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 Winds and Weather 
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Post Winds and Weather
Just how bad are the winds and weather across the channel? Was there something special going on weather-wise while Napoleon’s fleet was gathered to invade, or is it just generally unsuitable for invasion most any time?

Napoleon waited and waited for the right conditions to invade and they never came. All he needed was a lack of storms and a prevailing wind from east to west. The Royal Navy was there to stop him but the required wind would have pushed the British fleet away from French ports. His invasion boats were ready for a considerable time, yet conditions never were right. Obviously a very significant factor in the defense of England.

In WWII, Eisenhower was forced to fit the Normandy invasion to the weather, but the tides and weather were eventually acceptable. Of course, the allied fleet was not made up of sailing ships.

A more relevant comparison would be the invasion by Duke William leading to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Once his fleet of 600 ships was ready, he waited only about two weeks for the correct conditions. William sailed one day and arrived the next. Spending the night sailing across the channel would not have been possible under the wrong weather and wind conditions. I realize that William did not face an English blockading fleet but the prevailing winds would have reduced it’s interference in any event.

Was William just lucky and Napoleon unlucky?
Don


Thu Jun 09, 2005 8:22 am
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I'm no expert on wind and weather; I only know what weather we experience in the UK.

I've stayed in a hotel on the south coast near Brighton overlooking the sea when the wind has been so strong coming up the Western Approaches that the bedroom window was physically moving under the onslaught. :| From time to time they shut down the hovercrafts crossing the Channel due to the adverse weather conditions.

I know I'm not answering your questions regarding Napoleon or the Conqueror, but you mind find the Met Office site useful in monitoring UK weather - it contains Shipping Forecasts - or check buoy information.

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Thu Jun 09, 2005 10:17 am
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Mary, your impressions were exactly what I was looking for. I just thought it was kind of unusual that Napoleon's fleet never seemed to find the right conditions. His fleet was waiting most of a summer and never got to invade. After months of waiting, my guess is that he would have launched the invasion with even marginal weather. However, he never got even that.

I raised this question because I just watched a show on the History Channel last night that covered the Norman Invasion. When it mentioned that the weather did not suit William and that he was forced to spend two weeks keeping his troops morale high, feeding them and their horses, I was shocked that he had to wait for such a short period. From the novels I have read, I just assumed that the weather was almost always nasty (unsuitable for invasion).

Mary, Within your memory, is it unusual for a summer to pass without good invasion weather (i.e. east to west breezes with no storms)? I suspect that Napoleon just got unlucky. I think it was Napoleon that once said, when an officer was recommended for command, "... but is he lucky?" Even he knew that luck plays some part in warfare.

I think that Korea attempted to invade Japan on several occasions and the fleets were lost each time due to typhoons. This "divine wind" was considered the Japanese Gods protecting its people. England seemed, at least to me, to have some sort of the same kind of protection from this French tyrant. Thank goodness.
Don


Thu Jun 09, 2005 12:12 pm
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Weather was an important factor, but also logistics and the types of vessels being used to transport the troops, horses, and supplies.

There is a good account in James, which gives you an idea of what Napoleon faced just in terms of assembling his invasion fleet.

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Thu Jun 09, 2005 10:06 pm
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Post invasion weather
Napoleon still strikes me as a very unlucky invader of England when it comes to weather. In addition to William the Conqueror in 1066, another "lucky" invader, in the Fall of 1689, was William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). While the Conqueror had only to wait two weeks for suitable weather, William of Orange’s fleet was bottled up in Holland for five weeks before successfully crossing the water to England. But both Williams finally got the weather they needed.

Susan, in my earlier comments, I was not comparing the actions of amassing the invasion fleets of the invaders involved. Of course, Napoleon assembled the largest invasion force of the three (by far), which would have taken longer to gather and maintain. Even though Napoleon was a master at such troop movements, and the logistics that supported them, this particular invasion force would have taken much longer to accumulate compared to the two Williams’ forces.

Once the invasion forces were assembled and ready to go however, Napoleon was the only one of the three who never got suitable weather. A very unlucky gentleman.

We will never know if his invasion would have been as successful as the two Williams. The Conqueror landed unopposed and then faced a weaker and less talented King Harold at Hastings. William of Orange was actually invited to invade by the Protestant opposition to Catholic King James II.

