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ΗΠΑ ΕΝΑΝΤΙΟΝ ΠΕΙΡΑΤΩΝ (Μικρή συλλογή άρθρων)

Α)Today in Military History: February 6-9, 1832:Battle of Kuala Batu: American Naval Forces Attack Malay Forts in Retaliation for Attack on U.S. Merchants

  by Siggurdsson

 Battle of Kuala Batu: American Naval Forces Attack Malay Forts in Retaliation for Attack on U.S. Merchants

«U.S. Infantry [sic] assaulting the Acehnese forts at Kuala Batu in 1832,» artist unknown
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

 

Our country’s war against terrorism can be traced to its wars with the Barbary pirates of North Africa and the western Mediterranean Sea in the early nineteenth century (1805-1815). Another incident took place seventeen years later, in Southeast Asia.

Background

The island of Sumatra – currently part of the nation of Indonesia – was ruled by a number of local warlords or governors under the influence of the Dutch East India Company. Many of the local governors were Muslims, and recognized the suzerainty of the Dutch only reluctantly. The British also had some influence in the area, due to the nearness of British-controlled India, Singapore, northern Malaya, and (in 1842) Hong Kong.

Among the prime economic products of Sumatra were nutmeg, cloves, betel nuts, and – principally – black pepper. Many of the local rulers were more than willing to arrange trades with independent merchants coming to native ports. Among these enterprising merchants were ships belonging to American shipping magnate Joseph Peabody of Salem, Massachusetts.

In early February of 1831, the Peabody’s trading vessel Friendship arrived at the harbor of the town of Kuala Batu. The ship’s captain Charles Endicott went ashore with a small group of men to bargain for pepper. While engaged in this effort, a number of Malay pirate boats attacked the Friendship, killed the first officer and two of her crew, captured and ransacked the ship for valuables. Four crewmen jumped overboard and swam to shore and hid in the jungle.

Approximate location of Kuala Batu in province of Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia (Map of Indonesia in the inset)
Approximate location of Kuala Batu in province of Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia
(Map of Indonesia in the inset)

Captain Endicott and his men secured the assistance of a local chieftain called Po Adam. They contacted three other American vessels in the general area. With their assistance, Endicott and his men managed to reclaim the Friendship, especially after the three ships opened fire on the village of Kuala Batu. However, their trade goods and other valuables were gone.

After putting their vessel back into shape, Capt. Endicott and his crew sailed home for Salem. News of the outrage against the American flag reached the White House. President Andrew Jackson – the hero of the War of 1812 and the Creek Indian War – did not take lightly to such insults to our country. He sent word to Commodore John Downes, commanding the frigate USS Potomac, then in New York harbor. Jackson’s orders stated that if there was a regular government that Downes could deal with, he was authorized to negotiate with it. If not, he was to «inflict chastisement» on any «band of lawless pirates» responsible for the atrocity. The Potomac left New York on August 28, 1831, sailing around the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean.

Prelude to the Battle

Potomac reached Kuala Batu on February 5, 1832. Here Commodore Downes met Po Adam, who advised him that the local warlord was unlikely to pay compensation for the attack on Friendship. Commodore Downes then decided to disguise his ship as a Danish merchantman in order to keep the element of surprise in his favor. The disguise worked so well that when a party of Malays boarded Potomac attempting to sell a cargo of pepper, much to their surprise, they were detained so as not to alert Kuala Batu of the real identity of Potomac. Downes then sent a reconnaissance party to scout out the defenses of the port, but this was repulsed by the Malays. Nonetheless, enough information was gleaned for Downes to form a plan of action.

Pirate proas (at right) attacking ship of James Brooke off Sarawak, 1843
Pirate proas (at right) attacking ship of James Brooke off Sarawak, 1843

It was determined that a total of five forts guarded the harbor of Kuala Batu: four protected the anchorage and a fifth fortification guarded the landward side of the town. In addition, at least three large proas (double-hulled vessels with outriggers, used as war-canoes and pirate vessels in the area) where in the harbor.

American Naval Forces

The USS Potomac was classified as a 44-gun 1st class frigate. However, it was equipped with 42 32-pounder carronades and 8 8-inch shell guns (it was designed to carry as many as 72 cannon). It carried a crew – including Marines – of 300 officers and men.

Battle of Kuala Batu

In the early morning hours of February 6, Downes deployed a detachment of Marines and three detachment of armed sailors – totaling 282 men – into the ship’s boats. Each boat was also equipped with one of the Potomac‘s smaller guns. Their orders were to attack and take the four earth-and-wood fortifications guarding the Kuala Batu harbor, as well as burn the three proas.

