The last week of the year boasts the anniversary of many notable, memorable and important events from the maritime world. From 1600 to 1999 - we take a look at the past: Darwin Departs from England, U.S.S. Monitor Sinks, U.S. Navy Transfers Vessels to Vietnam, East India Company is Granted Charter, Panama Granted Control of Canal, HMS Formidable is Torpedoed, Japanese Capture Russian Naval Base.

December 27th

1831: HMS Beagle Departs from Plymouth Sound with Charles Darwin Onboard

Charles Darwin set sail from Plymouth Sound, England onboard the HMS Beagle (pictured above in thumb) on a five year expedition, surveying the southern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Darwin made stops at several islands, including the Galapagos Islands and New Zealand. During his expedition he gathered vast knowledge from the flora, fauna and species inhabiting these islands. His new found knowledge served as a basis for the development of his theory of evolution. He presented his scientific findings in his book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, released in 1859.
Naval archeologist believe they found the Beagle’s final resting place with the discovery of timber along a tidal bank in the River Roach near Waterside Farm – the Beagle had been stationed in the area after it’s refit to a coastguard vessel in 1845.

December 30th

1862: U.S.S. Monitor Sinks off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

The U.S.S. Monitor was the first ship commissioned by the U.S. Navy during the American Civil War. The new ship was fitted with the latest in technology, including the first 360 degree rotating armored gun turret on an operational warship as well as a completely underwater hull and an overhang armored deck. The ship was well designed for calm river waters, but was not seaworthy in the open waters.

She was best known for engaging with the C.S.S. Virginia off Hampton Road, Virginian in what is now known as one of the most famous American battles and the first naval engagement involving the faceoff of two ironclad vessels. Just nine months after the famous battle, the decision was made to move the vessel from the sheltered waters of the Chesapeake Bay to Beaufort, North Carolina, where it would be staged for an attack on Charleston, South Carolina.

The U.S.S. Rhode Island towed the heavy ironclad ship around Cape Hatteras in the rough waters of a storm. The ship was violently tossed in high seas causing the gun turret to loosen. Water spilled in the allowing was to leak into the hull. More and more seams opened up as the journey continued and the ship began to sink. The Monitor’s Commander, J.P. Bankhead signaled to the tow vessel that he wished to abandon ship. The tow boat retrieved as many sailors as it could and the other piled onto lifeboats. The Monitor’s pumps failed and the ship sank quickly, taking 16 of the 62 crew members with it. (Pictured: Depiction of U.S.S. Monitor breaking apart at sea.)

1970: U.S. Navy Transfers Vessels and Responsibility to South Vietnamese

As a part of the Nixon Doctrine, sometime also known as the Vietnamization program, 125 vessels were transferred to the South Vietnamese Navy in a ceremony marking the end of the United States Navy’s four year engagement in inland waterway combat. Nixon wanted to give the South Vietnamese the ability to defend themselves, so that he could bring U.S. soldiers and Marines home. In total the U.S. gave 650 vessels to the South Vietnamese Navy. Seventeen thousand America troops remained with the South Vietnamese Navy in various positions.

December 31st

1600: East India Company Granted Royal English Charter

The East India Company was an English joint stock company formed to purse trade with the East Indies. On December 31, 1600, Queen Elizabeth I, granted a Royal Charter to George Earl of Cumberland and 215 Knights, Alderman and Burgresses under the name Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading in the East Indies. For fifteen years the charter awarded the company with a monopoly on trade with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan. The first East India Company voyage was in 1601 onboard the Red Dragon - commanded by Sir James Lancaster (pictured right).

In 1708 the East India Company merged with its competitor, to form the United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies; more commonly known as the Honorable East India Company. Colloquially, the company was referred to as John Company.

The East India Company traded mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China – trading mostly cotton, silk, indigo dye, saltpeter, tea and opium. The trading company’s influence in the region was significant and they eventually found themselves exerting military and administrative functions in the region. The company functioned as a megacorporation. Company rule in India began in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey and lasted until 1858.

For more than 250 years the East India Company was a powerful force and held a privileged relationship with the British Government – earning itself special rights and privileges – including trade monopolies and exemptions.

1999: Panama Granted Control of Panama Canal

The United States officially turned over control of the Panama Canal, in accordance with the Torrijos-Carter Treaties – initially signed in 1977 - giving the Panamanian Government free control of the canal – so long as they ensured that is always remain neutral. Thousands of Panamanian’s gathered along the 50-mile waterway, which links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, to celebrate the transfer. In 1914 the canal officially opened when the SS Arcon sailed through it. Since then, more than a million vessels have transited this man made waterway.

Jimmy Carter’s speech upon signing the Panama Canal treaty in 1977.

January 1st

1915: British Ship Formidable is Torpedoed by Germans

In the early hours of the first day of 1915, the HMS class British battleship Formidable (pictured left) was torpedoed by the German submarine, U-24. The Formidable sank in the English Channel, killing 547 men.

The Formidable was a predreadnought battleship, the lead of her class, built at Portsmouth Dockyard. She was one of 8 ships from the 5th Battle Squadron engaged in firing practice in the English Channel on New Year’s Day, 1915. Unbeknownst to the British, the German submarine U-24 had spent the day watching the squadron, waiting for the right moment to fire. German submarine captain, Rudolph Schneider, found the perfect opportunity to strike when the British squadron began heading west in Lyme Bay. Just before 2:30 a.m. the German sub fired a torpedo into the starboard side of the Formidable. The battleship began taking on water and started to list. About forty-five minutes later, Capt. Schneider maneuvered the sub into position and struck the Formidable again, this time on the port side. Ninety minutes after the first torpedoed was fired, the Formidable sank.

Five hundred and forty-seven of the 780 crewmembers were killed in the sinking.

January 2nd

1905: Japanese Capture Russian Naval Base at Port Arthur, Russian Fleet Surrenders

Japan successfully captured Port Arthur, a major Russian naval base on the Liaodong Peninsula in China, on this day in 1905. The capture was a major turning point in the Russo-Japanese War.

Czar Nicholas II declined to withdraw his troops from Manchuria after joining with British, French, Japanese, German and American forces to combat the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900. The Japanese, weary of Russia’s imperial ambitions over Manchuria and Korea, launched a surprise attack on Port Arthur – which began the Russo-Japanese War.

Russia’s defeat at Port Arthur led to Czar Nicholas to accept the U.S.’s offer to broker peace between Russia and Japan. Under the Treaty of Portsmouth, New Hampshire gave control of Port Arthur and the surrounding region was transferred to the Japanese. It was later renamed Ryojun and came to serve as an important naval base. After WWII the port and surrounding land was placed under the joint Soviet-Chinese control. (Pictured: Japanese despiction of an attack on a Russian ship.)

Source: The Maritime Executive



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