Tuesday, January 31, 2017

You Can't Go Home Again, But You Can Visit

Had the opportunity to visit the gulf coast of Florida this week, which is always enjoyable.  Ever since my time there in the early 90s I’ve loved the Southern hospitality, laid back lifestyle and mild weather, at least in the winter.  Summers?  Not so much, but it’s still nice.  I lived in Pensacola during my training as a Naval Flight Officer and the area really grew on me.  Before I married my beautiful wife, I dated a local girl there who introduced me to some of her close friends who soon became my close friends, and still are.  They grew on me for their own brand of hospitality which involved their boat.  Of course the best boat is the one owned by a friend and theirs was no exception.  At least a couple times a month we’d take it out on the inter-coastal waterway, mainly in Perdido Bay, but sometimes along Old River and Pensacola Beach.  Any waterfront restaurant or bar worth its salt would have a dock, which enabled us partake in one of my favorite activities from my time there- bar-hopping by boat.  Fresh-caught fish, hush-puppies, beer and/or mud-slides was the typical afternoon menu. 

I lived on the beach just below the 'o' in Ono Island

One of my favorite places was a little dive called Pirates Cove, up that finger inlet near Josephine.  It was very much a whole in the wall, with few redeeming qualities other than very cold and very cheap beer.  The food was good, as far as burgers and fried fish go.  Not much else on that menu from what I recall.  Popular joint which attracted all kinds- from the redneck in his muddy jacked-up pickup, to the rich-folk driving their Jags and Beemers.  Didn’t seem to matter what you drove, everyone was welcome and everyone was friendly.

The reason for my trip to Miramar Beach was the annual Mine Warfare Science and Technology conference which I’ve attended and mentioned before.  The audience and briefings are heavy on the science behind the technologies being developed to improve our mine countermeasures capability.  Not having much of an engineering or mathematics background I can only understand half of it, which gave me an opportunity on one of the afternoons to drive over to Pensacola for a quick visit. 

My favorite spot in Pensacola proper was a great lrish Pub called McGuires.  It was a big hangout for the students and instructors during Flight School.  With an apparent love for all things Notre Dame, it was always heavy on the green and Irish theme, but I wouldn’t vouch for the authenticity.  We loved it all the same.  They always had an Irish singer on the weekends which made the place all the more fun.  Another part of the entertainment was seeing the ladies walk in on the men’s restroom because they didn’t read close enough.
Assuming I didn’t drink too much or wasn’t too full, I would indulge in the best bread pudding I’ve ever had.  I have the recipe around here someplace which includes a whisky butter sauce topping that makes it so good and worth going back for. 
 I wonder if the dollar I put up in 1990 is still there.                              McGuiresirishpub.com

Another fun place was Seville Quarter.  Essentially a series of bars and restaurants under one roof, it had a definite New Orleans feel and a band in every room.  Several dance floors and different levels helped give the place an inviting club feel which attracted a crowd that any aviator would love.   It seemed to fall out of favor with some of us when the place opened up to the 18 and over crowd and their multitudes that took all the parking spots.  

Well, I didn’t intend for this post to have the alternate title of “All the Places I Used to Drink” so I’ll get on with it.  If I had been on a longer trip to a gulf city closer to my old stomping grounds I might have actually stopped in one or more of those places, but Miramar Beach is almost two hours from my real destination in Pensacola.

It had been eight years since my last visit, which was during a cross country PCS move from Tampa back to San Diego, which was the 11th and last move we’d make.  In that time the place had changed considerably.  The newest edition was Hangar Bay 1 which is a 55,000 sq ft exhibit space for many of the aircraft which were almost withering in the hot Florida sun out on the tarmac. 

It was really good to see Blue Wolf 700 brought indoors.  The only truly famous S-3 Viking, save for the one I flew over Iraq in which is now part of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, Blue Wolf 700 is better known by its redesignation.

With several tires and a strut being underserviced, dying paint, and dried up caulking characterizing the jet the last time I saw her, the new space was needed to better display a significant event in Naval Aviation history.   The fact that the hangar is dedicated to George Bush Senior, and the museum has the NS2 Kaydet he flew in Training probably helped bring her inside and get a little TLC.


I had the opportunity to sit in the cockpit of an S-3 again, although I probably wouldn’t fit into my harness anymore.

The hangar also has an F-8 Crusader with markings of a ship and a squadron my father served in back in the 60s.

