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Cover Art: Man
              of War
Man of War: The Fighting Life of Admiral James Saumarez from the American Revolution to the Defeat of Napoleon
By Anthony Sullivan
Frontline, 2017, ISBN 978-1-52670-651-5, $50.00 / £25.00

Review by Irwin Bryan

Although some Royal Navy officers in the Age of Sail never heard their ship’s guns fire in earnest, Admiral James Saumarez was in numerous actions and major fleet battles during his career. Previous writers chose to omit a number of these episodes or intentionally focus on just one campaign in Saumarez’s long career. Sometimes they were so determined to include every aspect of their research that the end result is a bare recitation of the facts without any excitement for the reader. Here, Mr. Sullivan has produced a book that is both complete and interesting at the same time.

Within this work are maps of Saumarez’s areas of operation and diagrams of fleet battles and squadron or single-ship actions. Source notes are found after the text concludes. An extensive bibliography is followed by an equally detailed index.

As a Midshipman, Saumarez was part of the British fleet at Charleston, South Carolina, attacking Fort Sullivan on June 28, 1776. One of the guns he commanded aboard the Bristol was struck by an enemy ball, killing three sailors. Later, a midshipman serving on the quarterdeck next to him had his head removed and he was soaked by his late friend’s blood. His first battle “witnessed mainly from the terrifying confines of a gun deck, was an experience that would stay with him for the rest of his life.” (9)

Saumarez was also involved in the battles of Long Island and White Plains before becoming Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe’s aide-de-camp. His next assignment was flag-lieutenant aboard HMS Chatham. Appointed commander of the Spitfire galley in February 1778, Saumarez assisted in the destruction of a rebel vessel and engaged an enemy field piece that was firing on British troops conducting a raid on Fall River, Massachusetts. Once French warships arrived he was ordered to burn his vessel to keep it from being captured and used by the rebels. After being cleared of blame in the subsequent court-martial, he sailed for England aboard the store-ship Leviathan, which nearly wrecked on the rocks off the Scilly Isles. (Already his exploits seem too fantastic for naval fiction.)

After passing his lieutenant’s exam, Saumarez joined the Channel Fleet in May 1779. He was appointed Second Lieutenant when Admiral Hyde Parker took command of HMS Victory. In June 1781, Parker transferred his flag to HMS Fortitude (74 guns) and took command of the North Fleet, taking his first and second lieutenants with him. On August 5, 1781, the North Fleet battled the Dutch fleet in the Battle of Dogger Bank. It was a vicious fight that left both fleets damaged and unwilling to continue. Saumarez was made acting captain of the Preston, which was sent back to England.

The Admiralty gave Saumarez command of Tisiphone, a new fireship, and he was sent with Admiral Richard Kempenfelt’s squadron of twelve ships of the line to the Caribbean to counter a French threat. Deemed too small to face the French ships, Tisiphone was used as a dispatch vessel, dodging the French and island-hopping in search of Admiral Samuel Hood, the Station Commander. In February 1782, Tisiphone was ordered back to England with dispatches, but Hood made Saumarez a Post-Captain of the third-rate Russell, and he went from commanding “55 men to nearly 550.” (28)

HMS Russell fought in Admiral George Rodney’s division against French Admiral de Grasse’s fleet in the Battle of the Saintes. Saumarez followed Captain Thompson’s 64-gun America sailing down the enemy’s windward side without orders and striking a second blow against each French ship instead of just sailing out of the battle as the opposing lines diverged.

Heavily damaged, Russell was ordered back to England. There Saumarez had his appointment to Post-Captain confirmed. After his ship was paid-off in September 1782, it would be eleven years on half-pay before he returned to the sea. He spent these years at his home in Guernsey.

Hostilities with France broke out again after Louis XVI was executed. On January 24, 1793, Saumarez was appointed captain of the 36-gun frigate Crescent. In October he captured the French frigate Réunion and brought his prize back to England. In London the First Lord took him to the palace and presented him to King George. Thus James became Sir James Saumarez, Knight Bachelor.

It is certainly not my intention to detail the career of Saumarez during his next twenty years of warfare, or from frigate captain to one of Nelson’s Band of Brothers and even Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic Fleet. These early mentioned events give you both a glimpse of a truly incredible career worth reading about and to illustrate the excellent manner in which it has been portrayed. This is definitely one of the best biographies I’ve read and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn so much about a man who did so much in the service of his country!

Review Copyrighted ©2017 Irwin Bryan

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