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The Angel Of The Revolution George Chetwynd Griffith

The Path Of Conquest

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The battle, fought almost on the ancient battle-ground of Nelson and Collingwood, was incomparably the greatest sea-fight in the history of war.

The fleet under Admiral Beresford's command consisted of fifty-five battleships of the first and second class, forty-six armoured and seventy-two unarmoured cruisers, fifty-four gunboats, and two hundred and seventy torpedo-boats; while the Franco-Italian Allied fleets mustered between them forty-six battleships, seventy-five armoured and sixty-three unarmoured cruisers, forty gunboats, and two hundred and fifty torpedo-boats.

The battle began soon after sundown on the 24th of August, and raged continuously for over sixty hours. The whole issue of the fight was the question of the command of the Mediterranean, and the British line of communication with India and the East viĆ” the Suez Canal.

The prize was well worthy of the tremendous struggle that the two contending forces waged for it; and from the two Admirals in command to the boys employed on the most insignificant duties about the ships, every one of the combatants seemed equally impressed with the magnitude of the momentous issues at stake.

To the League, victory meant a deadly blow inflicted upon the only enemy now seriously to be reckoned with. It meant the severing of the British Empire into two portions, and the cutting of the one remaining channel of supply upon which the heart of the Empire now depended for its nutrition. To destroy Admiral Beresford's fleet would be to achieve as great a triumph on the sea as the armies of the League had achieved on land by the taking of Berlin, Vienna, and Constantinople. On the other hand, the defeat of the Franco-Italian fleets meant complete command of the Mediterranean, and the ability to destroy in detail all the important sea-board fortresses and arsenals of the League that were situated on its shores.

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It meant the keeping open of the Suez Canal, the maintenance of communication with India and Australia by the shortest route, and, what was by no means the least important consideration, the vindication of British prestige in Egypt, the Soudan, and India. It was with these enormous gains and losses before their eyes that the two forces engaged and fought as perhaps men had never fought with each other in the world before. Everything that science and experience could suggest was done by the leaders of both sides. Human life was counted as nothing in the balance, and deeds of the most reckless heroism were performed in countless instances as the mighty struggle progressed.

With such inflexible determination was the battle waned on either side, and so appalling was the destruction accomplished by the weapons brought into play, that by sunrise on the morning of the 27th, more than half the opposing fleets had been destroyed, and of the remainder the majority were so crippled that a continuance of the fight had become a matter of physical impossibility.

What advantage remained appeared to be on the side of the remains of the Franco-Italian fleet; but this was speedily negatived an hour after sunrise by the appearance of a fresh British Squadron, consisting of the five battleships, fifteen cruisers, and a large flotilla of gunboats and torpedo-boats which had passed through the Canal during the night from Aden and Suakim, and appeared on the scene just in time to turn the tide of battle decisively in favour of the British Admiral.

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The Angel Of The Revolution
George Chetwynd Griffith

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