Royal navy

Amateurish and implausible: BBC1’s Vigil reviewed

Tense, claustrophobic, gripping, thrilling, realistic: just some of the adjectives no one is using to describe BBC1’s Sunday night submarine drama Vigil. Were one of Britain’s four Vanguard nuclear subs to launch retaliatory strikes on Broadcasting House and the show’s producer World Productions, I think it would be entirely reasonable and proportionate. It’s so amateurish and implausible it makes even the dreadful Sky One remake of Das Boot look classy by comparison. Which is a shame because its screenwriter, Tom Edge, has done some good stuff in the past. Besides writing for The Crown and on the likeable J.K. Rowling detective series Strike, Edge created and wrote three series of

A very British coup: SBS – Silent Warriors reviewed

The vast majority of the British public, and even military historians, have never heard of them. COPPists — a combination of naval navigators and submariners with SBS (Special Boat Service) swimmers — played a key role in the planning and execution of Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Europe. Admiral Ramsay, the architect of the naval element, said: ‘On their operations depended to a very great extent the final success of Operation Overlord.’ Who were these people, and what exactly did they do? Saul David provides the answers in a detailed analysis of the development of seaborne special forces formed in Britain’s darkest hour to take the offensive against the

HMS Defender: What’s behind the Navy’s Russian incident?

Assuming that reports are accurate, the world has just witnessed the most serious escalation between the UK and Russia since the poisoning of Sergei Skripal three years ago. Russian bombs and gunfire were reportedly discharged near HMS Defender, currently patrolling the Black Sea. The Kremlin has justified the supposed aggression by stating that the ship had strayed into Russian waters. The UK, meanwhile, has denied that any such incident took place.  Russia’s justification, if indeed it did what it claims it did, is based on a false premise. The coastline in question does not, in fact, belong to Russia — Defender was positioned off the Crimean peninsula. The international community recognises the territory as being an

How Churchill’s success hinged on a small Mediterranean island

If you can tell the difference between Jack Hawkins and John Mills, and between a Stuka and a Sten gun, perhaps after long, wet afternoons watching black-and-white war films, this is the book for you. Max Hastings is a wily operator who knows exactly what his readers want and with Operation Pedestal he has produced it for them again. The latest book off the apparently unstoppable Hastings conveyor belt tells the dramatic story of one of the most ambitious and dangerous naval operations of the war, and tells it well. Malta, an island slightly smaller than Birmingham, sits at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, 60 miles south of Sicily. A

The Royal Navy’s five new frigates isn’t enough to keep Britain safe

Boris Johnson’s announcement last week that five Type 31e frigates are to be ordered is welcome. But we must not delude ourselves that this will resolve the problem of the lack of frigates in the Royal Navy’s inventory. The Royal Navy currently has thirteen frigates, all of the Type 23 variant. Designed to have a 25-year life, considerable sums have been spent upgrading their capabilities and extending their lives. In 2023, aged 34, they start leaving the navy at the rate of one a year. The first of the five new T31e frigates should start sea trials in 2023, although this seems doubtful. So, in four years’ time, instead of

The king of trees

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been planting up much of the pasture on our small Cornish farm with native hardwood trees, mainly oak. I now know I needn’t have bothered. As soon as the grass stops being cut, little oaks spring up of their own accord. This last dry summer in particular has seen dozens appear, tiny three-leaved stalks that push through the sward with their multi-layered greens beautifully tinged with reddish anthocyanin. It gives the impression that if everywhere were simply left, and if there were no browsing beasts, it would be a matter of decades before all open country reverted to its post-glacial pre-neolithic state of

On the waterfront | 12 October 2017

Much has been made of the American novelist Jennifer Egan’s mutation, in her latest novel, from purveyor of metafiction and fragmentary, experimental narratives to creator of a solid piece of traditional realism. Manhattan Beach tells the story of a father and daughter in New York in the years in and around the second world war: Eddie is a mobster’s bagman, who disappears without apparent trace early on; Anna is left distraught, but is also a resilient striver, growing up to become the only female diver in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard. Betwixt and between them stands Dexter Styles, a nightclub owner and instrument of the mafia, swishing between cold malfeasance and a

Who commands the sea?

From ‘Raiders, submarines and some naval problems’, The Spectator, 20 January 1917: At the moment the enemy’s fleet is compelled to remain in its own ports and to challenge us from safe retreats, sometimes behind lock-gates and always behind well-sown minefields. Still, the fact remains that the enemy can come out if they like, though we cannot make them do so when we like, and further that with good luck they can actually smuggle out a raider or two. We are top-dog, but up till now we have not been able to get a good bite at the under-dog, and he remains, though in a humiliating position, quite fit for work

Looking homeward

 Batavia, New York The presidential campaign just ended was mercifully lacking in the ghostwritten platitudes with which Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan lull readers of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to sleep. Hillary Clinton’s only memorable utterance was her defamation of one quarter of the electorate as a ‘basket of deplorables’ — a curiously clumsy locution that effectively conveyed her contempt for American prole-dom and sunk her candidacy. Donald Trump’s best line was his dismissal of the foamingly bellicose Republican senator John McCain, who has built a career on his stint as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. ‘He’s not a war hero,’ said Trump. ‘I like people

Portrait of the week | 1 December 2016

Home Paul Nuttall, aged 39, was elected leader of the UK Independence Party. He said: ‘I want to replace the Labour party and make Ukip the patriotic voice of working people.’ Theresa May, the Prime Minister, was rebuffed by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and by Donald Tusk, the President of the European Commission, when she proposed settling the status of British and EU expatriates even before Article 50 was invoked. She made another attempt in talks with Beata Szydlo, the Prime Minister of Poland. There was some interest in a note photographed on papers being carried after a meeting in Downing Street by Julia Dockerill, an aide to Mark

