HMS Valiant, The Baltic
“Mr. Llewellyn, signal the convoy to heave to,” Granger ordered, even as he grappled with the dilemma in front of him. He had to take possession of two captured ships, and he still had four merchants that he needed to chase down and recapture.
“Aye aye, my lord,” he acknowledged.
“Mr. Weston, I want you to go take possession of the smaller frigate and assess the damage,” Granger ordered.
“Aye aye, my lord,” he said. Granger waited impatiently for the launch and the longboat to arrive at the Russian frigates, and then waited to make sure that there was no immediate duplicity as his men took possession. Satisfied that his officers had things well in hand, Granger decided it was time to chase after the four captured merchant vessels.
“Mr. Kingsdale, you find yourself as the first lieutenant,” Granger said jovially.
“I have big shoes to fill, sir,” he said diplomatically.
Granger took control of the ship, setting off after the four merchant ships with her mains, even as the sailmaker worked to fix damage to her topsails. “I’ll want my gig ready to launch,” he ordered. “Major Treadway, I’ll trust you to board each merchant ship with a squad of your men to make sure that the original crew resumes control. You can bring the Russian prize crews back with you.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Treadway replied, and then both he and Kingsdale worked to get the boat ready. The merchants were slow and unwieldy, so Valiant was easily able to catch up with them, but it still took time. By the time she had recaptured the merchant ships and escorted them back to the convoy and the captured Russian frigates, the sun was starting to set.
“Signal Mr. Weston and Mr. Grenfell to come aboard,” Granger ordered. Valiant was well beyond boat range at that point, but he wanted to send up the signal before it was dark. “We’ll also need lanterns for night stations, so no one runs into us.”
“Aye aye sir,” Kingsdale said, and made sure his orders were executed. “It looks like at least most of the convoy has obeyed your orders to heave to.”
“Most of them,” Granger grumbled, noting that probably 25 ships had opted to ignore him and continue on with their voyage, although it was difficult to discern in the fading light.
Granger let Kingsdale handle Valiant and smiled approvingly as he hove her to half a cable from the captured Russian frigates. “That was well done,” he said to the young lieutenant.
“Thank you, sir,” Kingsdale said.
“You may return the ship to normal, and then please send the hands to supper,” he ordered. He passed the word for Winkler and gave orders for his own meal. Winkler briefly looked at him in frustration, contemplating all that he had to accomplish while also restoring Granger’s quarters, but then acknowledged his orders and went off to get things ready. “When Mr. Weston and Mr. Grenfell arrive, I would like it if you would join us for dinner,” he said to Kingsdale. “You can have one of the Master’s mates take the watch.”
“Aye aye, sir,” he confirmed. Daventry had largely stayed in the background during all this activity, but now that there was a lull, he walked over to join Granger.
“It is a beautiful night, although a bit chilly,” Daventry commented.
“I suspect it will get much cooler before we are done with this mission,” Granger said.
“I continue to be amazed at how busy you are, and how that contrasts to the sedate lives most of your contemporaries seem to have,” Daventry joked.
“I suspect many of them are busy too,” Granger said, thinking of Borlase Warren, Nelson, and Pellew. “At least we are lucky in that the weather is calm.”
“For now,” Daventry said ruefully. Even though it was a little cold, the Baltic was smooth, with just slight swells, and a large moon highlighted the evening, illuminating this mass of ships that was all around Valiant, even though their lanterns twinkled brightly, like some of those strange bugs Granger had seen in the tropics who illuminated themselves sporadically at night. “Why did you send Mr. Weston to command the smaller ship?”
“The larger frigate appeared to be in poor condition, and I am skeptical that we’ll be able to salvage her,” Granger explained. “The smaller one took much less damage, and thus may be worth saving.”
“And you are thinking that if you give Weston command of her and send her back to England that may be his ticket to promotion?” Daventry asked.
“That was on my mind,” Granger said.
“I must compliment you on how you work diligently to foster the careers of those officers who serve you. I would expect it is difficult to part with an experienced officer once you have developed a good rapport, such as you have with Mr. Weston,” Daventry said.