There’s a nice exhibit commemorating US Coast Guard Aviation as well, which just had its 100th Anniversary last year.  One interesting tidbit which I got from a retired Coastie here at work is that before Top Gun, not all caps, indicating the movie, the guard didn’t actually have rescue swimmers.  They were just aircrewmen who would be lowered down in a basket to make the rescue.  The producers asked them to take part in that famous scene rescuing Maverick and dragging Goose’s body out of the water, which included a diver jumping out of the helo to do so.  The Coast Guard Commandant was embarrassed by the fact that they had to go to the USAF for a couple Para-Rescue guys to act as Sailors that he ordered the establishment of their school, later famously portrayed in “The Guardian.”

I also got a perfectly patronizing partial picture of a fine looking Phantom that they had there.

There was an aircraft outside that I can’t remember ever seeing, even in some of the fine history Sarge has posted about.   If there was an emergency the pilot and intercept officer had to slide down a chute behind the cockpit in order to bail out. 
FD3 Skyknight
Grumman F9F-2 Panther

I’ve only been retired from the Navy for less than 7 years, but I was surprised by how sentimental I’ve gotten in that time, and how much I loved some of the more simple exhibits there.  The ones depicting a modern Aircraft Carrier really took me back and almost made me miss it.

I was a decent modeler when I was a kid and would sometimes try to put together a diorama for the plane so this exhibit was interesting to me.

Being a place for all things Naval Aviation, they also have a very fine exhibit of art which I've always loved.

Even though I never flew in the A-4, they got rid of the TA-4J version for NFOs just before I began Advanced Training, but this is still my all-time favorite painting in the genre.  It's not titled, but "A Gathering Storm," which is how it's described on the placard beside the picture is so fitting in more ways than one.

The Cubi Point O'Club exhibit is excellent and depicts history all on its own through the many squadron plaques that are its heart and soul. 

Of course I paid special attention to the ones from my first fleet squadron.  I wasn't there in 91, but shortly thereafter so I know many of the names on this plaque and others.  I got to the museum at around 3 PM and it closed at 5 so I couldn't get too many more pictures to share.  However, I still have one that is special to me.

These two little cuties are the daughters of those folks with the boat.  This was during an Air Show on the base back in 1990 and my squadron put those signs on the jets for photo ops.  Those girls have moved up to Jax and Orlando, all grown up now with their own families, but we still keep in touch.  And both of them keep this picture up in their homes.  So besides some great memories of Pensacola, I've still have some good friends from there as well.

Well, thanks for coming along on my "visit" back home.

I apologize for the different font sizes if that shows up in the version you see. I've checked and double checked the settings, trying different fonts, but blogger can be a temperamental SOB sometimes. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

On to the 'Gu

A couple of weeks ago, I chronicled (Sarge-speak for "posted") the tale of our Jack Russell Terrier, code named "Corky".  Corky is actually short for "Corkscrew" which is appropriate as we acquired her through a relative of our winemaker friends.  That post was entitled "Lost Wingman" as she was indeed "Lost", well at least as lost as a Fighter Pilot is allowed to acknowledge (reputations, you know), and she and the other member of Canine Flight are indeed "wingman".

But this is not a rehash of old posts.  Nor is it a discussion of this formation. 
Missing Man Formation

 Which if you google "lost wingman" under images, returns a lot of hits.

No, this is a discussion of the other meaning of lost wingman.

Lost wingman is a set of very specific procedures that are performed in the event that you are flying formation in the weather and actually lose sight of the other members of your formation.  Given that you are flying very close to another aircraft at usually 350K indicated, to lose sight of that aircraft can be, shall we say, exciting!

But,  I've only performed the official lost wingman procedures one time "for realsies".  Practiced it many times and typically, on an instrument check ride, the check pilot would direct you to go lost wingman at some unexpected time and you'd perform the maneuver.  Let me tell you, it's much different in real weather.

And just to get this straight.  Lost wingman procedures do not include maximum burner and maximum g.  No.  They are comparatively easy, instrument specific gentle procedures that are designed to quickly gain separation without, hopefully, inducing vertigo and lose of control or a midair.  I probably don't need to specify that both of those outcomes are "bad".  Here are the procedures for a T-6. They are essentially the same as they were for all the aircraft I flew.