Sea strategy

From ‘Decisive victory at sea’, The Spectator, 7 October 1916: The only excuse for changing our views of the magnificent rightness of the strategy of continually searching out the enemy, forcing him to action, and destroying him — the strategy on which Britain has been built up — would be that submarines and mines have so changed the conditions that we have to begin to write the rules of our strategy on a fresh page. No sane man, however, is either unaware of the different conditions introduced by submarines and mines or unwilling to make reasonable allowance for them. The question is not whether the method of the British Navy is

Britannia rued the waves

Military history is more popular than respected. It is not hard to see why. It is masculine history, a trifecta of logistical planning, technical detail and violent death. It shows the value of hierarchy and duty, sacrifice and patriotism — disgraceful notions which the young and impressionable might be inspired to emulate. And,with its sudden twists from tedium to danger and its tidily destructive conclusions, it has tight plots. One way to make civilian history as exciting is, as Eric Hobsbawm showed, to turn it into a false kind of fiction, true neither to the facts nor the life. Another, as N.A.M. Rodger did in The Wooden World, his ‘anatomy’

Spectator most-read: Trump’s defeat, life in the Royal Navy and ‘racist’ Oxford

The Spectator’s fifth most-read article of the week was Nigel Farndale on what life was like on board a warship in our ‘much reduced’ Royal Navy. Nigel joined the crew of HMS Bulwark in the Mediterranean where he found a Royal Navy undergoing an identity crisis amidst swingeing cuts. Our fourth most-read piece was Damian Thompson on the furore surrounding the last-minute decision to pull an incendiary book about the Church of England. Publisher Bloomsbury sent a panicky message to reviewers asking them to return their copies of ‘That Was The Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People’. You can read Damian’s article about why

Inside the new Navy

The Royal Navy is known as the Senior Service because of its illustrious history; Francis Drake and all that. But the days when it ruled the waves have long gone. In 1945 it had almost 900 warships and a million men. By the time of the Falklands War it was down to 70 warships and 70,000 men. Now it is less than half that, with more admirals than there are fighting ships. The arrival this year of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the much-heralded new aircraft carrier that has cost £6 billion (for 50-odd years of life), will draw unwelcome attention to the Navy’s significant manpower shortages. As one senior officer put

Letters | 13 August 2015

Islington isn’t indifferent Sir: I was shocked to read Mary Wakefield’s article accusing Islington’s middle classes of ‘extreme indifference’ to the death of our young people (1 August). As the local MP and a resident of N1, I can assure you that all these losses are deeply felt. It is provocative to suggest that there is a ‘strange apartheid’ in my constituency — and profoundly offensive to try to link this to the deaths of black and white youngsters. I can assure you that both I and my constituents are deeply saddened by the deaths of any Islington lads, such as Alan Cartwright, Stefan Appleton, Joseph Burke-Monerville and Henry Hicks.

Letters | 9 July 2015

The case for Daesh Sir: For once the admirable Rod Liddle has got it completely wrong (‘You can’t take the Islam out of Islamic State’, 4 July). We absolutely shouldn’t call the homoerotic, narcissistic death cult ‘Islamic State’ — not because it offends ordinary Muslims, nor because it has nothing to do with Islam (it has everything to do with Islam) but because it legitimises and validates the preposterous project. The media has a responsibility not to run terrorist propaganda unchallenged. Politicians, including the Prime Minister, are starting to wise up to this and should be applauded for doing so. We are in an information war with our enemies. Let

British people need rescuing from North Africa. Where’s the Royal Navy now?

Just a thought – but might now be a good time to revisit our policy of using the Royal Navy to ferry large numbers of people from the North African coast to Europe? At what point do we start to take our own security seriously, rather than playing to the gallery with a pointless ‘humanitarian’ gesture which will see more lives lost than are saved? I do not see the remotest inclination on the part of our politicians to either take the threat seriously, or to castigate the creed from which it springs. They act as if impotent. And yet the only thing hamstringing them is the usual political correctness

David Cameron’s Unstrategic Defence Review

Michael Fallon’s confirmation last week that a Strategic Defence and Security Review is underway adds another question to the Conservatives’ growing list of slim-majority headaches: what to do about defence policy. With George Osborne hitting the Ministry of Defence with the second-largest pre-Budget cuts of any government department earlier this month, and Number 10 reportedly looking for ‘creative’ accounting measures to cover the fact that Britain will no longer meet NATO’s defence spending target, hopes that defence might escape further cuts have quickly evaporated. So the fact that the coming Spending Review is unlikely to deliver a rosy outcome for the MOD is already well known. The additional complicating factor, however, is the presence of various pre-election

The madness of the Royal Navy’s rescue mission

There is a genuine madness in our current operation to ferry as many asylum seekers as possible from North Africa to, eventually, the UK. As I mentioned at the time we dispatched the Royal Navy to the southern Med, we will only encourage more and more people to set sail in upturned bath-tubs and patched-up lilos. Among them will be maniacal jihadis and assorted criminals, all expecting to be rescued by the countries which, in some cases, they wish to destroy. For the ordinary non-jihadi citizens it means a jumping of the queue over those who attempt to gain access to the imperialist west legally. For a fuller exposition of

Spectator letters: Why rural churches are so important, and the best use for them

The presence of a church Sir: The challenge for the Church of England and the wider community is to ensure that our village churches are a blessing and not a burden (‘It takes a village’, 21 February). The Church of England has approximately 16,000 churches, three-quarters of which are listed by English Heritage. Most of these church buildings are in rural areas. There are around 2,000 rural churches with weekly attendance lower than ten. It can be a significant responsibility for those small congregations to look after that church, and one has to recognise that this is a burden that falls on thriving parishes. There is no ‘one size fits