Napoleon would have certainly been opposed by naval forces as he crossed, by land forces after coming ashore, and by the citizens of every town he passed. Another potential problem that Napoleon would have faced, had he actually left port, was the design of his invasion barges. There are a number of accounts that the barges were not considered very sea-worthy. We will never know how many horses, men, or field cannon would have been dumped in the Channel.

The period of time during which Napoleon gathered his "English Army" is a very interesting, and complex, period of the war. The plans (on both sides), the intelligence gathering, the intrigue, etc. was a miniature version of the future Normandy invasion in WWII. I find it fascinating.

I wonder if anyone has ever written a non-fiction book that deals with this attempted invasion from Napoleon's viewpoint?

Don


Wed Jun 22, 2005 1:06 am
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Don,
I am unaware of any scholarly works regarding the Napoleonic approach to the Army of England.
However, you have pointed up an interesting element regarding Napoleon's intent: He would have faced an England united in its resistence to invasion, whereas previous invaders were welcomed by one element or another.
It seems that the best opportunity for France to have invaded came in 1797, when it's invasion of Ireland went awry.
Had the French been better able to keep at sea and possessed an adequate signalling system, as well as intrepid and flexible commanders, that force could have raised hob in the West Country by changing its objective. While Falmouth was well guarded, it was not a major naval base and might have provided a toe-hold to the Island had the French forced a landing there. Could they have held it after landing? Probably not, but the possession, even if only for a time such as Hood's holding of Toulon, would have raised holy hell and effectively closed the mouth of the channel for a few months, injuring England's economy far more than an invasion of Ireland would have accomplished.
(Besides, a follow up attack in Ireland would likely have met with greater success, if executed while France held Falmouth.)
This, of course, is alternate universe type thinking...Much as what would've happened had Villenueve turned North before meeting Calder's squadron off El Ferrol? Or even after meeting Calder's force? Could the invasion have been brought off with the French crews used to working their ships in the late spring/early summer of 1805 and Nelson still in the combined fleet's wake? Those are points worth arguing over, I think.
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Wed Jun 22, 2005 6:17 am
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I was watching the History Channel last night (Line of Fire - Roman Conquests) which detailed the fierce resistance by British natives to attempts by Rome to invade.

Weather played a very important part in the very first invasion -- attempted by Julius Caesar in 55 BC. He landed and successfully fought off the local Britons but was unable to pursue the fleeing defenders since his cavalry had been unable to land due to a storm. Most of his ships were devastated by this same storm which stranded his infantry. Caesar was forced to negotiate a truce in order to escape across the channel. At least he got further than Napoleon, but not by much. I contend that Napoleon was the unluckiest invader until Hilter showed up. And Hilter was stopped with the Royal Air Force leading the way -- not by weather.

Of course, Julius Caesar returned the following year and other Roman armies even later.

Weather, historically, in my opinion, seems to favor the British people more than invaders. Example: Agincourt (1415) was a land battle that was affected by weather (heavily armored mounted knights and mud don't mix) but Henry V's fleet had no difficult traveling from southern England to Normandy to force the confrontation in the first place.

I wonder if there exists some comments by Napoleon about his aborted invasion attempt, and how much the weather played in the decision to abandon the invasion. I know that he wrote his memoirs at St. Helena. Does anyone know if weather is mentioned? And where?

Don


Tue Aug 09, 2005 4:03 am
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Post Mirages
I came across information about mirages whilst hunting around for something else.

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Sat Jan 28, 2006 3:41 pm
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They were certainly experiencing some difficult weather conditions at Spithead on January 2nd 1805.

From The Times January 4th 1805

".....the fog has been so thick during the day, that it cannot be ascertained whether any ships have arrived at Spithead ...." and another interesting one, " ....the Paulette frigate, Capt. DUNBAR, being ordered on a particular service, is dropped down to Stokes bay to receive her water, as there is is too much sea at Spithead. This is an unusual proceeding. ....."

What does the latter mean? Spring tides? but surely that doesn't mean that. Can't be wind causing problems or surely the wind would have blown away the fog. Anyone got any bright ideas on this, please?

p.s. not everyone will know where Stokes Bay is located, and a search brought up this interesting page with a useful map.

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Thu Jun 22, 2006 2:29 pm
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Mil Goose wrote:
".....the fog has been so thick during the day, that it cannot be ascertained whether any ships have arrived at Spithead ...." and another interesting one, " ....the Paulette frigate, Capt. DUNBAR, being ordered on a particular service, is dropped down to Stokes bay to receive her water, as there is is too much sea at Spithead. This is an unusual proceeding. ....."

