Maritime Art

Mortar Boats in action during the bombardment of Sweaborg, August 1855

By Dickensen Bros.

This coloured print shows mortar boats in action during the bombardment of Sweaborg in August 1855. Sweaborg was the contemporary English spelling for the Swedish name Sveaborg, a strategically significant fortress that defended the approaches to Helsinki in Finland, then in Russian territory. This shows a scene from the Crimean War, fought between Russia and a coalition of powers including the United Kingdom, France and the Ottoman Empire. The Baltic played an important role in this war as it was the closest theatre to St Petersburg, the Russian capital, and the location of a major Russian naval base at Kronstadt. Helsinki was important as it defended the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland, through which vessels had to pass on their way to or from Kronstadt and St Petersburg. Although Sweaborg was heavily bombarded, the British failed to capture it and the fortress was subsequently rebuilt. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the name Suomenlinna. The image shows interesting detail of how the mortar boats were anchored and operated when bombarding, with clear details of how the mortar and its carriage were rigged on deck.

The Society has published a number of important articles in the Mariner’s Mirror on a variety of bombardments throughout history.

The Bombardment of Alexandria 1882 explores how Britain become involved in Egyptian internal affairs as a result of financial and strategic interest in the Suez Canal. When an army mutiny in 1881 overthrew the ruling Khedive, Britain intervened. The bombardment succeeded despite uncertain battle plans from Vice-Admiral Seymour who divided his fleet, making it difficult to concentrate fire on dispersed shore batteries. The engagement provides valuable insight into the transitional Victorian fleet in action; though it revealed a number of weaknesses, it also demonstrated that the strength of the Royal Navy continued to lie in its men, with many serving officers going on to achieve considerable fame.

Between Shoal and Wall: The Naval Bombardment of Akko, 1840 explores how HMS Pique bombarded Akko during the attack by a British–Austrian–Ottoman fleet on the Egyptian-held town on 3 November 1840. Three of her cannonballs were discovered during renovation of the El-Shazliya Mosque in Old Akko, embedded in an inner eastern wall facing the sea. Reduced scale experiments simulating the firing of cannonballs at this wall were conducted by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd, Israel, in order to measure the depth of penetration as a function of impact velocity. The experimental set-up included a laboratory gun firing at calcareous sandstones (kurkar) representing the wall stones, and monitoring equipment to measure the impact velocity of the projectiles. The measured depth of penetration, combined with data of cannonball trajectory and muzzle velocity, verified that the shots were fired at a range of about 400 m. The results confirm some of the descriptions of the battle, British reconnoitring of the area, and evidence of highly skilled seamanship and manoeuvring of the British ships which deceived the Egyptian defenders. However, some details differ from historical sources and published plans of the battle, where the line of the anchored ships is shown too far from the sea wall of Akko.

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