“It is actually quite easy to part with them under such circumstances. I think it is my obligation to them and to the service to see that their talents are rewarded,” Granger said. “When Lord Hood was speaking to me prior to supporting me in my admission to the Lords, he told me that the true value of an officer is not what he achieves, but whom he leaves behind to succeed him.”
“A noble goal,” Daventry agreed. “Unfortunately, in this case, I think you would be doing Mr. Weston a disservice.”
“And why is that?” Granger asked curiously.
“We are not at war with Russia, even though their actions certainly seem warlike,” Daventry noted. “Up until this latest conflict, we have largely had a good relationship with Russia, and we have usually found ourselves allied with them. I would remind you that over the past five years, Russian ships have served alongside the North Sea fleet in support of our war aims.”
“Such as what war aims we have can be identified,” Granger said in frustration, venting about the lack of strategic direction of Pitt and his Cabinet.
“Indeed,” Daventry agreed ruefully. “Russia, despite her sizeable but decrepit navy, is a continental power, and her focus is on the land. That is bound to bring her into conflict with France. The only thing propelling her into French orbit right now is the purported insanity of the Tsar.” Granger continued to be impressed with how well Daventry knew about this region, and pondered how much studying and consulting he must have done prior to this mission.
“You are trying to tell me that this strange non-war we have with Russia is an aberration, and that we are most likely going to be allied with them in the future,” Granger concluded.
“That is exactly what I am telling you. And in that case, I am almost sure that any unpleasant actions we may have will be swept under the rug so as not to impair that relationship.”
“So if I send Weston home with this captured Russian frigate, rather than returning to accolades, the whole issue would likely be hushed up, and he would probably find himself posted to a different ship and sent off in short order?” Granger asked cynically. There would be no rewards for Weston in that situation, as the desire would be to have him be as inconspicuous as possible.
“I am willing to wager that is what happens,” Daventry said.
Granger stood there with Daventry, staring out at the sea, enjoying a moment of relative quiet to ponder his words, until the tranquility was broken by the pealing of bosun’s whistles. Granger was surprised at that, since as lieutenants Weston and Grenfell wouldn’t warrant such honors. He turned to see a man climbing through the entry port, wearing that dark green uniform he’d seen the Russian officers wearing. Before he could say anything, Weston boarded the ship behind him. “My lord, this is Captain Ian McDougal, of His Imperial Majesty’s ship Patrikii,” Weston said.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Captain,” Granger said politely.
“The pleasure is most certainly mine, my lord,” McDougal said, returning Granger’s bow. He had a Scottish brogue, and Granger surmised he must be one of those Royal Navy officers who had opted to serve in the Tsar’s navy rather than exist in England, hoping for a ship or promotion, while eking out a living on half-pay. As Granger witnessed every time he visited the Admiralty, while there was an acute shortage of seamen, there was a large surplus of officers.
“I hope you don’t mind me inviting Captain McDougal to join me, my lord,” Weston said. “I thought he may be able to provide additional insight on this situation.”
“I’m sure you are right,” Granger said.
Grenfell boarded the ship and greeted everyone. “I understand you were in charge of the guns that ravaged us,” McDougal said to him, but in a pleasant way.
“I had that honor, sir,” Grenfell said.
“You are to be complimented on your rate of fire and your accuracy,” McDougal told Grenfell.
“I could not agree more,” Granger said. “Gentlemen, I am of a mind to have our discussion over supper.”
“A good meal would not come amiss, my lord,” McDougal said with a grin. He was a handsome man, probably in his thirties, with the look of someone who had seen hard living, probably both ashore and at sea. Granger led them back to his cabin, which had miraculously been restored, at least as far as Granger’s guests could see. McDougal’s eyes grew a bit wider as he noted the luxurious surroundings that constituted Granger’s home at sea, while Granger turned into the perfect host, pointing out some of his pictures and then guiding them to the table. They took their seats and began eating. “This food is truly wondrous, my lord!” McDougal exclaimed.
“Thank you, Captain,” Granger said, smiling at him. “I will convey your compliments to my chef.”
“It smells quite good, and it is deliciously warm as well in here, my lord,” he said.