Each detachment of Americans attacked an individual fort. The Malays fought back savagely, using hand weapons, javelins, and ancient flintlock muskets; they expected no mercy. They were no match for the modern rifled muskets of the Marines and sailors. The Potomac also provided artillery support to the assault of each Malay strongpoint. Finally, after five hours of combat, all four of the Malay forts were captured, its defenders decimated, and the forts themselves burned to the ground. The proas were captured and burned.

U.S. Navy frigate USS Potomac bombarding Malay forts at Kuala Batu, 1832
U.S. Navy frigate USS Potomac bombarding Malay forts at Kuala Batu, 1832

Any Malays who survived the assaults on the forts fled to the last remaining fortification. Rather than attack this strongpoint, the Americans simply attacked the town. For the next three days, the Marines and seamen burned buildings, looted, and killed nearly 100 women and children. On the morning of February 9, the Americans returned to the Potomac. Not wanting to leave any loose ends, Commodore Downes ordered the bombardment of the last remaining Malay stronghold. Finally, a Malay chieftain sent a message to the ship, indicating that he wished to end hostilities. The battle of Kuala Batu ended.

Aftermath

Malay casualties were enumerated as follows: approximately 150 Malays died in the assault on the four harbor forts; 100 women and children died in the pillaging of the village; and about 300 further Malays died in the bombardment and destruction of the last remaining Malay fort.

American casualties totaled 2 men killed, and 11 wounded. One of the wounded men died later.

Footnote #1: In the aftermath of the battle, Commodore Downes received deputations from other neighboring Malay warlords up and down the Acehnese coast. He told these leading men that, should any further American vessels be attacked in the future, the perpetrators would receive the same treatment.

Footnote #2: The Potomac continued its voyage, making landfall in Hawaii and entertaining the king and queen of the islands aboard ship. Reports of the attack on Kuala Batu preceded the frigate, stories coming from other American vessels which sailed the East Indies. Arriving back in the U.S. in 1834, Downes was criticized for his failure to negotiate with the native leaders before the assault. Nonetheless, President Jackson praised the conduct of Downes and his men, mentioning them in his fourth State of the Union Address of December 1832.

Footnote #3: Malay pirate activity against American ship ceased for six years, when another American merchant vessel was attacked by pirates; this action prompted the launching of a second Sumatran expedition in 1838.

Footnote #4: The USS Potomac served in the U.S. Navy through the War Between the States, being a part of the blockade of the Confederacy. The warship was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1877.

 

Siggurdsson’s blog

 

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Β)Today in Military History – February 16, 1804Stephen Decatur Retakes, Burns USS Philadelphia in Tripoli Harbor

 

Stephen Decatur Retakes, Burns USS Philadelphia in Tripoli Harbor

«Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli, February 16, 1804″ by Edward Moran (1897)
USS Intrepid in left foreground, escaping the conflagration
(Unless otherwise noted, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)
In the early years of the 19th century, the young American republic sought to be taken seriously on the world stage. The fledgling U.S. Navy was one of the few ways that our country could flex its new muscles among the nations of the world. One of the first challenges the Navy faced, and passed with flying colors, was the Quasi-War with the revolutionary French Republic (1798-1800). Then, American ships faced their first test against Islamic terrorists – the Barbary pirates.

Background

The Barbary States of North Africa were a collection of privateers who preyed on European shipping beginning at the time of the First Crusade in the late 11th century, essentially making the western Mediterranean Sea their playground. They also raided shipping into the north Atlantic Ocean as far as Iceland, and scoured coastal areas of Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, England, and the Netherlands for Christian slaves for their markets. Finally, the Barbary pirates exacted protection money (which they referred to as «tribute») from various nations to insure that those countries’ ships would be safe. It was this tribute that got the pirates into trouble with the U.S.

Modern map of the Barbary Coast of North Africa [Tripoli is on the far right (east) of the map]
Modern map of the Barbary Coast of North Africa
[Tripoli is on the far right (east) of the map]

The Barbary Many European nations made treaties with the various Barbary states, paying tribute and rendering their shipping safe. American vessels were safe so long as they were protected by British treaties. After the Declaration of Independence, all bets were off. The first American ship seized by a Barbary state occurred in 1784. Two years later, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams – in their capacities as ambassadors to France and England, respectively – met with a visiting ambassador of the Barbary state of Tripoli. When asked why American ships were attacked without provocation, this Muslim representative, stated, «It [is] written in [our] Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it [is] the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave…» The Tripolitan ambassador also said that if the U.S. would pay protection money, these attacks would stop.

Consequently, after Congress refused to appropriate the original asked-for sums, six frigates were built to protect American shipping. Later, Congress did pass bills to fund the Barbary protection racket. This stopped in 1801, when Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as the 3rd President. When the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli, demanded $225,000 for protection, Jefferson rejected the shakedown. [By comparison, in 1800 total U.S. federal revenues were $10 million.] No formal declaration of war took place, but Congress did authorize the President to instruct the commanders of U.S. vessels to seize all ships and goods of the Pasha of Tripoli «and also to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.» U.S. ships were dispatched to the western Mediterranean, blockading the major ports used by the Barbary pirates.