So....There I was*

We have successfully flown from Moody AFB Georgia to Hickam AFB Hawaii with 24 F-4Es.  A 10.6 hour 4600 NM (or so) flight where I outlasted my airplane in an extended arm wrestling duel.  Properly crew rested, rehydrated with both hydrogen and grained based fluids and replenished from the bounty of Hawaiian cuisine, we are about to embark on the second leg of our journey, Hickam AFB to Kadena AFB Okinawa Japan, about 5000 NM.

My sturdy stead has also had some TLC applied to it by members of the Hawaiian Air National Guard ("Shaka, Brah") who replaced a burned out trim motor with one for F-4Cs.  "No sweat, Brah, it should work".

Since there are only 3 places to land on this leg of the trip (Hickam, Wake and Kadena), we will be stuck flying at the slower .82 Mach speed of our tanker escort.  Interestingly, the KC-10 who was so helpful on the previous leg will be accompanying us on this leg.  More to follow.

The first tanking will take place about an hour after takeoff and if anyone is unable to take gas, they will abort back to Hickam.  Then there will be a couple of hour window where we'll have to tank almost continually in order to have enough gas to make it back or on to Wake if problems arrive.

Fortunately, there are no problems and the KC-135s from Hickam pass their last gas and break off and land at Wake.

As we approach the Atoll, the WSOs, bored to tears, have switched the radar over to Air to Ground Mode and are engaging in a little friendly competition to see who can get a radar contact on the island first.  This is important, Beer is at stake!

Contact is called by someone other than my WSO and that little bit of entertainment is followed by competition among the Front Seaters on who can visually see the Atoll.  We pass over the Island, source of so much trouble in the early 40s, and seeing a little bit of land in the middle of the Deep Blue Sea is somehow reassuring.
Not much to look at, but it's nice to see a runway again.

But onward we fly, ever westward, our High Protein, Low residue lunches warming on the top of the ejections seat almost ready to be consumed with a wonderful swig of.....Water.

Wake has disappeared astern (Air Force talk, juvat, this ain't a Navy story) at our 6 o'clock. The day is clear and bright with some very low clouds over the water.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a greenish gray mist appears ahead of us at altitude.  The radio starts producing static sounds and as we enter the mist, all power is lost to the engines.  The entire formation is lost forever giving rise to the legend of the Bermuda triangle.  Oh wait, wrong ocean! (That was just for ScottTheBadger's entertainment.)

We're still about 5 hours from Kadena, and we're rendezvousing with tankers from there.  The KC-10 has continued on with us while the 135s from Hickam landed at Wake.  Better navigation abilities, I guess.  In any case, we split up and head for our individual tankers while the 6th 135 rolls out in front of the KC-10 and plugs it.

That was HIGHLY entertaining.  If you took a picture of the relative size of an F-4 refueling off a 135 and then look at a picture of a KC-10 refueling off a 135, the ratios are about the same, if reversed.  It was very interesting to be flying off the wing of the KC-10 while it was gassing.  If you looked very closely you could see the corrections being made by the KC-10, but they were much slower than those of an F-4.

In short, it provided about a half hour of something to watch other than the Pacific Ocean passing underneath.  Did I mention that the Pacific is quite large?

Lunch completed and the refuse packed away out of harm's way in our helmet bags, we settled in for another 4 hours or so.  Butts were already numb, having passed through the pain stage after about 3 hours.  Nothing to see, or do other than fly formation and refuel.  The WSO is playing with the radar to see if he can find ships or anything, but with refueling about every 15-30 minutes he doesn't get to spend much time doing that.  (The boom operators tend to get annoyed when a large microwave is pointed at them from close range, reproductive health or something.)

Finally, we tank up and get told by the KC-10 nav that Kadena is on our nose for 400 miles.  24 sets of throttles go to mil power at the exact same instant without verbal command and the F-4's accelerate to .95 Mach.

Got to burn down to landing weight don't you see?
AHHH! Land

Pitch out, land and log another 10.7 hours.

Shut them down, check into the VOQ and head out to Gate 2 street.  The Dollar was still strong against the Yen.  There was electronics to buy, Kobe Beef to eat and Kirin to drink.

And we were leaving for Taegu early the next day.

The following morning, we're in the briefing and get told by the Weather guesser that takeoff and landing weather was well within parameters.  However, there was a front between Kadena and Korea that we would have to penetrate.  Thunderstorms and turbulence, dense clouds, yada, yada, yada.

