Thursday, June 9, 2016

Well, That's Odd...

Surcouf, French cruiser submarine* (Source)
I can't remember where (or when, but in the last couple of weeks) I saw this image of perhaps the oddest submarine I have ever seen. Notice that there is a gun turret just forward of the conning tower. She also carried a seaplane! She was the largest sub ever built until the Japanese launched the first of the I-400 class. (This class also carried a seaplane, no massive guns though.)

I-401, with its long plane hangar and forward catapult. (Source)

Those are 8-inch guns in Surcouf's turret!

Aside from her eight-inch guns, Surcouf carried armaments which included eight 22-inch and four 16-inch torpedo tubes. (Source)

Surcouf was lost at sea after departing Bermuda in February of 1942. Her fate is unknown. We only know that she never returned home and her crew remains on eternal patrol. (The I-400 did survive the war. Only three of the class were ever built. Two were captured by the US Navy, one survived in Japanese hands until the war ended. Two were sunk as targets, one was scrapped. Source)

Now this post is not actually about massive submarines. I saw that lead-in photo in passing (might have been posted on Facebook, I don't recall), intended to look it up later, then completely forgot. Heh, guess it was a "senior moment."

Anyhoo. Then over the weekend I encountered this rather catchy French naval tune...



I really like that version, very jaunty, very Cajun, n'est-ce pas?

Another, more martial, version is here. The lyrics are similar but the refrain of "Buvons un coup, buvons-en deux" is repeated after each verse in this version.



Okay Sarge, what the heck does this sea chantey have to do with that big ass French submarine? Well, the submarine is named after the guy who's victory in La Confiance (corvette of six guns) over the East Indiaman Kent (30 guns) is much celebrated in the French Navy. (Which informally is known as La Royale. Which of course put me in mind of this... Oh yeah, language alert!!)


Alrighty then...

The fellow commanding La Confiance was Robert Surcouf, a famous French corsair. Now as French victories over the English tended to be few and far between, it stands to reason that they would have a song celebrating one of those victories. Indeed, a victory over a larger and much more heavily armed English ship.

The French have had more than one Surcouf in their navy over the years. They have one now as a matter of fact. The latest is a rather futuristic stealth frigate...

The stealth frigate Surcouf in Toulon harbor. (Source)
Fascinated by this tale of derring-do on the high seas, I looked up Monsieur Surcouf. You can read one account here. A rather disreputable chap by some accounts, more interested in filthy lucre than La Gloire de France. A slaver as well, some very disturbing accounts of his actions in that realm are available. Not the sort of chap you'd have home for dinner, wot? (Then again the accounts I read were in English, not French. Les Anglais would have good reason methinks to cast aspersions on the man's character, n'est-ce pas?)

Still and all, an interesting story and a catchy nautical tune. Here are the words en français, then my rough translation in English follows. (These lyrics follow the first version above. Again the chorus is repeated numerous times in the second version. No, not the clip from Pulp Fiction, the video above that. Geez!)

Au 31 du mois d'Août

Le trente et un du mois d'août
Nous vîmes venir sous l'vent a nous,
Le trente et un du mois d'août
Nous vîmes venir sous l'vent a nous,
Une frégate d'Angleterre
Qui fendait la mer et les eaux,
c'etais pour attaquer Bordeaux

Buvons un coup, buvons-en deux
A la santé des amoureux,
Buvons un coup, buvons-en deux
A la santé des amoureux,
A la santé du Roi de France
Et merde pour le Roi d'Angleterre,
Qui nous a déclaré la guerre !

Le capitaine, en un instant,
Fait appeler son lieutenant
Le capitaine, en un instant,
Fait appeler son lieutenant :
"Lieutenant, te sens-tu capable,
Dis-moi, te sens-tu z'assez fort
Pour prendre l'Anglais à son bord ?

Le lieutenant fier z'et hardi
Lui répond : Capitaine,oui
Le lieutenant fier z'et hardi
Lui répond : Capitaine,oui
Faites branl'bas à l'équipage
Je vas z'hisser not'pavillon
Qui rest'ra haut, nous le jurons.

