Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I guess you could say that my reading lately has been pretty Sharpe

Wow that was bad. It wasn't punny at all.

Okay, I'll stop now.

As you might be able to guess from the title, I've started reading Bernard Cornwell's excellent Richard Sharpe series of novels, beginning with Sharpe's Tiger.

I'm on the 43rd page, but damn it is good. Here's the gist:
In a battery of events that will make a hero out of an illiterate private, a young Richard Sharpe poses as the enemy to bring down a ruthless Indian dictator backed by fearsome French troops.

The year is 1799, and Richard Sharpe is just beginning his military career. An inexperienced young private in His Majesty's service, Sharpe becomes part of an expedition to India to push the ruthless Tippoo of Mysore from his throne and drive out his French allies. To penetrate the Tippoo's city and make contact with a Scottish spy being held prisoner there, Sharpe has to pose as a deserter. Success will make him a sergeant, but failure will turn him over to the Tippoo's brutal executioners — or, worse — his man-eating tigers. Picking his way through an exotic and alien world. Sharpe realizes that one slip will mean disaster. And when the furious British assault on the city finally begins, Sharpe must take up arms against his true comrades to preserve his false identity, risking death at their hands in order to avoid detection and thus to foil the Tippoo's well-set trap.

Monday, January 14, 2013

That one time everbody thought ships ramming other ships was a great idea

And I'm not talking about the ancient world, either. No, in the mid-19th century navies of the world went gaga with the idea of attaching rams to their new iron-hulled, steam-powered warships. Largely this was because of the CSS Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, where the ironclad successfully sank the USS Cumberland after ramming her. This idea was further reinforced after the Battle of Lissa, which had so much ramming, you'd think it was a gay porn shoot.

CSS Virginia ramming the USS Cumberland.
Credit: Wikipedia.
The single biggest reason for the reintroduction of ramming, however, was technology. Armor had outpaced gunnery and as a result, ship mounted cannons of the day couldn't penetrate the hulls of ironclads. So combine the three and everybody went "Well clearly ramming the hell out of the other guy is the way to go!" and so you have countries building battleships and cruisers with those things. Ironically, these rams were sinking friendly ships whenever one accidentally collided with another.

There was even a variation: the torpedo ram. These ships combined rams with torpedoes - first as a combined weapon and later as two separate entities - because once people get attached to an idea, they're going to ride it all the way home, no matter how ill-thought out it is.

Fortunately, naval gunnery eventually caught up and the idea of ships ramming other ships quietly faded away. Mostly. Torpedo rams were immortalized by H.G. Wells in War of the Worlds when the HMS Thunderchild, a torpedo ram battled and destroyed two Martian walkers.

Gotta love mid-to-late 19th century naval warfare and its awkward, puberty like growth.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Still alive

Sorry for the last of posting, but I've been busy. Met an odd man with a blue 1960s police box and a woman he called his companion and traveled with them for a bit. It was fun until we decided to take in a merry little battle in Ireland and I got some poor bastard's brains splattered all over me thanks to an ill-timed (or well-placed, depending on your disposition) cannonball.

In all seriousness, I was just in one of my slumps and didn't feel like posting anything historical lately. I'll be fixing that soon enough. I found a very interesting book during a visit to a Goodwill: A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603-1714 by Mark Kishlansky. It's part of Penguin's History of Britain series and covers the Stuart period, including the English Civil War and the Commonwealth. The prologue really got my attention and lured me in by describing all of the different achievements that occurred during that era, from science to politics to fashion and economics. Short too at 386 pages; 342, if you don't count the index and "further reading" sections.