Lord Cochrane’s Secret Plans

By Lieutenant P.W. Brock R.N., published May 1930


In 1812, after his heroic if controversial actions in the Basque Roads (1809), Lord Cochrane, worried about the resurgence of French naval power and the difficulty of forcing the French Navy to action, proposed radical plans to destroy it in situ and “dig the rats out of their holes”. These plans were considered by the Admiralty to be too extreme even to be divulged, far less acted on, and they remained secret until the early 20th century. Essentially they were to use ships filled with explosives as floating bombs to penetrate harbours (Toulon in particular) and cause destruction and terror, coupled with burning sulphur to asphyxiate the defenders. Separate amphibious operations would also capture semaphore stations and offshore islands and otherwise disrupt coastal trade. It was felt at the time, and later in 1846 and in the Crimean War when the plans were considered again, that Cochrane had over-rated the infallibility of his scheme, and ignored the risk of similar measures being used against the British.

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Filed under: Atlantic | Napoleonic War | English Channel | Crimean War | Mediterranean | Other (Nineteenth C)
Subjects include: Battles & Tactics | Biography | Strategy & Diplomacy

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