Le maître donne un coup d'sifflet
Pour faire monter les deux bordées
Le maître donne un coup d'sifflet
Pour faire monter les deux bordées
Tout est paré pour l'abordage
Hardis gabiers, fiers matelots
Braves canonniers, mousses, petiots.

Vire lof pour lof en un instant nous l'attaquons par son avant
Vire lof pour lof en un instant nous l'attaquons par son avant
A coup de haches d'abordage
De pique, de sabre, de mousquetons,
nous l'avons mis a la raison

Que dira-t-on de lui tantot,
En Angleterre et à Bordeaux,
Que dira-t-on de lui tantot,
En Angleterre et à Bordeaux,
Qu'a laissé prendre son équipage
Par un corsaire de six canons
Lui qu'en avait trente et si bons ?

Buvons un coup, buvons-en deux
A la santé des amoureux,
Buvons un coup, buvons-en deux
A la santé des amoureux,
A la santé du Roi de France
Et merde pour le Roi d'Angleterre,
Qui nous a déclaré la guerre!

And the essence of the song in English...

On the 31st of August

On the thirty-first of August
With the wind in our faces,
On the thirty-first of August
With the wind in our faces,
Saw we an English frigate
Cutting proudly through the sea and the waters
Perhaps to attack Bordeaux

Drink a shot, drink two
To the health of our lovers,
Drink a shot, drink two
To the health of our lovers,
To the health of the King of France
And shit for the King of England,
Who after all declared war on us!

The captain, in an instant,
Summoned his lieutenant
The captain, in an instant,
Summoned his lieutenant:
"Lieutenant, do you feel able,
Tell me, do you feel strong enough
To board the English?

The proud and bold lieutenant
Replied: Yes Captain
The proud and bold lieutenant
Replied: Yes Captain!
With this brave crew, we'll take her, we swear.

The mate blows his whistle
To raise the two lines
The mate blows his whistle
To raise the two lines
Everything is ready for boarding
Topmen bold, proud sailors
Brave gunners, midshipmen, little ones.

Turn luff to luff in a moment we'll attack her forward
Turn luff to luff in a moment we'll attack her forward
A shot of boarding axes
Pikes, sabers, muskets,
We'll bring them to reason

As it is sometimes said
In England and Bordeaux,
As it is sometimes said
In England and Bordeaux,
What is left to tell his crew
That privateer with six guns
When he has thirty and good?

Drink a shot, drink two
To the health of our lovers,
Drink a shot, drink two
To the health of our lovers,
To the health of the King of France
And shit for the King of England,
Who after all declared war on us!

Statue of Robert Surcouf in Saint-Malo. (Source)
Not even the Royal Navy can win them all. Just ask the boys of the USS CONSTITUTION. Or you can ask the Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter. I do believe the Royal Navy actually respected that chap!

Combat de la Confiance, commandée par Robert Surcouf, et du Kent, le 7 octobre 1800. Musée d'Histoire de Saint-Malo By Ambroise Louis Garneray. (Source)
From the size of the Kent (to the left) and the size of La Confiance (to the right), I'd say yes, a victory to be proud of and to celebrate down through the ages. Seeing a photo of that submarine Surcouf, then stumbling across that tune while searching for Napoleonic marching music, coincidence?

I don't know, but it certainly seems odd.

And the title of the tune is On the 31st of August, yet the battle was fought on the 7th of October...

Well, that's odd...

Update:
There are multiple versions of this song and the more I dig into it the more it seems that the tune does not commemorate the fight between La Confiance and Kent. After all, that fight did not take place on the 31st of August and it was in 1800. Also the reference in the song to the Roi de France is also odd. The French had executed Louis XVI in 1793 and I doubt seriously that he would be included in this tune. In 1800 Napoleon was First Consul and there was no French King.

It's possible that the song might commemorate the Battle of the Virginia Capes in 1781 where a French fleet under the Comte de Grasse defeated an English fleet commanded by Sir Thomas Graves. However, this occurred on the 5th of September. That's the closest to the 31st of August for a French naval victory that I could find.