“I received a stove as a gift, designed for shipboard use,” Granger said. “It is also useful for light cooking and baking. The scent you smell is undoubtedly fresh bread.”
“Incredible,” McDougal said, then applied himself to eating. As polite as he seemed, his table manners were horrendous, and the fact that he didn’t seem to realize that he was uniquely being boorish was even more intriguing. The rest of them continued on with their meal as if he weren’t eating like a primitive savage, and politely ignored his conduct.
“Tell me of the ships we captured,” Granger said to Weston.
“My lord, Mr. Grenfell can brief you on the status of Podrazhislav, since that is the ship he has been commanding,” Weston said. Granger turned his attention to Grenfell.
“Unfortunately, the Commodore, Captain, and most of her officers were killed, my lord,” Grenfell said. “The ship is in a sad state, with half of her crew dead or wounded.”
Granger was stunned that they’d done so much damage after such a short fight. “I would not have expected such a high casualty rate.”
“That ship belonged at the breaker’s yard, not at sea,” McDougal said, almost to himself.
“Can you explain that Captain?” Granger asked.
“Certainly, begging your pardon, my lord,” he said, and stopped eating long enough to answer Granger’s question. “She was built in Archangelsk, and ships from there are lucky to make it around Norway to Kronstadt to begin with.”
“Why is that?” Weston asked.
“They’re made of local timber up there, pine of some sort, and they transport it to the shipyard by floating it down the river. They don’t give it time to dry or age, like you should, and like I said, it’s pine to begin with,” McDougal said.
“She appears to be falling apart,” Grenfell commented. “Planks are loose, and her knees are sagging.”
“She was like that before the action,” McDougal told him. “Russians don’t worry too much about the quality of construction, because they have enough lumber and labor to just build more ships, but the worst of the lot come from Archangelsk.”
“I have heard His Majesty’s ministers talk about building ships from fir or other soft woods because it could be done quickly and cheaply, but those ships would be lucky to be in service for ten years,” Daventry commented.
“Aye, my lord, but for the Russians, that works, because the usual enemy is Sweden, so all they really need is enough ships to deal with the initial attack, and then after that, they can out build the Swedes by a large margin and overwhelm them,” McDougal said.
“You gentlemen are suggesting that it will be nigh on impossible for this ship to serve in the King’s navy?” Granger asked.
“I think that is certain, my lord,” Grenfell said, even as McDougal chuckled at the idea.
“She’s not even fit to be a hulk,” McDougal said, shaking his head, and then refocused on eating.
“Pass the word for Dr. Jackson,” Granger called to the sentry. They continued to dine while waiting for Valiant’s surgeon to arrive, and when he did, Granger sent him, along with some of his mates, over to the damaged Russian flagship to help with the wounded.
“That was most kind of you, my lord,” McDougal said. Granger just smiled and changed the subject.
“So the Russians build temporary vessels, knowing they will have a short career,” Granger concluded, burning that into his memory.
“Aye, my lord, and because of that, they don’t think that maintaining them is very important at all,” McDougal said. “If you were to go to Kronstadt, you’d see about eight first-rates that look an awful lot like the Victory. Some say the Russians stole the plans to her, and it’s hard to argue with that when you see those ships.”
“The Victory is a splendid first rate,” Granger opined strongly, since he was especially fond of that ship.
“That may be, my lord, but those eight first-rate copies of her in Kronstadt aren’t a one of them fit to put to sea,” he said. “They build them with timber that isn’t seasoned and rots much too quickly, then they don’t do anything to maintain them. Then ten years later, they are all but falling apart.”
“Fascinating,” Granger said as he digested that.
“You must understand, my lord, that the Russians have an almost inexhaustible supply of raw materials. They have unlimited timber, iron, and men. The problem with all three of them is the quality of those materials.”
“The men we captured did not appear to be in the best of health,” Granger noted, thinking of the Russian prize crews that were being housed on the main deck, amongst the 24-pounders.
“You will pardon me for noting, my lord, that is because they came from Podrazhislav,” McDougal said with no small amount of scorn. “I am familiar with your career, and I know you have been aboard a Spanish ship or two.”
“One or two,” Granger said with a smile, getting a laugh from the others.
