Thomas Cochrane: Craziest Sea Captain in History

Thomas Cochrane: Craziest Sea Captain in History

2021, History  -   3 Comments
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Ratings: 7.88/10 from 8 users.

Great Britain has a long and fantastic naval heritage. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, they were masters of the open sea. They were conquering new lands and the most powerful fleet of ships was at their command.

One of the most underrated naval heroes is Thomas Cochrane. He has gone down in history as the craziest and single most daring British commander ever. A titled aristocrat and politician, Cochrane was the tenth Earl of Dundonald. He championed freedom, the oppressed and many other causes. But of course, what makes him stand out is his brilliant record as a sea captain.

He amassed a long list of naval achievements, winning sea campaigns during the Napoleonic wars of 1803 to 1815. Cochrane was described as full of "uncompromising idealism, stubbornness, and with a complete lack of discretion." Hard-headed, he opposed authority and often called out superiors. Many in the admiralty hated him, making him lose promotions and bigger ship commissions.

As a military sea captain, he also did nothing by the book. His tactics were unconventional, reckless, and fearless, yet he was very successful in marine warfare. He employed the right mix of meticulously planned campaigns with a "think-on-your-feet" attitude. This approached seemed to work; enemies were shocked into inaction or mistakes.

He liked to trick the enemy by flying a different flag on his ship. They would only discover this disguise when it was too late. Even being given a small ship did not stop him from taking down over 50 enemy vessels, many of them much bigger and powerful. Thomas also liked to bluff, pretending his ship had the plague, so they were left alone by fearful enemies. He once cut down masts to make it look like he had more men on board.

Attacking enemy ships at night was another favorite move. He came up with pairing fire ships with small kamikaze canoe bombs, which threw the French off. Charismatic and respected by both his men and enemies, he was nicknamed "The Sea Wolf" by the French and "El Diablo" by the Spaniards.

Foreign nations also invited Cochrane to lead their fleets into battle. In 1818, he commanded the Chilean navy to gain independence from Spain. He immediately helped free Peru from Spain as well. By 1824, Brazil and its fight for freedom from Portugal were next. Cochrane famously pursued the Portuguese fleet across the Atlantic with just three small ships, managing to capture seven enemy ships. A year later, he was brought on to liberate the Greeks from the Ottoman Empire, though without much success.

His belief in true freedom made him resent the freedom fighters he helped because they had installed themselves as the new dictators. Worst, they did not pay him or his men. So in true Cochrane fashion, he looted Chilean, Peruvian and Brazilian ships for the money he was owed - no more, no less.

In his later years, he became an advocate for steam-powered engines and died living a full life at 85 years old. Thomas Cochrane was a true "badass." His fascinating exploits and extreme courage continue to inspire people today.

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3 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Sim

    quite interesting but oh my goodness what a boring voice for the commentary. Such a shame - how could the doco makers get this so wrong???

  2. Hengist Podd

    Why do film-makers glamorise/idolise people like this?
    They were only 'successful' because of their willingness to cause deaths and take other people's property no matter you dress it up.

  3. Sandra

    Excellent