By now, with 21 + hours of flying time strapped into a fighter in the last 3 days, our butts are dragging.  Numb, but dragging.

There will be no tanking required on this leg (it's a mere 655 miles), so we can proceed at our own pace.  Fire up the jets and we're going to take about 5 minutes separation between 4 ships, so Fukuoka Control will have to deal with about 30 minutes of trying to pronounce our call signs (one of which was "Killer", listening to that exchange with that lead trying to pronounce Fukuoka and the controller trying to pronounce his callsign was good for a sustained laugh).

We reach the Korean ADIZ about the time we enter the weather.  Lead rocks us into close formation and we all settle in.  He's trying to pick his way through, avoiding the heaviest radar returns, but it's pretty thick and bumpy.  I'm really having difficulty seeing lead even though he's got every light on bright and flash.

I've moved back a little, down a bit which puts my wing tip below and behind his slab (aircraft touching in flight is called a mid-air collision.  That's officially "bad").  The new formation allows me to fly a little closer.  One does what one must. Because I can now see under his aircraft, I notice #2 is in the same position, and my WSO tells me so is #4.  This is a good as it gets.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the already dark sky is getting even darker and as we enter that cell, lead disappears.  I hold the aircraft perfectly steady expecting him to magically reappear.

One potato...

Two potato...

"Three's lost wingman"

"Two's lost wingman"

"Four's lost wingman"

Perfect!  we've got 4 Phantoms in close proximity to each other and nobody sees anybody.

I transition to instruments and begin a 15o turn away from lead, pulling the power back slightly to gain nose tail separation, hold that for 15 seconds then return to heading.  Fortunately, my WSO was on the ball and had been monitoring instruments instead of formation.  He tells me what the original heading was.  Turning too far jeopardizes #4 and us,  Turning too little does the same for #1 and us.

All I can do now is hope that all have done what they were supposed to do.  We make a few confirmation radio calls about headings and altitude and it appears we're all deconflicted.  Lead starts to coordinate with the Korean Controller about separate clearances and gets the standard reply "Stand by".


About the same time the controller starts talking again, we break out of the back side of the front, into blinding sunshine.  8 green visors come slamming down as we look for our other flight members.

Expecting to be looking for little green dots on the horizon, it was gratifying, and at the same time, horrifying to see the other members flying along in what would be a loose route formation (approximately 500-1000' horizontal separation, we had coordinated 500' vertical separation, so as long as that was maintained, we were relatively safe).

Lead rocks us back into close formation then kicks us back out to standard route formation and coordinates our penetration of Korean airspace.

Back over the Korean Landmass, we descend to 18000' and cancel IFR, proceed visually to Taegu, pitch out and land.
Taegu AB, ROK
I'm not going to sit down again for a week!

We have arrived halfway around the world 5 days after departure and almost 24 hours of flying time.

We'd be there for a month, and as expected, the flying in Korea was sublime.  Fortunately, with the exception of the Squadron Commander and Ops Officer, none of the folks that flew over flew back.  That was fortunate as that way meant they were flying against the sun.  They took off in the dark and flew most of each leg in the dark so as to arrive at their landing base during the day.

That would not have been fun.

The day before we left, I led a 4 ship against 2 F-16s from Kunsan.  The 2 Lawn Darts had a yellow stripe on the tail,  meaning they were assigned to the 80TFS aka "The Juvats".  That was my last flight in the F-4.  I rode home in a 141 and PCS'd to Holloman shortly after returning.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Diurnal I Am, But Not By Choice...

So you're going to feed us now, right?
Yes, yes I am. Now stop poking me.

Which is how most mornings here at Chez Sarge start. The feline staff drops gentle hints that it's about time perhaps for Your Humble Scribe to drag his tired carcass out of the sack and provide the kitties with food. Because, dontcha know, breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day.

Saturday was no exception, well, with one exception. The felines have learned over the past decade that their human servants like to "sleep in" every six days or so. Believe me, they really do begrudge me that extra time on Saturday, but every once in a great while they won't start prodding me, chirping at me, sticking their butts in my face, and, from time to time, grooming me with those sand paper tongues until after sunrise.