“My experience is that the Spaniards have gentlemen to command them, a core of professional petty officers and seamen to sail the ship, but the bulk of the crew are nothing more than peasants, my lord,” McDougal said.
“That is an apt description,” Granger agreed.
“If you will think about the typical Russian ship, and magnify that difference, such that the crews are even more unskilled than Spanish peasants, then Your Lordship will have a view of how things operate,” McDougal said.
“And what of the Patrikii?” Granger asked, referring to the smaller frigate.
“Patrikii was built in St. Petersburg, made with Kazan Oak, and is only five years old,” McDougal said proudly. “I’ve worked hard to train my men, so you’ll find her a bit different than the typical Russian ship.”
“That is admirable,” Granger said, and watched McDougal grow a little bit from his praise. McDougal clearly did not have a problem with excessive modesty. “How bad are your casualties?”
“We had five men wounded, my lord,” McDougal said proudly.
“That contrast with your Commodore’s ship is quite stunning,” Granger noted.
“My lord, I knew that you would not fall for the Commodore’s ploy, but I was compelled to follow orders,” McDougal said in frustration.
“Explain that,” Granger said, with evident curiosity.
“My lord, the Commodore was using the same tactic he’d implemented to fool some Swedes in the last war,” McDougal explained. “Podrazhislav was supposed to attract your attention with her steady fire, such that Patrikii was able to then slide out of line and cross your stern. After that, presumably one of our ships would be able to maintain a raking fire while the other exchanged broadsides with you.”
Granger digested that. “The Swedes are that easily fooled?”
McDougal laughed. “Evidently the one that the Commodore vanquished was, my lord.”
“I had wondered why Podrazhislav opened fire so early, and from such a distant range,” Granger mused.
“And now you know, begging your pardon, my lord,” McDougal said. “I knew when you kept your ports closed and didn’t return fire that you would exploit the biggest weakness in the Commodore’s plan, that you would rake Patrikii as she wore ship. Our casualties were so low because I ordered everyone on board to lie down on the deck.”
“That was a very smart move on your part, Captain,” Granger said, and watched McDougal beam in pride at his own cleverness.
“Thank you, my lord,” he said.
“My lord, Captain McDougal and his men have been working with us to repair the foremast and the bow of Patrikii,” Weston said. “We expect she’ll be ready to sail by the morning.”
“That is excellent work, gentlemen,” Granger pronounced, then shifted back to McDougal. “Captain, but for your capture of four of His Britannic Majesty’s merchant vessels, I cannot see that this battle would have been necessary.”
“My lord, you must surely realize that I was merely following orders,” McDougal said defensively.
“I did not mean to accuse you of any malfeasance, Captain,” Granger said soothingly. “I am just trying to ascertain whether a state of war exists between our two nations.”
“My understanding, my lord, is that His Imperial Majesty issued orders to impound all British ships, crews, and merchandise,” McDougal said. “I believe the intention was that this impound order would remain in effect until the issues with the Northern League and His Britannic Majesty were resolved.”
“That is a most belligerent action on the part of His Imperial Majesty,” Granger noted.
“I would submit, my lord, that it sounds worse than it is,” McDougal said. “Most of the merchant ships are already outward bound, so this will only catch those laggards who didn’t sail in time. I am also fairly certain that the Commodore did not interpret the instructions as His Imperial Majesty intended.”
“And how is that, Captain?” Daventry asked.
“I think that His Imperial Majesty intended that those ships would be impounded if in port, while the Commodore took that to mean that ships could be captured and impounded if they were found in or near His Imperial Majesty’s waters.”
“We’re a bit far from Russia,” Daventry noted.
“Most Russians consider the Baltic Sea to be His Imperial Majesty’s waters, my lord,” McDougal said with a grin.
“I daresay the Swedes, Danes, and Prussians would have some objection to that,” Daventry joked.
“I do not think His Imperial Majesty is overly worried about their perceptions,” McDougal said.
“Are there other ships, or groups of ships such as yours, that may be patrolling the Baltic?” Granger asked. McDougal got uncomfortable. “I am not trying to get you to divulge information you are uncomfortable sharing, I am merely trying to ascertain whether this convoy faces further threats.”
