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 Signaling 
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susan wrote:
Charles Henry Knowles published the details in A Set of Signals for a Fleet, on a Plan Entirely New in 1778.

Sir Charles Henry Knowles (referred to as "the younger") and the particular document you noted is discussed on pages 131-134 of "Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail: The Evolution of Fighting Tactics 1650-1815" by Brian Tunstall. When I finally found this in the index (under "Instructions and Signal Books"), I was astounded at the number of signaling systems listed. The history of signals is nowhere near as simple as I discussed in my earlier post.

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Sun May 21, 2006 5:42 pm
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Post Re: Signaling History
timoneer wrote:
Susan, I was aware of the use of rockets, guns, etc. at night but only listed the lanterns as those might be the method to transmit the most complex and therefore the most confusing (at least to me) message. You raise a good point about the "night signal book." I looked and really could not find out much about it. I wonder if it was a part of the "fighting instructions" (static), additional instructions by each Admiral (variable), or even a supplementary part of particular codes like Popham's. Do you happen to know?

As I understand it, the night signals were nowhere near as numerous/complex as the day signals. I would imagine the Tunstall book you have discusses them. If not, there is a short summary in Brian Lavery's Nelson's Navy.

In terms of the night signals, the example I am referring to is called Night Signals and Instructions for the Conduct of Ships of War with a date of 1799. It is separate from the day signals and fighting instructions.

I don't know if that is the case with earlier or subsequent versions.

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Sun May 21, 2006 8:23 pm
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Post Re: Signaling History
susan wrote:
As I understand it, the night signals were nowhere near as numerous/complex as the day signals. I would imagine the Tunstall book you have discusses them. If not, there is a short summary in Brian Lavery's Nelson's Navy.

Susan, thanks for the info. I did look in the Tunstall book but could only find a sentence or two scattered about – nothing about the source of night signals or their history. I just looked at the Lavery book you mentioned and thought the frame used for night signals was pretty interesting. I had never heard of this frame before. For those whthout this book, what Lavery relates is a wooden frame on which up to 5 lanterns could be arraigned in a row or certain shapes such as a triangle or square of lights could be formed. The frame was then hoisted aloft.

I never gave any much thought about signals to be used in FOG. Signaling devices were limited to audible types like guns, horns, bells, etc. One of the examples given was tacking – firing two guns in succession followed by two more guns a half minute later. The response was ringing of bells.

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Sun May 21, 2006 9:31 pm
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Don,

If you can get a hold of a copy of Fighting Instructions: 1530–1816 edited by Julian S. Corbett (published by the Navy Records Society in 1905), there is a chapter called "The Signal Books of the Great War," which briefly discusses the evolution of the books based on the examples that remain.

As you noted in a previous post, Popham's code wasn't in general use until a new signal book was issued in 1816, which was based on his code. Up to then, Howe's code was still used as the basis of the books.

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Sun May 21, 2006 11:21 pm
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susan wrote:
If you can get a hold of a copy of Fighting Instructions: 1530–1816 edited by Julian S. Corbett (published by the Navy Records Society in 1905), there is a chapter called "The Signal Books of the Great War," which briefly discusses the evolution of the books based on the examples that remain.

Susan, thanks. I have requested a copy through an Interlibrary loan.

susan wrote:
As you noted in a previous post, Popham's code wasn't in general use until a new signal book was issued in 1816, which was based on his code. Up to then, Howe's code was still used as the basis of the books.

It was kind of strange that certain Admirals embraced Popham's code and others didn't during the 1800-1816 period. Of course without official Admiralty sanction, it is hard to fault them. In fact, during that period some Admirals were championing other systems. In another thread here, William Jervis lost his life in 1805; the very same year that Nelson sent his famous message at Trafalgar using Popham's code. CLICK HERE.

Don


Mon May 22, 2006 12:50 am
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Post Fog Signals
From Dillon’s "A Narrative of My Professional Adventures (1790-1839)"

Fog Signals

Dillon experienced a bizarre, fortuitous event involving "Fog Signals" in July 1814 in the North Atlantic near Greenland. Dillon’s frigate HMS "Horatio" was in company with Commodore/Captain John Talbot’s HMS "Victorious"(74) protecting the British fishing fleet from American warships (War of 1812).

