Commerce raiding

Commerce raiding
Bermuda Gazette of 12 November 1796, calling for privateering against Spain and its allies, and with advertisements for crew for two privateer vessels.

Commerce raiding or guerre de course (literally "war of the chase") is a form of naval warfare used to destroy or disrupt the logistics of an enemy on the open sea by attacking its merchant shipping, rather than engaging the combatants themselves or enforcing a blockade against them.[1]

Commerce raiding was heavily criticised by the naval theorist A.T. Mahan, who regarded it as a distraction from the destruction of the enemy's fighting power. Nevertheless, commerce raiding was an important part of naval strategy from the Early Modern period through up to and including the Second World War.

Usually, commerce raiding is chosen by a weaker naval power against a stronger, or by a nation with little ocean-going trade against one with a great deal. The best protection against a commerce raiding strategy is for merchant vessels to sail in convoy, protected by naval escorts.



The first sort of commerce-raiding was for nations to commission privateers — privately-owned ships authorised to attack and capture enemy merchants. Early instances of this type of warfare were by the British and Dutch against the Spanish treasure fleets of the 16th Century, and which resulted in financial gain for both Captain and crew upon capture of enemy vessels ("prizes").

This quickly became a major commercial enterprise, with privateer vessels, often in groups, being outfitted by venture capital, with investors also sharing in the returns. The practice rapidly spread. A privateer was distinguished from a pirate by the letter of marque, by which the vessel was commissioned as a private man-of-war. Captured vessels and cargo were submitted, in Britain's case, to Admiralty courts, where they might be condemned for sale, or, if the captures were not found to be within the rules of war, they might be released, sometimes with awards for damages.

Napoleonic Wars

During Britain's wars against revolutionary and Napoleonic France, the Royal Navy dominated the seas. France adopted a guerre de course strategy by licensing civilian privateers to seize British shipping. British East Indiamen of the time were therefore heavily armed to protect themselves against such raids, at the cost of considerable speed and maneuverability. Some East Indiamen such as the Arniston were successfully able to fend off these attacks that occurred in other parts of the world, however others as when the Kent met Robert Surcouf in 1800 were less fortunate.[2]

U.S. and British privateers were also actively raiding each other's shipping during the War of 1812. [3]

American Civil War

During the American Civil War, the Confederacy operated a fleet of privateers and naval commerce raiders. The naval raiders include the CSS Sumter, CSS Florida, CSS Alabama, and CSS Shenandoah. Most of the ships used in this period were built in Britain, which resulted in the Alabama Claims.

Steel Navies

By the 1880s, the navies of Europe began to deploy warships made of iron and steel. The natural process that followed was more powerful guns to penetrate the new steel warships, which came with the inherent quality of more destructive power. No longer would navies fight for "prizes", in which capture of the enemy warship meant financial gain for Captain and crew, as well as their government when the prize and her cargo went under the hammer (only one warship was sunk at Trafalgar in 1805). The advent of steel and armor-piercing shells now meant the destruction and sinking of enemy "Men O' War". First seen at Sinope in 1853, the change was little appreciated until 1905, when at Tsushima seven battleships were sent to the bottom, and the only "prizes" were those that had voluntarily surrendered upon the high seas.

World War I

World War I saw Germany conducting a commerce war ("Handelskrieg") against Britain and her allies, principally with U-boats, but also with merchant raiders, and regular warships, and even occasionally with naval airships.[4]

World War II

During World War II, the Battle of the Atlantic saw Germany conducting guerre de course against Britain and its allies, again using U-Boats, auxilliary cruisers and small groups of warships.

Limitations set by the Treaty of Versailles meant Germany could not build a large battle fleet as she had in the time up to the World War I, and chose to covertly develop her submarines instead. U-Boats were cheaper and quicker to build than capital ships, and consequently Germany built up a submarine force rather than a surface fleet. This meant Germany was not able to fight a war of "guerre d'escadre" (battles between fleets), and therefore pursued guerre de course; what small numbers of surface warships Germany possessed, such as the Deutschland class cruisers, as well as her auxiliary cruisers also participated in this strategy. In addition, a number of commercial vessels were converted, perhaps the most famous being the Atlantis.