One more thing, La Confiance was a brig mounting 18 guns (not a corvette mounting six cannon). Also the East Indiaman Kent mounted 40 cannon, not 30. It seems that some of the information regarding this event is, as is said in Germany, "ganz voll Scheiße."








* The French Navy does not use prefixes with their ship names, such as "USS" for US Navy combatants or "HMS" for Royal Navy combatants. While NATO uses "FS" to designate a French warship, internally just the ship name is used in La Marine Nationale. (Source)

18 comments:

  1. There's a joke regarding national ship prefixes.
    The Italians use AMB for "Atsa my boat"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Maybe to clear up some confusion: the song says "a frigate", and you say not even the Royal Navy can always win, but it wasn't the Royal Navy. The Kent was an East Indiaman, a merchant ship. She was the natural prey of privateers: slow and slow-handling, with a capable crew (but not a large one--cost control!), loaded with valuable cargo and wealthy passengers. C.S. Forester, in Ship Of The Line, writes that "tactics would be to swoop alongside and board; no boarding nettings manned by an Indiaman's crew would keep out a hundred Frenchmen mad for gold." The great achievement was avoiding the Royal Navy and getting his rich prize home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, the song says "frigate," further research says "nope, Kent was an East Indiaman." The more I dig the more inconsistencies I find. Still and all, a catchy tune.

      Great line - "a hundred Frenchmen mad for gold", I need to read more Forester and O'Brian. Have you read any of Alexander Kent's books, along those same lines.

      Thanks for the info John!

      Delete
    2. SHIP OF THE LINE is superb, but my favorite is Hornblower and the Hotspur, a story of warfare in the littorals.

      Delete
    3. Hornblower commanded an LCS?

      \snark

      Delete
    4. It really is a good read. I will even buy you a copy, if you like!

      Delete
    5. No need Scott. I got this. (But thanks for the offer!)

      Delete
  3. Fun post!

    I read about Surcouf (the sub) some time ago and my overall impression was that dealing with Les Forces Navales Françaises Libres was pretty much like sticking a fork in your eye. To be fair, I can understand the French attitude; after Mers-el-Kébir they hated everyone. Some quick interwebbing turned up a theory that RN divers mined Surcouf in Bermuda, her last port before vanishing on eternal patrol.

    In the 80's I had the opportunity to work closely with both the RN and the Marine Nationale and I enjoyed those experiences immensely. The Frogs were so damme French! Great fun and perhaps my first experience with an extraterrestrial species. Bringing the F-8FN's aboard was exceptionally cool. Never saw anything quite like it.

    Thanks for starting my day with a smile!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Alexander Kent's Bolitho books are ripping yarns! Douglas Reeman, ( Kent's real name ), wrote Strike From The Sea, about the fictional sister ship of SURCOUF, SOUFRIERE, and her service in the RN, after defecting to the RN just before Pearl Harbor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I've read one of his books writing as Douglas Reeman, but not that one.

      Another book to add to the seemingly never ending list of things I need (want) to read!

      Delete
  5. SURCOUF looks FAR more capable than an LCS.

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    Replies
    1. A RHIB with two SEALs aboard is far more capable than an LCS.

      Just sayin'...

      Delete
  6. De Ruyter certainly gave us Brits a good seeing to in 1667 (349 years ago to this day in the raid on the Medway). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raid_on_the_Medway
    BTW I recommend the Aubrey/Maturin series. All I will say is read the books in order to get the best out of them. I wouldn't consider them as a 'stand alone' but part of a series.

    Retired

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, it is indeed that time of year. (For raids on Chatham and such. Be sure your Royal Charles is secured!)

      I watched an excellent film on de Ruyter not too long ago. It was on Netflix, in Dutch with English subtitles. Seems the good admiral was not appreciated by the House of Orange!

      Delete
  7. You've got good taste in movies, just saw Admiral (as its titled on Netflix) myself last weekend. Quite an interesting time period of intense competition between the Dutch and English and other European powers of the day.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Aaron, so do you. :)

      It's a period of history that I'm trying to get more knowledgeable of, it was, as you said, a very interesting time period.

      Delete

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