On October 31, 1803, the USS Philadelphia, a 36-gun frigate cruising just outside the harbor of Tripoli, struck an uncharted reef. While trying to refloat the ship off the obstruction, the vessel was bombarded by shore batteries and enemy gunboats. Finally, after failing to refloat the ship, the captain of the Philadelphia surrendered his ship and crew. The officers and men were made slaves of the Pasha, and work commenced to refit the ship for use by the pirates.

"Captain Stephen Decatur (1779-1829), USN"; Oil on wood by John Wesley Jarvis, c. 1815; Painting in U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection
«Captain Stephen Decatur (1779-1829), USN»
Oil on wood by John Wesley Jarvis, c. 1815
Painting in U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection

Burning the Philadelphia

Almost immediately, efforts were organized to either recapture or destroy the Philadelphia. A young lieutenant, Stephen Decatur, conceived a plan to recapture the the warship. After due deliberation, Decatur’s commander ordered him to destroy the ship, mainly due to the heavy security around it (the Philadelphia was surrounded by Tripolitan vessels, and moored within range of shore batteries). Decatur and 70 officers and men – all volunteers – then boarded the recently captured ketch Intrepid, which would serve as a ruse to get into the harbor. Leaving the American fleet’s base at Syracuse, Sicily on February 3, they arrived off Tripoli on the 16th. The Intrepid‘s anchors were stowed or covered, and the pilot, Salvadore Catalano who spoke fluent Arabic, gave the story to guard vessels in the harbor that their ship had lost its anchors in a recent storm and needed to tie up to a nearby vessel for safety. They were directed to the Philadelphia‘s mooring. It was about 9:30 pm.

Immediately upon tying up, lookouts on the Philadelphia noticed the ketch’s «missing» anchors still in place but covered. As the alarm was raised, Decatur gave the order to board, and 60 members of the Intrepid‘s crew sprang aboard the captured American frigate. Within 10 minutes, the Americans – using only swords and boarding pikes, and no firearms – killed 20 of its Barbary crew and caused the rest to either abandon ship or go below desks. The volunteers began to set fires all over the ship, but stayed on board long enough to ensure the vessel would be consumed by the conflagration.

The Philadelphia‘s guns, loaded and ready for battle, began to detonate and caused more confusion. When the fire reached the ship’s rigging, Decatur ordered his men to abandon the Philadelphia and reboard the Intrepid, which was under heavy fire from Tripolitan ships and batteries from the main fort. The Philadelphia‘s cables had burnt and the ship had drifted from its mooring. Decatur was the last man off the burning frigate, making sure that the fiery conflagration had engulfed the vessel. The Intrepid got away and, miraculously, not a single American was killed, save one sailor who was slightly wounded by a sword cut.

In his report to his commanding officer, Lt. Decatur wrote, «Every support that could be given I received from my officers…Permit me also, sir, to speak of the brave fellows I have the honor to command, whose coolness and intrepidity was such as I trust will ever characterise [sic] the American tars [sailors].» For his bravery and «intrepidity» Decatur was promoted to captain, the youngest man (aged 25) to achieve that honor in the history of the U.S. Navy. British naval hero Horatio Nelson called the exploit, «the most bold and daring act of the age.»

Footnote #1: In 1871, the USS Guerriere was visiting Tripoli harbor, and the Pasha inspected the vessel. As a sign of peace, he presented the anchor of the Philadelphia – which had laid on the shore for nearly 50 years – to the captain of the ship.

Footnote #2: The legacy of the Philadelphia continued until recently, as the USS Philadelphia (SSN-690) served the current U.S. Navy as a Los Angeles-class attack submarine. It was inactivated and decommissioned on June 25, 2010, the 33rd anniversary of the vessel’s commissioning.

USS Philadelphia (SSN-690), U.S. Navy photograph, taken c. 2006
USS Philadelphia (SSN-690), U.S. Navy photograph, taken c. 2006

Footnote #3: Decatur served in the War of 1812 and the Second Barbary War. Returning to the U.S. in late 1815, he was offered a position on the Board of Navy Commissioners. He accepted, and served on the body from 1816 to 1820. He was fatally wounded in a duel on March 22, 1820, dying later that night.

Footnote #4: Decatur also had a house built in Washington, DC near the White House, which is today managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The house was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1976. [It is also available for rental for special occasions, through the White House Historical Association.]

Decatur House in Washington, DC near Lafayette Square & the White House, 2006; Photograph courtesy of www.streetsofwashington.com/decatur-house
Decatur House in Washington, DC near Lafayette Square & the White House, 2006
Photograph courtesy of www.streetsofwashington.com/decatur-house

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