fighting instructions

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A code of tactical signals at sea in the early days of the British Navy, first issued by Robert Blake and others in 1653. The instructions, 21 in number, established the line of battle and imposed some sort of tactical discipline on the ships of the line that formed it. Later admirals such as Anson issued additional instructions for use in the fleets they commanded, some of which were incorporated in the permanent or printed instructions, which first appeared in 1672 as the Sailing and Fighting Instructions. Similar French Ordres et signaux généraux date from 1690, but in France more theoretical treatises on the subject were written, including Père Hoste's L'Art des armées navales (1697).

Partly as a result of these French works, the old system of signalling in the British Navy, under which an instruction was conveyed to the fleet by the position of a particular flag, was improved during the last quarter of the 18th century, and made much more flexible. The Signal Book for the Ships of War, issued officially by the Admiralty in 1799, distinguished between the old fighting instructions and the new methods of flag signalling which were further extended by Sir Home Popham's Marine Vocabulary (1800, 1803), with its 25 letter flags and a dictionary of 1,000 words, a precursor of the International Code of Signals. Nelson's famous Trafalgar signal was made by the three-flag hoists of this method, the word ‘duty’ having to be spelled out because it was not in the list of words.

From the mid-18th century onwards the introduction of the general chase signal gave the commander on the spot a degree of flexibility when it came to forming the line of battle.

See also warfare at sea.

See also warfare at sea.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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