Earlier, Dillon had gone aboard a British whaling ship and was warned by the master that the charts of those waters were incorrect. Additionally, fogs and icebergs abounded in the area. The master urged both British warships to leave the area, but Talbot wanted to continue the mission. For several days they had fine weather and no problems.

Then a thick fog moved in and neither ship had any communication except for periodic guns being fired to give their location. Dillon was ahead of the Commodore. While continually casting the lead line, Dillon was aware that the sea was growing shallower. He heard the "Victorious" fire the gun-signal to "Tack" which he did immediately. The next cast found the sea to be very shallow. Dillon then anchored and shortly afterward a boat from the "Victorious" approached his vessel. The larger ship had gone aground. Note: Talbot’s ship was eventually freed and patched.

Dillon was grateful that Talbot had ordered him to tack, otherwise he would have grounded also. What astounded Dillon was to find out that Talbot had NOT signaled him to tack. When Victorious went aground, he fired off his cannons in no specific order. However, the order and timing of the cannon fire matched exactly with the command to "tack." So, by lucky coincidence, Dillon instantly sailed way from land and his ship was saved from the same fate as the Victorious. Strange!

The original event is told over four pages in Dillon’s book with a lot more detail than in my summary above. Very interesting to read.

Don


Sun Jun 04, 2006 11:47 pm
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susan wrote:
Don, If you can get a hold of a copy of Fighting Instructions: 1530–1816 edited by Julian S. Corbett (published by the Navy Records Society in 1905), there is a chapter called "The Signal Books of the Great War," which briefly discusses the evolution of the books based on the examples that remain.

Susan, what a very complex subject! Of course, after reading what you suggested (and more), I have come to the conclusion that the whole subject of the evolution of fighting instructions (and the later code signals that contained fighting instructions) is one of the more complex subjects of the era. Especially since the documentation is somewhat fragmentary in the historical records. I have even more respect for the fighting admirals like Howe and Nelson. Corbett does a decent job of trying to make sense of this subject although some paragraphs had me wishing someone else was editing him. Even Nelson's Touch seems to have evolved from the time he left England (for the last time) until the actual battle at Trafalgar. I think I will have to re-read this book several times to better understand the subtle differences that occurred over time. There were some surprises like Howe may have not been the creator of his fighting instructions (Charles H. Knowles claims the credit). In addition, I found it interesting to discover that there were several different methods of "breaking the line" (some never attempted).

It took a while to get this book through the Interlibrary loan system. After a long search by the librarian, the book that arrived was an original 1905 edition which I returned immediately due to the fragile nature of the pages (very brittle). The librarian finally located a more recent re-print that was readable. I’m going to look for a personal copy of the re-print if I can find a reasonably priced one.

Thanks for directing me to this book.

Don


Tue Jun 13, 2006 8:09 am
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I rather like this picture from the NMM of semaphore operating at Portsmouth.

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Sat Aug 12, 2006 5:16 pm
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I'm sure a lot of people here are familiar with the term "blue light" in relation to night signals. Does anyone know how it was deployed?

I looked it up in Smyth's Sailor's Word Book and all he has to say about it is that it's a "pyrotechnical preparation" also referred to as a Bengal light.

Is it like a ground flare, which would be a scary thing to have burning on a ship, or was it fired into the air like a rocket?

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Fri Apr 13, 2007 2:07 am
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susan wrote:
I'm sure a lot of people here are familiar with the term "blue light" in relation to night signals. Does anyone know how it was deployed? I looked it up in Smyth's Sailor's Word Book and all he has to say about it is that it's a "pyrotechnical preparation" also referred to as a Bengal light. Is it like a ground flare, which would be a scary thing to have burning on a ship, or was it fired into the air like a rocket?
Interesting question. I always assumed it was a flare that was either ignited on deck or hoisted into the rigging but when I went looking on-line and in my books, I ran into the same kind of (lack of) definition.

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Fri Apr 13, 2007 3:06 am
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timoneer wrote:
susan wrote:
I'm sure a lot of people here are familiar with the term "blue light" in relation to night signals. Does anyone know how it was deployed? I looked it up in Smyth's Sailor's Word Book and all he has to say about it is that it's a "pyrotechnical preparation" also referred to as a Bengal light. Is it like a ground flare, which would be a scary thing to have burning on a ship, or was it fired into the air like a rocket?
Interesting question. I always assumed it was a flare that was either ignited on deck or hoisted into the rigging but when I went looking on-line and in my books, I ran into the same kind of (lack of) definition.

