March 2017 Readers’ Letters | HistoryNet MENU
Royal Navy ships of the late 18th century flew the Red Ensign (above), White Ensign or Blue Ensign to designate their squadron, a practice clarified in 1864.

March 2017 Readers’ Letters

By HistoryNet Staff
12/28/2016 • Military History, MH Letters

Jacked Up
I enjoyed the article “Escape From New York” [by Norman Goldstein, November], but the British naval vessels in the artwork [on P. 27] depicting the landing of British forces are flying the wrong ensign. In 1776 the flag consisted of only the red cross of England superimposed on the white diagonal cross (saltire) of Scotland. The diagonal red cross of St. Patrick (now a familiar part of the British flag) was not added until after the union with Ireland in 1801. If you look very carefully at the painting of Richard Howe [on P. 32], you will see a depiction of the correct flag.

Thank you for producing a very interesting magazine.

Martyn Whittock
Bath, United Kingdom

Editor responds: The British banners depicted in the 19th-century wood engraving on P. 27 are indeed anachronistic, not coming into use until 1801, as you point out. But the artist also erred in that he rendered the full field Union Jack and not the Red Ensign depicted in the portrait of Howe and illustrated above. Royal Navy ships of the era flew the Red Ensign, White Ensign or Blue Ensign to designate their squadron. Ships at anchor were permitted to fly a smaller Union Jack, but only at the bow. The practice must have proven confusing, as in 1864 the Admiralty designated the white as the official banner for British warships, the red for merchantmen and the blue for reserve vessels. Thank you for the learning opportunity.

Samuel Smith
It would seem you missed a big opportunity in an illustration caption in “Escape From New York,” by Norman Goldstein, about the August 1776 Battle of Brooklyn Heights (aka the Battle of Long Island). I refer to the caption that reads, “Captain Samuel Smith (who later served his state as a U.S. senator) leads the surviving Marylanders to safety across Gowanus Creek.” Goldstein is correct to commemorate the heroism of the “Maryland Line” for protecting the rear of Washington’s army, at great loss to themselves, and thus ensuring the American commander and his men fought another day. But Smith was much more than a U.S. senator for Maryland. As major general of the Maryland militia, Smith was commander of the defense of Baltimore on Sept. 12–14, 1814, that ensured “our flag was still there.” One more thing: That Smith would have worn a frock coat like a rifleman in August 1776, as indicated by this artwork, is extremely doubtful. Smith was an infantry officer, not a rifleman.

Christopher T. George
Baltimore, Md.

Editor responds: Oh, that we had room in our captions for more information. That said, Smith’s role in the defense of Baltimore is a subject for another complete feature. Regarding his attire: You’ll have to take that up with the artist, Don Troiani. (Note: Mr. George is the co-author with John McCavitt of The Man Who Captured Washington: Major General Robert Ross and the War of 1812, reviewed in the January 2017 issue.)

Shooting Year
[Re. Liesl Bradner’s November 2016 article “The Battle That Never Was”:] The letter in your January issue from Wayne Long about the respective “shooting year” of American and Japanese submarines in 1942 was true but not entirely accurate. While the Japanese did inflict far more devastating losses on American combat vessels than our submarines did on Japanese combat ships that year, he left out a crucial detail: American submarines were ordered to concentrate on cargo vessels and troopships and to ignore combat vessels except when necessary. Navy brass had decided the best way to achieve victory was to cut off the flow of supplies and men to Japanese bases in the Pacific. The campaign was highly successful. In fact, most Japanese destroyers sunk by American submarines were transporting supplies and personnel. This has been well documented by a number of sources.

The Japanese, unlike the Germans, attacked very few Allied cargo and troopships by comparison. Whether this was due to a misguided war strategy or part of the samurai code, I have no idea. In any event, most modern naval historians consider it one of Japan’s biggest blunders of World War II. I intend no disrespect to American or Japanese submariners. My father served in the Pacific with the U.S. Navy and fought in combat from Midway to Okinawa. He had the greatest respect for the Japanese and applied for submarine duty. Instead, he wound up on the battleship USS Iowa. He never regretted the assignment.

Patrick B. Miano
Phoenix, Ariz.

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