- Jun 17, 2004
The week had begun with a sudden and quite unexpected downpour, drenching most of southern England in a series of horrid storms. Many within the British government anxiously hoped for the storms to pass by the end of the week and by late Wednesday the first bright tendrils of sunlight were peeking through the clouds. Thursday proved remarkably better, the sun appeared early in the day and stood like the conquering hero amid the cloudless sky, removing any traces of the previous rainfall by the beginning of Friday - the Diamond Jubilee. Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, now seventy-eight, had been the ruler of Great Britain for sixty years. The Queen remained in London during the Jubilee, joined by Emperor Friedrich III of Germany, and a host of other high-profile dignitaries. Amid the pomp and ceremony of the vast military parade that was to occur in London, one could be forgiven for forgetting the vast assemblage which was also occurring in the Solent.
Kaiser Friedrich III would join Queen Victoria at the Diamond Jubilee
Anchored in the Solent were over one hundred and sixty vessels of the Royal Navy. Over ninty years had passed since the Battle of Trafalgar, but the British fleet still remained the most powerful in the world – unchallenged in its supremacy of the seas. The review of the Royal Navy was a showcase of the power which Great Britain held. Five lines of black hulls, thirty miles of warships, forty thousand men, and three thousand naval guns – the most powerful fleet to have ever set itself upon the waves. Adding to this vast herd of naval vessels were dozens more from fourteen other nations. The town of Portsmouth was swamped not only with British sailors and civilians, but thousands of foreigners. “Chief among the foreigners are Americans,” noted the Daily Chronicle. “If they are not known by their accents, they are sure to disclose their nationality at mealtimes by rising without the slightest shame and prettily drinking the toast to 'The Queen!' . . . English folk would be shy of doing this except at public dinner, but not so our cousins from over 'the pond.'” Asides from Americans the Daily Mail also noted ”black-browned little Spaniards, tall, dull-eyed Russians, and heavy-limbed Germans” – but the real stars of the review were the ships.
British sea power was laid out for all to see, and few could walk away without being impressed. The Channel Squadron alone was comprised of eleven First-Class battleships, five First-Class cruisers, and thirteen Second-Class Cruisers. The flag of Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, flapped lazily from the H.M.S. Renown. Comprised within this squadron were both the Royal Sovereign and Majestic class battleships, the most powerful ships afloat and unmatched by any others in the world for gunpower, speed, or protection. Behind these vessels lay another thirty older battleships and large cruisers, along with almost fourty smaller cruisers and several dozen torpedo boats. While these vessels were no longer the biggest and the best, they were still formidable. Among them was the 10,880 ton Inflexible, one of the last Royal Navy vessels to include sails. Her first captain was the now famous Jacky Fisher, the man who had used her cannon to shell Alexandria years earlier. Nearby lay the Sans Pareil which sported two massive 110-ton guns, the largest in the entire navy. Behind these vessels lay the foreign contributions, every one of them as professional as could be. One could marvel at the Italian battleship Lepanto, the Japanese cruiser Fuji, the Norweigan cruiser Fritjhof, and the French cruiser Pothuau. Yet more followed, including the massive Rossiya and the gleaming USS Brooklyn. While these vessels were widley admired, few took note of them after their eyes meandered over the German contribution.
Kronprinz Wilhelm would join his uncle in Portsmouth for the fleet review
Kronprinz Wilhelm himself had sailed with the German contribution, leading the half dozen German vessels into Portsmouth a week before from his own private yacht. Dressed the uniform of a British Admiral given to him by Queen Victoria a decade earlier, Wilhelm now stood next to his uncle, the future King Edward VII. Together throughout the ceremony they stood side by side exchanging small talk and discussing each countries navy. While the Kronprinz had led six ships into Portsmouth - the battleshisps Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm, Weißenburg, and Kaiser Friedrich III, along with the Heavy Cruiser Kaiserin Augusta, and the Light Cruiser Hela – he still spent the majority of his time discussing the British fleet that lay in front of him, constantly turning the polite inquiries from his Uncle into questions about the Royal Navy, showering it with praise and dictating his proposed elements of strategy. As the review ended the Kronprinz left aboard the Kaiser Friedrich III, saluting his counterpart, the Prince of Wales, both secure in the notion that their nations would remain friends for another sixty years.