“Old Grog” Takes Porto Bello
During the late 1730s, many Britons became incensed at the treatment being meted out by Spanish authorities to British vessels and crews caught trading in Spain’s American colonies. Now officially Britain fully recognition of Spain’s right to deny entry to ports in its colonies to foreign vessels. This was a right that Britain itself asserted with regard to its own colonies (and on that less than a half century later would prove a contributing factor in the outbreak of the American Revolution). Of course this little technicality did not sit well with the more enthusiastic jingoists in Britain, particularly as it provided them with a club with which to beat the current ministry.
Among the most vocal of the critics was Adm Lord Edward Vernon (1684-1757), an old salt, nicknamed “Old Grog” from the ratty old coat of grogham – a mixture of wool, silk, and mohair impregnated with a sealant to make it waterproof – that he always wore. Vernon, who had been beached for many years due to myriad complaints about his severity, happened to be a member of Parliament. From the back benches, he kept tweaking government’s nose about its inability to “protect” British sailors, conveniently overlooking the fact that the men in question were law breakers. Finally, in 1739, he rose in Parliament and said something like “With six ships of the line I could take Porto Bello [in Panama] and put an end to these troubles.”
Tired of his tirades, and hoping that if they gave him enough rope, he’d hang himself, the government, under the great Robert Walpole, decided to call his bluff and gave Vernon command of the West Indies Squadron, which by chance had precisely six ships of the line.
As Vernon was dispatched to the West Indies, the government tried to argue Spain into loosening its rules. When this failed, Britain declared war on Spain on October 10. 1739.
Now of course, on November 21, 1739, Vernon would have had no way of knowing that a state of war existed between Britain and Spain. Not that it mattered, for at dawn on that day his fleet of six ships-of-the-line, stood boldly into the harbor of Porto Bello in line of battle. A duel commenced between the British warships and the Spanish defenses. Normally such a duel would invariably end with the ships being defeated. But the defenses of Porto Bello were poorly maintained. As a result, after a day long pounding, the city surrendered.
Vernon made quite a haul at Porto Bello. Although the town was not looted, the Admiral and his men came away with some 10,000 pesos in cash from the Spanish military chest, plus loads of ammunition, not to mention all the ships in the harbor. According to the traditional rules, the loot was divided up among the officers – who got most of it – and the enlisted men of the fleet.
Officer-Enlisted Ratio, European Armies, 1930
The number of enlisted personnel per officer has generally been a fair indicator of how good – or bad an army is. Prior to the increasing technologization of war during the twentieth century, the ratio tended to be quite high; after all, the primary duty of an officer through much of history has been to put himself at the head of his troops and, with sword in hand, lead them into harm’s way. But with the increasing industrialization of warfare, the ratio tended to fall, as more and more officers were needed to supervise technical functions, ranging from operating electrical and electronic communications networks, to performing the calculations necessary to permit targets to be hit over-the-horizon. And as armies grew larger, more officers were needed to manage their central bureaucracies, including recruiting and training establishments, logistical infrastructures, technical research and development agencies, provide for reserve components, and so forth.
So the enlisted-to-officer ratio tended to fall. During World War I it was by no means unusual for the ratio in most Armies to be 20- or 30-to-one. Of course some armies had much lower ratios, if only because they had too many officers whom they could neither fire nor provide troops to command. That is, they weren’t really very good armies.
|Britain ||19.3 |
|Bulgaria|| 20.7 |
|Czechoslovakia|| 10.9 |
|France|| 13.9 |
Since some countries had independent air forces (e.g., Britain) and some did not (e.g., France, at least not for a couple of years more), while others had a national military police force (e.g., Italy or Spain), while others did not (e.g., Britain), figures have been adjusted to exclude these.
The Pattern and Character of American Engagements in Vietnam
Despite the official line about how they were seeking out and destroying the enemy, during the Vietnam War American forces were on the offensive (i.e., attacking) in only about a third of their engagements. More than half of all engagements involved the U.S. forces being on the receiving end of the enemy’s attention.
|Type of Action||Frequency||U.S. Activity|
|Ambush by Enemy Forces|| 23.3%||Defensive |
|Ambush of Enemy Forces|| 8.7% ||Offensive |
|Attack on Enemy Position|| 17.9%|| Offensive |
| Deliberate ( 5.4%)|| |
|Spontaneous (12.5%) || |
|Defense of Position|| 30.4%|| Defensive|
|“Hot” Landing Zone|| 12.5%|| Defensive/Offensive|
|Meeting Engagement|| 7.1%|| Mutually Offensive |
An ambush is a surprise attack on someone who is moving at the time. Ambushes accounted for nearly a third of all American engagements in Vietnam, a much higher proportion than in previous wars. And the enemy did most of these, executing nearly three times as many as American forces were able to bring off, a tribute to Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army NVA skill at field craft. In contrast, the more traditional assault on a fixed position, the most common form of combat in previous wars, accounted for less than half of all engagements, yet here again, the enemy was more active than American forces, nearly twice as much. In the case of American attacks on enemy positions, “deliberate” refers to attacks in which the U.S. troops knew in advance the location of the enemy, while “spontaneous” refers to attacks that occurred when troops who were out patrolling detected an enemy position and engaged it. A “Hot” Landing Zone was a peculiar development of the Vietnam War, occurring when troops being landed by helicopter were suddenly taken under enemy fire. Thus it was both offensive and defensive: Getting the troops on the ground was offensive, protecting them while doing so was defensive. A “Meeting Engagement” is a action that results when two opposing forces on the move run into each other.