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October 25, 2014

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Short Rounds

Frederick Wilhelm Prepares to Meet His Maker

King Frederick Wilhelm I of Prussia (reigned, 1713-1740), the father of Frederick the Great, was an avid soldier. Indeed, from the time he ascended the throne until his death he rarely was seen out of uniform.

Of course, as happens to all men, the king eventually lay on his death bed.

Being a good Lutheran, the King prepared to meet his maker by asking for the comforts of religion, and the Royal Chaplain was soon in attendance.

As part of his ministrations, the chaplain intoned an old hymn, “Naked shall I, too, appear before Thee.”

Hearing this, the king stirred himself and shouted, “That is not so, I shall be buried in my uniform,” and then fell back and shortly expired.

 

George Washington’s “Decoy Regiment.”

Late in 1776 Congress authorized the formation of a number of new regiments for the Continental Line. In January of 1777 command of one of these new regiments was given to Samuel B. Webb, one of George Washington’s aides-de-camp, who at the time was in Morristown, New Jersey, recovering from wounds received at the Battle of Trenton the previous Christmas Eve.

Webb’s new regiment was to be recruited in Connecticut. Of course raising a new regiment in Revolutionary America was not easy. Webb actually had little difficulty recruiting troops, as men from the New Haven, Hartford, and New London signed up in surprising numbers. But there was great scarcity of military equipment. Cognizant of this problem, even before Webb left Morristown for Connecticut, he made arrangements to secure a supply of excellent uniforms that was available in Massachusetts.

Webb broached the subject of these uniforms with Washington, who proved rather reluctant to have them issued to the new regiment. This was quite reasonable, since the garments in question were British, a cargo of lobsterback uniforms having been captured by a privateer in November of 1776. Webb persisted, however, and Washington finally gave in. Thus, when the new regiment was mustered into service, it bore a striking resemblance to a British regiment of the foot.

Over a century later, the by-then late Brig. Gen. Webb’s son, J. Watson Webb, began putting about that the scarlet uniforms worn by his father’s men had been issued as a deliberate effort to create a “Decoy Regiment” to deceive the British in battle. In fact, this was not the case at all. Webb’s regiment, redesignated in 1780 as the “9th Connecticut,” served as a regular line unit throughout the war, proving to be one of the best of the Continental Line. But the younger Webb’s fabrication, may have had some basis in mis-remembered reminiscences of his father. For on one occasion, George Washington did think about taking advantage of the fact that Webb’s troops looked very much like King George’s men.

In March of 1778, Washington, one of the most resourceful and trickiest commanders in American history, briefly toyed with the idea of conducting a “special operation” to kidnap British Gen. Sir Henry Clinton from his quarters in then-rural upper Manhattan. Although nothing came of the proposal, Washington very specifically mentioned that Webb’s regiment would be ideally suited to such an enterprise.

 

Orders are Orders

It was during the First World War that Australian troops first acquired their reputation for toughness, determination, and valor, not to mention a certain casual attitude towards the formalities of the military life.

Australia made an epic contribution to the Commonwealth war effort, sending six divisions of infantry and five brigades of light horse to fight, every man a volunteer. Australian troops fought on the Western Front, in Palestine, and most famously during the mismanaged amphibious landings at Gallipoli, being among the first troops to storm ashore on April 25, 1915.

For eight months after the landings the ANZACs – from “Australian-New Zealand Army Corps” – clung to a foothold on the southwest side of the Peninsula, near Gaba Tepe. Cursed with an inept high command, they battled Turks and heat, and suffered heavy losses.

Everything that was needed to live and fight had to be painstakingly offloaded from lighters and small boats, and then hand carried up the steep slopes to the troops manning the front. The heat was so intense at times, that the men stripped down, often working only in their under drawers. By chance, one day a senior British officer visited the embattled lodgment. The sight of Imperial troops working in nothing but their drawers infuriated the nattily-togged general. He immediately issued orders that “no man is to be on duty in his drawers.”

Obedient to his orders, the next day, the Aussies were back at their labors, having dispensed with their drawers, to work buck naked.

 

Rank in the Spanish Royal Navy during the Eighteenth Century

The rank structure of the Spanish Navy during the eighteenth century is likely to seem odd by modern standards.
Spanish Naval Ranks, c. 1750
Rank Modern US Equivalent
Capitan general de la Armada Admiral of the Fleet
General de la Armada Admiral
Teniente General de la Armada Vice Admiral
Jefe de escarda Rear Admiral
Brigadier de la Armada Commodore
Capitan de navio Captain
Capitan de fregata Commander
Capitan de corbetta Lieutenant Commander
Teniente de navio Lieutenant
Alferez de navio Lieutenant, j.g.
Alferez de fregata Ensign
Guardia marina Midshipman
Aspirante Cadet

The absence of the term “admiral” — “almirante” in Spanish — is striking, particularly because the word is the Spanish derivative of the Arabic “el emir – the commander.” In fact, the Spanish Navy had used almirante and in earlier times, but the advent of the Bourbons – Borbons in Spanish – to the throne early in the eighteenth century had brought with it much French practice, including the peculiarity of using “general” for ranks in the fleet. This seems to have been because the French “amiral” was a title reserved to the Crown, or a single chosen nobleman, who might never actually have had any experience at sea.

 

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