Pauline’s Guide to Whipping the Pirates
I have a passion for history and it is very gratifying to know there are some naval history blogs out there where you can satisfy your desire for all things nostalgic. It is the examples of the past that New Wars derives much of its ideas for future conflict, as we don’t make this stuff up as we go along. A new site I have come across and been haunting lately is Pauline’s Pirates & Privateers, which provides info on the Great Buccaneers of yore, their tools and customs.
Eerily, the lessons gathered on this nautical tour appears strangely modern, with ongoing captures at sea, hijackings, lootings, and ransom demands that all seem very familiar to Pauline. The modern day fleets with their space age battleships, used to contending with one another, comfortable in their traditional dominance of the sealanes seem flustered and confused facing these most minor, yet surprisingly effective menaces on the high seas. When the low tech meets the high tech, old strategies must be relearned, but all is not lost. As proved from the example of one of our Great Naval Leaders,Commodore David Porter USN, 1780-1843 (Not to be confused with the Civil War admiral, David Dixon Porter, the son), piracy can be defeated on the high seas BY THE NAVY ALONE IF NEED BE! Here is Pauline detailing the story of Porter’s The Mosquito Fleet:
In 1821 the citizens of the U.S. were up in arms about the aggressive acts of piracy being committed in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. In 1820 alone 27 American ships had been raided by the privateers-turned-pirate who had been abandoned by the South American states at the end of the previous decade. Insurance premiums had gone through the roof and many merchants were forced to sail without any insurance at all. Appeals to President Monroe finally yielded results, and the President hand picked David Porter to command the fleet that would deal with the problem.
Other than the dates and names, this seems to fit well our modern problems of piracy.
As a Lieutenant aboard USS Philadelphia, Porter had been in the vanguard of the fight against the Barbary pirates in 1801. He was also the first Commodore of the U.S. Naval station in New Orleans, established in 1809, so he knew a thing or two about dealing with pirates and smugglers. Add to that his command of USS Essex – the first U.S. navy ship to enter the Pacific – during the War of 1812 and his impressive resume made him the perfect man for the job.
Key West – then known as Thompson’s Island – was chosen as a base of operation and the development of the little island at the southern most tip of the U.S. owes a lot to Porter’s choice. The location gave him easy access to the Gulf and the Caribbean with Cuba – a known pirate hotbed – being of particular concern. Porter put together his Mosquito Fleet, so named because the majority of the ships were small with shallow drafts that allowed them access to rivers and inlets, fairly quickly. By 1823 he had 16 vessels including brigs, Baltimore schooners, one of the first paddle steamboats and a converted merchant used as a decoy.
Like all problems of sea control (anti-submarine warfare comes to mind), defeating piracy takes very careful planning. Also notice though Porter earned his claim for fame in larger warships, he wasn’t bias against smaller shallow water craft perfect for the type of waters the pirates were familiar with. Apparently he learned the lessons from the frigate Philadelphia, which ran aground after chasing one such ship into the narrow seas, with its entire crew captured.
The Mosquito Fleet literally shut down piratical activity within it’s purview. Porter overcame notorious pirates like Diabolito who was based in Cuba. Despite complaints from the Cuban government that all this suppression of piracy by sea just meant that the brigands set up shop on land, Porter cleaned up the Caribbean.
An interesting parallel with today, since “piracy can only be defeated on land” is a common mantra for those uninterested in seeing the demise of lawlessness in the Gulf of Aden. Porter let no such concerns deter him and quickly performed the mission set out by his superiors with his tiny Mosquito Fleet. Small warships versus small warship, plus the right person at the helm can make a difference.
The Navy too often sells itself too short. It is a very potent weapons for all exigencies of seapower, in the right hands. Pauline ends with this vital lesson:
In my opinion, the modern U.S. Navy could learn a thing or two about pirate hunting from Commodore David Porter. Strike first and strike fast, boys. Save the rumination for later.