During World War II, elements of the United States Navy based in Brazil conducted operations in the Atlantic against German commerce raiders and blockade runners. In the Pacific, the U.S. Navy operated against Japanese merchant fleet shipping, as well as engating in offensive operations against ships of the Japanese Imperial Navy. The bulk of the Japanese merchant marine was sunk by American submarines. By the end of the war, Japan only had 12% of the tonnage of her pre-war shipping afloat.[5]

The Indian Ocean raid was a naval sortie by the Carrier Striking Task Force of the Japanese Navy from 31 March to 10 April 1942 against Allied shipping and bases in the Indian Ocean. It was an early engagement of the Pacific campaign of World War II.

The staff of the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to send some raiders to Indian Ocean waters during December 12, 1941-July 12, 1942.[6] The Germans had already been operating in the area and conducted mutual aid with Japanese submarines, in the form of re-supply and military intelligence.[7] The Indian Ocean was the largest operating area involving direct contact between the two Axis partners, in which their primary objective was to keep the pressure on the shipping lanes. The Japanese Navy participated in commerce raiding, but concentrated their efforts on hope of "decisive battle" in the Pacific.

See also

In popular culture

  • The Last Raider by Douglas Reeman (isbn 0-09-905580-5 Arrow books) Novel detailing the last voyage of a WW I German commerce raider.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Norman Friedman (2001). Seapower as Strategy: Navies and National Interests. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557502919. 
  2. ^ JAMES, William (1835). "Light Squadrons and Single Ships: Kent and Confiance". The Naval History of Great Britain From the Declaration of War by France in 1793, to the Accession of George IV. London: Richard Bentley. 
  3. ^ COGGESHALL, George (1851). Voyages to various parts of the world, made between the years 1799 and 1844. 200 Broadway, New-York: D. Appleton & Company. 
  4. ^ Lehmann Chapter VI
  5. ^ George W. Baer (1996). One Hundred Years of Sea Power. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804727945. 
  6. ^ Visser, Jan (1999-2000). "The Ondina Story". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 
  7. ^ Rosselli, Alberto (1999-2000). "The U-Boat War in the Indian Ocean". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942. 

Further reading

  • Brown, David. Warship Losses Of World War II. 1995. ISBN 155750914X
  • Blair, Clay, Jr. Silent Victory. Philadelphia: Lipincott, 1975.
  • Mahan, Alfred, Captain. Influence of Seapower on History.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • CSS Alabama — For other ships named Alabama, see USS Alabama. A painting of CSS Alabama Career …   Wikipedia

  • Battlecruiser — Battlecruisers were large warships in the first half of the 20th century that were first introduced by the British Royal Navy. The battlecruiser was developed as the successor to the armoured cruisers, but their evolution was more closely linked… …   Wikipedia

  • Spacecraft in the Honorverse — This article is about the different types of spacecraft which appear in the Honorverse, a series of military science fiction novels written by American author David Weber, which feature Honor Harrington as its main character. Introduction The… …   Wikipedia

  • Piracy — This article is about maritime piracy. For other uses, see Pirate (disambiguation). The traditional Jolly Roger of piracy …   Wikipedia

  • Cruiser — For other uses, see Cruiser (disambiguation). USS Port Royal (CG 73), a Ticonderoga class guided missile cruiser, launched in 1992. A cruiser is a type of warship. The term has been in use for several hundreds of years, and has had… …   Wikipedia

  • Atlantic campaign of May 1794 — Part of the French Revolutionary Wars …   Wikipedia

  • naval ship — Introduction       the chief instrument by which a nation extends its military power onto the seas. Warships protect the movement over water of military forces to coastal areas where they may be landed and used against enemy forces; warships… …   Universalium

  • Linois's expedition to the Indian Ocean — Defeat of Adml. Linois by Commodore Dance, Feby. 15th. 1804, Engraving by William Daniell …   Wikipedia

  • Battleship — For other uses, see Battleship (disambiguation). The firepower of a battleship demonstrated by USS Iowa (ca. 1984) A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were large …   Wikipedia

  • Pacific War — For other uses, see Pacific War (disambiguation). War in the Pacific redirects here. For the video game, see War in the Pacific (video game). For the war between Chile, Bolivia, and Peru in 1879–84, see War of the Pacific. Pacific War Part of… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.