Yesterday after a perfunctory chirp and a sniff from the Alpha furry being I awoke and checked the time. 'Twas 0800, 8 AM of the clock, sure enough, Micky's big hand was on the twelve and his little one upon the eight. Sasha sat next to my head, waiting patiently (well, sort of patiently) for me to awaken and feed her and her sister. (Though truth be told, Sasha could give a fig if I fed her sister, Anya. Sasha is the Alpha and what Sasha wants, Sasha gets. After thirteen years Anya has learned to tolerate her sister's bossiness. As have we all)

So I got up, fed the cats and went back to bed. 'Tis a glorious feeling being able to go back to bed when the sun has already been up over the horizon for a while. Feels like decadence and insane luxury.

Now before all of you "morning people" (said with a sneer) start going on about how I'm wasting the day (yada, yada, yada), and extolling the glories of the morning, stop, just stop.

I, much like the feline race, am nocturnal in many respects. I like stepping outside in the dark and perusing the stars wheeling through the heavens. Listening to the creatures of the night off in the small wood nearby engaged in their life and death struggles.

During my time in Uncle Sam's Aerial Follies, many was the night that I downed tools and stepped out of a hangar to behold the slight, nearly imperceptible glow on the eastern horizon which is a portent of the coming day. While many bemoan that whole "darkest hour before the dawn," I used to revel in it. However, the coming of daylight, to me, meant the coming of the day shift which was populated mostly by strap hangars, important people, and folks who spent their lives demanding status and progress reports. My binary answers of "Done" or "Not Done" seldom satisfied those minions. Believing that I could predict the future, they would want to know when I would be done. Oddly enough, in that respect, I could actually predict the future. Without studying goat entrails or tea leaves. (Calibrate enough F-4 radars and you get a feel for the process.  After a while, you actually learn the vagaries of the individual aircraft as well. No, really, each bird is the same, yet different in some ways.)

So night shift was a place to escape and to get work done while the staff pukes lay slumbering in their beds with dreams of spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides dancing in their heads.

So yeah, not a morning person. Sleeping in is awesome on a Saturday, especially when one averages only five to six hours of sleep during the week. Having to get up early is anathema to me, but I do it to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

So once a week, the cats let me sleep "late," late to them being any time after sunrise. The rest of the week they know I'll be up at 0530 (0600 at the latest) to feed them. They begrudge me that extra hour or so on Saturday, but in their feline magnanimity they will accede to their human's desire to not get up early.

Which I appreciate.

What do the cats do once they've been fed? Why they go back to sleep of course. They assure me that they have been up all night ridding the palace of mice and that's hard work, dontcha know?

"What mice?" I will ask.

"Exactly." They will answer.

Alrighty then.

Is breakfast ready?
Okay, okay! I'm on it...

Yeah, I volunteered for this. It's okay, they're great companions and the last time I checked, there were zero mice in the house.

Yes, that's right.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Dawn's Early Light

0700 Friday, 27 January 2017
A very long week has ended. Nothing bad or earth shattering going on, I'm just having my usual post-holiday-blue-funk-January.

Yeah, that's a thing with me.

I hear it's a thing with a lot of people. I get that, we all have our reasons for it. With me it's the idea that my favorite season has ended and it's back to whatever one's definition of normal is. Or "normal" as Skip would annotate it. If it's in quotes (and it ain't what ya call a quote) it's suspect. "Suspect" if you will.

Okay, enough of that.

At the beginning of the year I had a task at work which I'd started back in December, upon everyone's return from holiday the "powers that be" expressed a certain dismay at the direction I was taking. Seems it wasn't what "they" had talked about. As "they" hadn't really clued me in as to what "they" really wanted and as there was very little in the way of actual specifications to guide me, you may well imagine my surprise.

Or not.

I mumbled (somewhat loudly) at my disinterest in playing with their (ahem) "high school science project" and could I perhaps just give them something that worked. We could tweak it to the heavens later.

"Oh no! We need it in two weeks."

Sigh, not gonna happen. Not in this life time.

So they went in another direction, as did I. But for a few weeks there was naught on my plate as the better projects were in a bit of a funding lull. Which is the way of things in my business, it's all feast or famine.

So I've been brushing up my training and waiting for real work. Which makes the days extremely long and, truth be told, awfully damned dull.

That all ended Friday when two parts of the same project (related but different) decided that they could use my services. So things are looking up. I'm back to working on things which are haze gray in color and tend to get underway at times. So, once again, it's all good.

Maybe I can sleep at night again. When I have too much time on my hands at work my brain tends to go into overdrive looking for things to do, and then refuses to throttle back at night.