“There are a few other groups of ships, my lord,” McDougal said, but did not elaborate on what those groups consisted of.
“I would think that is most unusual,” Daventry noted. “Don’t most ships of His Imperial Majesty’s navy stand down around this time of year?”
“They do, as do the Swedes and Danes,” McDougal noted. “Baltic winters can be cold and unpleasant, and there is no reason for anyone to brave them unnecessarily.”
“Yet there are some groups of ships out there doing just that,” Granger said, but it was more of a question.
“The decommissioning process is gradual, my lord,” McDougal said. “By the end of October, we will all be ashore.”
They finished dining, made the appropriate toasts to their respective sovereigns. Things were a bit tense, since Granger had not discussed what was to happen yet, and all of them, Daventry included, were curious as to how Granger would resolve this situation. “Captain, I am of a mind to release you, contingent on your pledge that you will not further impede His Britannic Majesty’s ships until you return to Revel or Kronstadt.” That would not unduly burden McDougal, but it would make sure that he knew clearly the duration of his period of neutrality, such as it was.
“My lord, I am more than willing to make that pledge,” McDougal said. “As I have explained to you, I do not think the initial orders we received were intended to give us permission to capture British ships.”
“I am concerned lest those other groups are as confused as your Commodore was,” Granger observed. As it had been relayed to him, it seemed as if the Tsar was giving aggressive officers carte blanche to attack and capture British ships, while giving himself the ability to plausibly deny such an intention, much as McDougal was doing now.
“I cannot speak to their intentions, my lord,” McDougal said.
“Nor would I expect you to,” Granger said soothingly. “I would like to visit both Podrazhislav and Patrikii in the morning.”
“It would be an honor to be able to return your hospitality, perhaps for breakfast, my lord?” McDougal asked.
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure,” Granger said. “After that, I will give you leave to take your ships and return to whichever of His Imperial Majesty’s ports you deem appropriate.”
McDougal stared at him, surprised that Granger would release not just him, but the two frigates as well. That shocked expression was mirrored by the other officers at the table. “Thank you, my lord. I will look forward to hosting you and as many of these gentlemen who would also like to attend.”
“Excellent,” Granger said. “I was hoping to allow Mr. Grenfell and Mr. Weston to return to Podrazhislav and Patrikii so they can continue to help repair those vessels.”
“They will be welcome, my lord,” he said.
“Then I will see you gentlemen in the morning,” he said, and then escorted them to the entry port and back to their ships. Granger was not surprised to find Daventry waiting for him.
“You handled that masterfully,” Daventry said, even as they both took seats in the quarter gallery.
“Thank you,” Granger said uncomfortably. “I think it is important that we escort this convoy to the Sound.”
Daventry stared at him, preparing to object, then thought otherwise. “Why?”
“There are two reasons,” Granger said. “I think that, as you noted, any incidents would be unappreciated at this point, and if we are with these ships, I would speculate that a Russian force would think twice before interfering with it.”
“That makes sense, but it will delay our arrival in St. Petersburg,” Daventry noted.
“Which leads me to our second reason. I think that it would be better if those Russian ships were to return to St. Petersburg and for a little time to pass before you arrived as well,” Granger explained.
“I was actually thinking that I could merely go back with Captain McDougal and then release you to sail home,” Daventry said. Granger stared temptation in the face, wanting desperately to agree with him, even though he knew he shouldn’t.
“I will do that if you want me to, but I would first ask you to consider the impression you want to give on your arrival in Russia,” Granger said. Granger poured them both a glass of port, and they sipped on it for a while, even as they both pondered the situation.
“I think if I arrive on board ships that have been mauled by Valiant, I will find a most chilly reception,” Daventry said, breaking their silence. “I am even more concerned that, if I am unwelcome there, I will end up in some less-than-pleasant accommodations, and will find myself unable to get to Riga.”
“I will leave you to fully consider your options and advise me as to your plan in the morning,” Granger said. “In the meantime, I am going to get some rest.” Granger went to his sleeping cabin while Daventry stayed in the quarter gallery for some time, contemplating what his next move should be.