What does the latter mean? Spring tides? but surely that doesn't mean that. Can't be wind causing problems or surely the wind would have blown away the fog. Anyone got any bright ideas on this, please?

I always thought that "too much sea" meant rough seas (big waves) rather than high water levels. I'm not sure I could point you to a source for this, though.

Don


Thu Jun 22, 2006 10:57 pm
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timoneer wrote:
Mil Goose wrote:
". " ....the Paulette frigate, Capt. DUNBAR, being ordered on a particular service, is dropped down to Stokes bay to receive her water, as there is is too much sea at Spithead. This is an unusual proceeding. ....."

What does the latter mean? Spring tides? but surely that doesn't mean that. Can't be wind causing problems or surely the wind would have blown away the fog. Anyone got any bright ideas on this, please?


I always thought that "too much sea" meant rough seas (big waves) rather than high water levels. I'm not sure I could point you to a source for this, though.

Don



......sounds like my local swimming pool which slurps when they've topped it up. :lol:

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Fri Jun 23, 2006 10:50 am
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Glued to Tv watching England, in Australia, trying to defend The Ashes - the current match is being played in Perth - I was intrigued when the commentators were talking about a bowler being assisted by the Fremantle Doctor, an onshore wind, also known as the Fremantle Docker, which enabled sailing ships to get into the port of Fremantle. Herewith the link with the information.

Interesting, also, to know that the city of Fremantle was named after Thomas Fremantle's younger son, Charles Howe Fremantle. It's always amazing to me how many places names, etc are named after naval officers.

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Sat Dec 16, 2006 1:19 pm
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I have been reading so much in my daily trawls through The Times about the bad winds and storms prevailing during October/November 1795 that I thought a few snippets might make some interesting reading.



"....PORTSMOUTH, October 29th.....we have been this day visited with a most tremendous and awful storm of wind; hail, thunder, lightning, and rain. .... a great deal of damage was done to many houses, in the windows, roofs, etc....a mill near Haslar was razed with the ground...no boats were lost, nor any lives that we hear of with certainty....reports prevail of several persons having fallen victims to the violence of the storm....a very high tide succeeded the storm.......



....PORTSMOUTH....October 30th.....the wind continues blowing so extremely hard, that all communication from the ships at Spithead to the shore is prevented.....



...CORK...November 2nd.....this morning the wind having come round to the northward, sailed his Majesty's ships Apollo, Captain Manley; Polyphemus, Capt. Lumsdaine....these ships had been lying ready to sail since the 18th ult. but could not get out of the harbour owing to the very heavy gales from the S.W.....




...RAMSGATE, November 8th.......the distress amongst the shipping in the Downs, and parts adjacent, in the late hard gale of wind, was much greater than has been know for many years past ...about 50 sail have been brought into this harbour in the couple of days, some with their masts gone, some with the loss of bowsprits...many leaking...and great numbers with loss of their anchors and cables....there are now 160 sail in the harbour, many of them large ships...the shipping continues coming in every hour......

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Wed Sep 26, 2007 10:57 am
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Mil -

How deep is the English Channel? This may seem a silly question - but might account for the frequency of bad weather, though I speak from a position of profound ignorance; nevertheless, I once crossed the North Sea in a force 10 gale and in conversation (once the storm had abated) with the ship's engineer, he said the North Sea was frequently rough because it is so shallow - not more than 20 feet in places - and the wind is therefore able to cause greater turbulence. If the English Channel is similarly shallow, perhaps that accounts for the roughness of the sea.


Wed Sep 26, 2007 12:51 pm
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polly wrote:
Mil -

How deep is the English Channel? This may seem a silly question - but might account for the frequency of bad weather, though I speak from a position of profound ignorance; nevertheless, I once crossed the North Sea in a force 10 gale and in conversation (once the storm had abated) with the ship's engineer, he said the North Sea was frequently rough because it is so shallow - not more than 20 feet in places - and the wind is therefore able to cause greater turbulence. If the English Channel is similarly shallow, perhaps that accounts for the roughness of the sea.



...there you go, Polly....the statistics......and, similarly, those for the North Sea.

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Wed Sep 26, 2007 1:07 pm
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