British, American and Canadian Sailors Remember UK-US Naval Battle
British, American and Canadian sailors paid homage to men killed in one of the most famous – and bloodiest – battles waged the last time London and Washington went to war against each other. Personnel from all three nations paid their respects to the dead of HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake, laid to rest in Halifax, Canada, after the two ships clashed during the War of 1812.
Two centuries after one of the most celebrated naval clashes from the days of sail, today’s sailors remembered those lost the last time Britain and America went to war against each other.
On June 1 1813, the frigates HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake clashed off Boston, Massachusetts, one of the shortest and bloodiest naval actions of the War of 1812 (which actually lasted until 1815…).
Bostonians were convinced of success after the relatively junior US Navy had inflicted several defeats on its much older and larger foe.
A victory banquet was prepared and many Bostonians sailed in yachts to watch the triumph.
Instead, however, Capt Broke delivered a lesson in naval gunnery and training. For every shot fired by the Chesapeake into Shannon, the Royal Navy responded with two into the American warship.
After just 15 minutes of battle, Chesapeake’s battle flag was lowered and the Blue Ensign of the Royal Navy hoisted by the Shannon’s boarding team, even though the mortally-wounded Capt Lawrence urged his men: “Don’t give up the ship” – a motto which lives on in today’s American Navy.
In all, 228 men were killed or wounded in the brief battle, making it the bloodiest single-ship encounter of the entire war.
Both ships subsequently made for Halifax in Canada, some 300 miles away, where the casualties of battle were treated and the dead laid to rest in what is now known as the Old Burial Ground.
It was there, 200 years later, that the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, Brig Gen John Grant, unveiled a commemorative plaque and laid a wreath on the joint grave of the Shannon’s Midshipman John Samwell and Boatswain William Steven.
In all 38 sailors, marines, landsmen and immigrants lost their lives in the Royal Navy frigate during the short but ferocious action; 60 American sailors and marines were also killed.
Representing the RN at memorial proceedings was Lt Cdr Mike Jones-Thompson, an air warfare officer who’s one of five on exchange with the Canadians in Halifax.
“It was an honour to represent the RN at this historic event – and remember the sacrifice that has been made by so many of our forefathers,” said Lt Cdr Jones-Thompson, who teaches Canadian ops room officers and assesses ships’ warfare teams.
“The War of 1812 had a profound effect on the way that the UK, USA and Canada developed as nations, and ultimately lead to the close ties that we enjoy today.”
Press Release, June 20, 2013; Image: Royal Navy