Among other things, I'm reading this at the moment -

L.B. is a friend of mine and, oh my word, can that lady write! Now this is not the sort of thing I normally read (so far nothing has exploded) but her writing is such a sheer joy to read. You don't really read it so much as immerse yourself in it. It's like painting, and poetry, and music, and memory, and oh so much more. Real good stuff actually.

It's a nice break from The Saxon Tales, so Uhtred will have to drive the Danes out of England later. At least he'll have to wait until I have the chance to finish Small Town Roads. L.B.'s writing is not something you rush through like a cheap pizza and a box o' wine . This is writing that you have to sit down and savor like a meal in a fine restaurant.

A good read, I highly recommend it!

And just because I haven't listened to these guys lately...

Good stuff.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Remember That Time When...?

Capture of the Dutch Fleet by the 8th Hussars (Source)
I remember this delightful story that I had read as a kid telling the tale of the time when cavalry of the French Revolutionary Army had dashed across the ice to capture the Dutch fleet trapped at anchor in the frozen Zuiderzee. Each dashing hussar carried an infantryman from the 15e Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne upon his horse's croup. Together they surprised the Dutch and seized their entire fleet.

Cool story. However, there's more to the story than meets the eye. It's, in some ways, a "he said, he said" tale where one of the French hussars, being full of braggadocio and, no doubt, a bit of unit pride told the story one way. A Dutch historian, some years after the fact, claimed that the French were lying and that the whole thing was arranged and that the cavalry merely rode out across the ice to make sure that the Dutch got the message that "we're all on the same side now, we cool, right?"


Things are never as simple as they seem.

 So what really happened?

 The French Revolution was rather popular in the Netherlands. The Dutch Republic was supposed to be a constitutional monarchy/republic and had been in place since the 16th Century. A recent war with the English (or British if you prefer) had proven very costly for the Dutch, they lost a lot of their colonial territories and a lot of trade. The way I understand it is that the British were rather annoyed with the Dutch because of Dutch support for the American Revolution. (Apparently the Dutch were the second country to recognize the infant United States. The French were first.)

Of course, you also have to consider that the English and the Dutch had been rivals for a very long time. The English were no doubt still pissed that the Dutch had, once upon a time, sailed up the Thames River and burned the English fleet at anchor, and they had captured and sailed away in the English flagship, the Royal Charles. It simply doesn't pay to mess with the Royal Navy and yes, the English have long memories. (As do most people, we Americans are accused of not having long memories. We do, we just tend not to hold a grudge, unless it's against other Americans. Think Hatfields and McCoys.)

At any rate, the Dutch were ticked off at their own rulers and rather liked the ideas of Liberté, égalité, fraternité. I mean who wouldn't, right?

Now at this point in time the Revolutionary French had lots of countries in Europe mad at them. Especially those countries with monarchs (which pretty much meant all of them). Those monarchs didn't care for the idea of the peasants rising up and chopping off the heads of their anointed sovereign. (Can't say I blame them, might give their own peasants bad ideas!) Louis XVI had been decapitated back in January of 1793 and the French had been fighting off enemies since then. (Well, before then as well, after all, the other kings in Europe didn't care for the idea of deposing the sovereign either.)

So you have the Dutch, antsy to be rid of their stadhouder (who was pretty much a king in reality, just not in name) and dive into that whole liberty, equality, and brotherhood thing. You have the French who would like to add their "brothers" in the Netherlands to the "we hate kings" club as it might distract the Prussians, English, Austrians, Spaniards, Russians, and others who really wanted to restore the Bourbon dynasty to the French throne.

That's the background.

Here's my take on what went down.

The winter of 1794/1795 was bitter cold, in fact it was during what has been called the Little Ice Age when winters were very brutal. (Brutal to someone from Alaska, not brutal to someone from Florida.) Most of the rivers which act as barriers to invasion in the Netherlands were frozen, providing scant impedance to the invading French. (Of course, the campaign was far more complicated than I'm letting on, you can read more about that here, if you desire. Yes, I know it's Wikipedia but as a source for things that happened a long time ago it's not bad. It's only the modern, politically tainted stuff that I don't trust over there.)

So it's really cold, the French are advancing and their buddies in the Netherlands, anxious to be shed of their rulers, who lost to the hated English, and said English also campaigning in the Netherlands against the Republican French, are willing to accommodate their Gallic brothers. The Dutch fleet is at anchor near the village of Den Helder (see map).

