In 1620, the Mayflower set sail from England for North America. The ship arrived at what is now Cape Cod two months later, but the journey was far from smooth. Terrible storms and food shortages made it an extremely traumatic new start for those on board. The 102 Separatists, or pilgrims, were escaping religious persecution in Europe. The settlement they founded – the second permanent English colony in the New World after Jamestown was established 13 years previously – was named New Plymouth.
Germany’s most famous World War II warship, the Bismarck only actually saw eight months of active service. While attempting to reach the Atlantic in May 1941, she fired on and sank HMS Hood, prompting the Royal Navy to doggedly pursue the vast German battleship. Scores of British vessels tracked the Bismarck to the French Atlantic coast where it was destroyed with the loss of more than 2,000 men.
Originally part of the Royal Navy fleet, the Beagle gained its immortality as the survey ship that, in 1831, carried the young naturalist Charles Darwin to South America and beyond. The five-year voyage sharpened the thinking that would underpin his theory of evolution, no doubt aided by the 400-volume library that doubled as Darwin’s cabin.
Quite possibly the most famous passenger ship in history, the Titanic – dubbed the ‘unsinkable’ – sank in April 1912 after colliding with an iceberg on her maiden voyage to New York City. It was a seriously high-spec vessel, boasting a library, Turkish bath, squash court and a barber shop, as well as an on-board telephone network and its own newspaper.
The HL Hunley
Submarine warfare might be thought to be a development of the 20th century, but the first sinking of a warship by a combat submarine actually dates back to the American Civil War. The HL Hunley was a Confederate vessel which, in 1864, torpedoed USS Housatonic. But the Hunley never made it back to base, sinking in unexplained circumstances.
This article was first published in the July 2015 issue of History Revealed.