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Under Five Flags: The Curious History of HMS Cumberland

In November of 1695, HMS Cumberland, a new 80-gun ship-of-the-line, was launched at a small shipyard off the Solent, in the south of England, between Southampton and Portsmouth.  Cumberland had a routine career in the Royal Navy until the Battle at the Lizard (Oct. 21, 1707), off the southwestern cape of England, when she was captured by the French. 

As was the custom of the times, Cumberland was taken into French service, apparently under her own name, as was also the custom.  But in 1715, the French sold her to their ally Genoa, which in turn sold her to Spain in 1717.  The Spanish renamed her Principe de Asturias, but the very next year, on August 11, 1718 at the Battle of Cape Passaro off Sicily, she was retaken by the British.   

Rather than return Cumberland to duty with the Royal Navy, the British sold her to the Austrian House of Hapsburg in 1720, who renamed her San Carlos.  As the Hapsburgs were at this time ruling the Kingdom of Naples, San Carlos became the flagship of an Austro-Neapolitan naval squadron until she was broken up in 1733. 

In the course of a career of less than 40 years (not long for a ship-of-the-line in the great age of fighting sail), Cumberland had fought in two major battles, each time being taken by the enemy, had been sold three times, and had served under five different flags, one of them twice.

 

The Red Army Institutes a "Loot Allowance"

As it overran eastern Germany late in World War II, the Red Army gained a reputation for looting on an heroic scale, making off with factories, museum exhibits, farm equipment, and pretty much anything else that could be packed up and carted home. 

Hauling off “capital goods” – manufacturing equipment, electrical plants, etc. –  and great art was a matter of policy, and was managed by government agents.  Of course smaller items were often picked up by individual soldiers.  And while in most armies – even those that didn’t frown on looting – the troops had to figure out how to get their boodle home on their own, in December of 1944 the Red Army instituted a “loot allowance” for its troops, permitting them to ship a certain amount of goods home each month without postage, using a sliding scale:

  • Enlisted personnel                         5 kilograms
  • Company and field officers           10
  • Generals                                      16

In a sense, the guidelines were a modern version of the ancient military, naval, and piratical practice of dividing up the loot among the troops according to their rank, though the allotments were actually more equitable than most earlier guidelines.  Of course generals usually had the resources to send home even more stuff, such as pianos, paintings, furniture, wine cellars, cars, and so forth.

 

From the Archives - Herodotus on "The Battle of the Champions"

Many warrior cultures sometimes chose to settle disputes by appointing a single warrior or a band of warriors as their champions, who would then fight it out.  Victory would determine which side’s opinion in the dispute would prevail, resolving the issue while avoiding outright war and its attendant horrors.  There are numerous examples of this practice across the ages, such as the duel between David and Goliath to settle a dispute between the Hebrews and the Philistines, or the battle of the Curiati and Horatii to resolve the primacy of Alba Longa or Rome over the Latins.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus tells us one occasion when a battle of champions intended to resolve a problem with minimal bloodshed did precisely the opposite, in an incident that cannot be dated with much accuracy, but probably occurred before 500 BC, from Chapter 82 of the first book of his The Histories, Revised (Penguin Classics) .

Now at this very time the Spartans themselves were feuding with the Argives over the country called Thyrea; for this was a part of the Argive territory which the Lacedaemonians had cut off and occupied. . . .  The Argives came out to save their territory from being cut off, then after debate the two armies agreed that three hundred of each side should fight, and whichever party won would possess the land. The rest of each army were to go away to their own country and not be present at the battle, since, if the armies remained on the field, the men of either party might render assistance to their comrades if they saw them losing. 

Having agreed, the armies drew off, and the picked men of each side remained and fought. Neither could gain advantage in the battle; at last, only three out of the six hundred were left alive at nightfall, Alcenor and Chromios of the Argives, and Othryades of the Spartans.  Then the two Argives, believing themselves victors, ran to Argos, but Othryades, after stripping the Argive dead and taking the arms to his camp, waited at his position.  On the second day both armies came to learn the outcome.  For a while both claimed the victory, the Argives arguing that more of their men had survived, the Spartans showing that the Argives had fled, while their man had stood his ground and stripped the enemy dead.  At last from arguing they fell to fighting; many of both sides fell, but the Spartans gained the victory.

To this account, Herodotus later adds that, in a curious demonstration of the Spartan military ethic, not long after the battle, feeling disgraced for having survived his comrades, Othryades committed suicide.

 


 

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