Google Maps
The ships aren't going anywhere as they are ice-bound. Rather than let the English capture those ships, a Dutch historian J. C. de Jonge wrote:
After a period of near civil war between Orangists (supporters of the hereditary Prince Stadhouders), Regents (the commercial oligarchy) and Patriots (French-inspired progressives), the Stadhouder, Prince William V, fled the country to Britain on 18 January 1795 when military resistance to the advancing French forces under General Pichegru crumbled. General de Brigade Johan Willem de Winter (a former Dutch naval officer, since 1787 in French service, and subsequently to command the Dutch fleet in the battle of Camperduin) was sent by Pichegru at the head of a regiment of French hussars
  •     To prevent the strongpoint of den Helder falling into British hands
  •     To prevent the ships in the nearby Nieuwediep (15 in number, of which 11 were manned and seaworthy) from escaping to Britain or to the Dutch province of Zeeland, still in Orangist hands.
His forces arrived in den Helder in the night of 23 January. The next morning (as, apparently uniquely, recorded in the log of the "Dolfijn", one of the Dutch ships), a number of French hussars rode across the ice to the ship of the line "Admiraal Piet Heyn", the captain of which, H. Reyntjes, was the oldest, and thus most senior, serving Dutch officer in the fleet. Ahlé, surgeon on the "Snelheid" wrote later to de Jonge:

    "on Saturday morning, my servant informed me that a French hussar stood near our ship. I looked out my porthole, and indeed, there stood an hussar."

These hussars are assumed by de Jonge to have formed the core of the later myth. There is no record (for example from Reyntjes) what was discussed with the hussars, but it is presumed to have been an oral agreement to maintain the status quo until clear orders arrived. Five days later the officers and men of the fleet swore an oath (similar to that already sworn by the men of other ships in the port of Hellevoetsluis) to comply with French orders, not to sail the ships (which remained under the Dutch flag) without French authority, and to maintain naval discipline. This oath was taken in the presence of de Winter, who seems to have arrived in den Helder a couple of days after his troops. On 21 January, two days before the arrival of the first French forces, Reyntjes had received, via Luitenant-Admiraal van Kinsbergen, the Dutch naval Commander-in-Chief, an order from the Council of State of Holland and Westfriesland to all military forces not to attack or resist the French forces. This was followed up a couple of days later by a resolution of the States-General, the parliament of the United Provinces, dated the 21st, to the same effect. (Source)
So it wasn't very dramatic according to de Jonge. However...
In February 1846, the French Lieutenant-General Baron Lahure published a letter in the newspaper "Echo de la Frontière" in response to the first edition of de Jonge's book. He claims that, being at the head of advancing French forces, he heard, in Alkmaar, that the Dutch fleet was icebound off Texel (the Friesian island opposite den Helder):
"I departed immediately with a company of tirailleurs in wagons and a squadron of light cavalry; before dawn I had taken position in the dunes. When the ships saw us, they prepared their defences. I sent some tirailleurs ahead, and followed with the rest of my forces. The fleet was taken. The sailors received us 'de bonne grace' on board... This is the true story of the capture of the Dutch fleet, devised and executed by a 23 year old Chef de Bataillion".
De Jonge considers that, allowing for some overestimation by Lahure of his own role (he also claims, in variance with the record, to have taken the town of Haarlem single-handed), this version is not really in conflict with his own. Lahure does not actually state that fighting took place, and the fact that his men were received 'de bonne grace' does not suggest hostile intent on the part of the Dutch. (Source)
I like the alleged claim by the old general that he had taken a town "single-handed."

So what really happened? My guess is that it happened much like de Jonge described it. Perhaps in the absent-mindedness that comes with age (not referring to myself of course), General Lahure might have remembered things differently. As Lex might have said, it's my story, he might remember it differently. I can almost picture it...
"So grand-père, weren't you in Holland during the '95 campaign?"

"Why yes I was little Pierre! In fact, after capturing Haarlem all by myself, my squadron and I went on to gallop across the ice and capture the entire Dutch fleet. The only time cavalry has ever fought a naval engagement!"

If big watches had been invented back then, I'm sure the French cavalry would all have one. (Fighter pilot reference with a hat tip to Captain Steve.)

Still it was a good story. Another myth of my childhood, debunked.


Charles Mozin's Capture of the Dutch Fleet (Source)