect ideas on guns, armour and seaworthiness, everything actually. I'm sure 67th Tigers can point yoi towards some ancient debates on some more specialist websites that would be well worth your time reading.
Well, his resurrection of Keokuk and Galena it's clear he's operating very far from the OTL.

However, fun fact. If this is occurring in November-December 1864 there is a good chance the RN can destroy two of the main US armies in the field without so much as a single British soldier setting foot on US soil.

Sherman's army was dependent on seaborne resupply on reaching Savannah. They had historically more than exhausted their supplies even with their plundering supplementing things. If they reached Savannah to find the RN operating off the coast instead of the USN then 60,000 men face a three week march back to Atlanta with no provisions and no forage (as they've had it all). Georgia will swallow Sherman's army.

Grant's army had been supplied by water since crossing the North Anna. Indeed an overland approach using the rail lines for supply is essentially impossible as the rail can't deliver enough supplies south of the Mattaponi/North Anna river. As an aside, this is why any suggestion of an overland advance in early 1862 is wrong - until Yorktown is taken you can't use the Pamunkey river as a supply base and using rail to Fredericksburg or water supply to Urbanna and Tappahanock only gets you to the North Anna/ Pamunkey rivers. Until either the York or James river is open the US can't send an army against Richmond.

Anyway, in December Grant's army is hunkered down in trenches mostly south of the James River. With the stoppage of supply ships due to RN actions that army will disintegrate over the course of a few weeks and the survivors are likely forced to surrender to the Confederates.

Such is the value of seaborne logistics.
 

matthew mckeon

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Gentlemen,
There have been several threads on basically the same topic: a hypothetical war with Britain and the United States, sometimes with Russians and sometimes not. That's fine. But if we could focus on one thread at a time, instead of creating multiple threads it would be easier for members to follow the thinking as it develops. Thank you.
 
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67th Tigers

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Gentlemen,
There have been several threads on basically the same topic: a hypothetical war with Britain and the United States, sometimes with Russians and sometimes not. That's fine. But if we could focus on one thread at a time, instead of creating multiple threads it would be easier for members to follow the thinking as it develops. Thank you.
Is there a thread merge tool? Could you push them back together?
 

Dilandu

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//I'm sure 67th Tigers can point yoi towards some ancient debates on some more specialist websites that would be well worth your time reading//

As long as Tiger continued to attack me with such nonsense as "Revisors were political officers", "Russian ships were crewed by polish Jews and Greeks", "Battle of Taganrog never happened", I'm not prepared to believe anything he might say. With all respect, but I knew that most of his statements about Russian Navy are FALSE. Could you assure me that his other statements aren't?
 

67th Tigers

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As long as Tiger continued to attack me with such nonsense as "Revisors were political officers"
The Revisor was the only other officer other than the Captain appointed by the state. His job was to keep an eye on the Captain and especially on the states money. As such he was a check on the Captain.

"Russian ships were crewed by polish Jews and Greeks",
In this period, prettymuch yes. However as the 19th century wore on the proportion of Russians climbed, especially when sailing ceased being a major factor.

"Battle of Taganrog never happened",
The raid on Taganrog happened, but the shore party on the raid was two men and they both received the Victoria Cross for it. One of them received the first VC ever awarded (being alphabetically the first in the senior service when awards were made in 1857).
 
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Tielhard

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Gentlemen,
There have been several threads on basically the same topic: a hypothetical war with Britain and the United States, sometimes with Russians and sometimes not. That's fine. But if we could focus on one thread at a time, instead of creating multiple threads it would be easier for members to follow the thinking as it develops. Thank you.
Can we have them in the What if category away from the real history?
 

Tielhard

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//I'm sure 67th Tigers can point yoi towards some ancient debates on some more specialist websites that would be well worth your time reading//

As long as Tiger continued to attack me with such nonsense as "Revisors were political officers", "Russian ships were crewed by polish Jews and Greeks", "Battle of Taganrog never happened", I'm not prepared to believe anything he might say. With all respect, but I knew that most of his statements about Russian Navy are FALSE. Could you assure me that his other statements aren't?
Dilandu,

I said debates, so you can make up your own mind. Try AH or TankNet for starters.
 
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Tielhard

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Dilandu,

Far from it I am trying to point you in the direction of a great deal of useful information. If you are not interested don't look.
 

Carronade

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I don't understand the premise of this thread, though. Why would the British want to blockade the U.S. coast in the 1860s? It seems to me had they had an interest, they would have opened the Union blockade against Southern ports.
I think they'd do both; it's not an either/or situation. The first thing would be just what you suggest, sweeping away the blockade, which was maintained primarily by lightly armed ships including converted merchantmen and captured blockade runners. This would also cut off supplies to Union enclaves along the Confederate coastline such as Port Royal or New Orleans. But if they are at war with the United States, they would have the same need to blockade American ports as in the War of 1812, both to cut off our commerce and to preclude American raiders getting to sea - which was an integral element of our strategy for a potential war with Britain.

It's commonly said that ironclads revolutionized naval warfare, but the basic principles remained the same. Indeed the "Bible" of navies in the era of steel and steam was Mahan's history of seapower in the age of sail.
 
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