Susan, I think that your tactic of looking at a contemporary source is the most sensible way to get an accurate definition mainly because "Bengal Lights" is a term used for certain modern fireworks, thus the Internet is flooded with modern information. It is a shame that Smyth was not very helpful. Even though an Internet search is less than ideal, I did more looking there and found these tidbits:

A firework made by filling a case with a substance which burns brilliantly with a white or colored flame; as, a Bengal light.

Previous to this [19th century] the only colour had been the bluish white light produced by a mixture of sulfur, saltpetre, and orpiment. These blue lights, as they were called, were and still are often used at sea for signaling and illumination. They were also known as Bengal lights, probably because Bengal [India] was the chief source of saltpetre.

a steady bright blue light; formerly used as a signal but now a firework

long lasting, intensely blue-white

In pyrotechnics the term is applied either to a coloured-fire composition burned in a loose heap or to a similar composition rolled into a paper case to ensure longer and more regular burning.

Saint Barbara is the patron saint of artillerymen and her feast day occurs on 4th December. There are at least three legends of this famous Virgin and Martyr. This beautiful legend shows us how appropriate was the choice of the Virgin and Martyr St Barbara as the patroness of artillerymen. Alypius, the saint's father, during military service in the East, became friendly with a certain fakir, from whom he learned marvelous secrets as to the use of naphtha and saltpetre. From the same source he also learned the preparation of Bengal lights.

From this hodge-podge of info, I would say it was a loose mixture of chemicals placed in a metalic container and ignited. This mixture burned bright blue and steadily for some period. However, until an historical source is found, it is just a guess. I would note that unless a Bengal Light was hoisted aloft, it would be much less visible at a distance than a rocket. But... once again, would anyone of that era haul one aloft? It would seem that it would be easier to address any problems of burning material on deck rather than aloft, but who knows?

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Fri Apr 13, 2007 10:11 am
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Re night signals, Commodore Truxtun, USN, in his "Signal Book" of 1797, lays out a pretty simple method for communicating at night. The number of lights and guns corresponds to a number in the code book:

"They must have been agreed on beforehand; for example, each light to tell for one, and each gun firing for ten more or less, as may be agreed upon; so if you want to signal 27, you fire two guns, after having put seven lights in the most conspicuous place in the ship . . . ."

The excerpt is from <I>History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy</I>, Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN (Retired), 1963, pages 3-13, and appears at http://earlyradiohistory.us/1963hw01.htm.

Here are a couple of reproductions from the book: http://www.history.navy.mil/library/anh/found1a.htm

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Fri Apr 13, 2007 6:28 pm
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Broos Campbell wrote:
Re night signals, Commodore Truxtun, USN, in his "Signal Book" of 1797, lays out ... having put seven lights in the most conspicuous place in the ship . . . ."

Broos, does Truxtun spell out that the "lights" refer to "Bengal Lights" or does he refer to "lanterns" usually used for night signaling?

BTW, I could not seem to get the first link to work properly.

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Fri Apr 13, 2007 10:41 pm
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Quote:
Broos, does Truxtun spell out that the "lights" refer to "Bengal Lights" or does he refer to "lanterns" usually used for night signaling?

BTW, I could not seem to get the first link to work properly.


’Fraid it's a second-hand reference, so I don't know if Truxtun clarifies it elsewhere. It's my impression he means lanterns. I think putting up as many as nine lanterns routinely would be a lot easier (and cheaper, always a consideration) than putting up nine sputtering pyrotechnical devices.

The link doesn't work for me, either, now that you mention it. Could've sworn I'd checked it. However, the URL is right. You can get to the chapter by cutting and pasting it: http://earlyradiohistory.us/1963hw01.htm. You'll have to scroll down to get to the bit about Truxtun.

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Fri Apr 13, 2007 11:58 pm
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Broos Campbell wrote:
The link doesn't work for me, either, now that you mention it. Could've sworn I'd checked it. However, the URL is right. You can get to the chapter by cutting and pasting it: http://earlyradiohistory.us/1963hw01.htm. You'll have to scroll down to get to the bit about Truxtun.

I got it to work by removing the final period.

Click here: http://earlyradiohistory.us/1963hw01.htm

Don


Sat Apr 14, 2007 12:43 am
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