“I’ll have my gig swayed out and brought around,” Granger ordered. It was not quite dawn yet, so he heard the commotion of the gig being lowered from its davits, and of the gig’s crew descending into the boat, even though he didn’t actually see them.
“I opted to join you, if you have no objection,” Daventry said, appearing on deck looking quite spruce, if a little plain compared to Granger. Granger had decided that visiting the Russian ships warranted his full-dress uniform, complete with his various decorations.
“I also thought I would go on this tour with you, my lord,” Treadway said.
“I am delighted to have your company,” Granger said.
“I was planning to remain aboard, sir,” Kingsdale said, as was proper since he was the temporary first lieutenant.
“I will trust you to see that the men have breakfast, and that my gig’s crew is also fed when they return,” Granger said.
“Of course, sir,” Kingsdale said. They watched as the sky lightened enough to see that there were no appreciable changes since last night, and then made to leave the vessel.
“You have the ship, Mr. Kingsdale. I would be obliged if you would dispatch a boat with a message to the convoy that we will be escorting them to the Sound shortly,” Granger said.
“Aye aye, sir,” Kingsdale said, even as Treadway and Daventry preceded Granger into the boat.
“Patrikii,” Granger said to Jacobs, then sat back and studied the small Russian frigate. She was rated for some 28 guns, although he had learned that she carried 18-pounders.
They were hailed in the barbaric language Granger suspected was Russian. Jacobs looked at Granger, a bit confused, then shrugged and called out “Valiant!” It seemed to suffice.
The gig pulled up alongside Patrikii and Granger could see evidence of her poor construction even from this point. The oak, such as it was, already looked to be rotting, and it was clear the Russians hadn’t thought to invest in coppering her hull. He pulled himself aboard and was welcomed by the standard honors for a Post Captain, then greeted by McDougal and Weston. “I thought we would take you on a tour of the ship, and then we would break our fast, if that meets with your approval, my lord,” McDougal said.
“That sounds marvelous,” Granger said. McDougal introduced him to his officers, who seemed competent enough, then took him around the upper deck, explaining Russian rigging. It was quite similar to that used by the Royal Navy, which was no surprise, since the Russians had primarily emulated Britain when it came to their ships. They descended the ladder and the stench all but assaulted Granger’s senses. It seemed that the Russians were worse than the Spaniards when it came to cleanliness. The gun deck was familiar as well, but for two very odd weapons located in the center of the ship. “What are these?”
“Those are edinorogs, my lord,” McDougal said. “They are designed to shoot a combustible shell, or conversely solid shot.”
“A shell?” Granger asked curiously, and not without a little apprehension. He was not aware that other navies were using explosive cannon balls, but if they were, and they were effective, that would make such weapons very lethal.
“Yes, my lord,” he said. “They are not terribly effective, the shells anyway, but they are good weapons when firing standard solid shot.”
“Interesting,” Granger said. He noticed the evidence of Patriiki’s decay, and that her knees were not holding up well at all, and then had a nice breakfast with McDougal. Still, he knew the convoy would be anxious to be on its way, so he was relieved to note they had finished dining rather quickly.
“My lord, thank you for visiting us, and for releasing us to return to Russia,” McDougal said.
“I think it is I who must thank you for the tour of your ship, and the delicious breakfast,” Granger said, and handed McDougal an envelope. He’d gotten a bit of sleep last night, and then spent the rest of his time on correspondence. “I would like to ask that you take this letter to His Imperial Majesty. I have attempted to explain my actions, so as not to further anger him.”
“I will convey this to him, my lord,” McDougal said. Granger left Patrikii in his gig, while Weston loaded his men into the launch and headed back to Valiant. They arrived aboard Podrazhislav and found it to be almost a different world. Grenfell welcomed him aboard and showed him around briefly, and while Granger had thought Patrikii had been decaying, compared to Podrazhislav, it was like she was new. Her timbers were so rotten that Valiant’s shot had blown whole sections away, which would explain the high casualty rate. The crew seemed dull and unresponsive, as if they were mere animals waiting for orders. Granger was used to a more animated crew, and found these stolid Russian sailors disturbing. It was with relief that he gathered Grenfell, Dr. Jackson, and his men and returned to Valiant.