READER CONTEST: There is an invention described in a primary account published by Strada in the eighteenth century. But there’s no image. Readers, could you send me a drawing or plan? The winner will get a free paperback with a signed fantasy map which I commissioned for the book launch. With your permission, I would put it on my blog and incorporate it into my slide show, with credit to you. Please read on to learn more about the puzzle of this mystery vessel…

I thrust Latham into the Siege of Antwerp twice. He is on the bank of the River Scheldt when the first self-detonating bomb ship explodes with devastating effect. The Dutch defenders weren’t good at military basics—they refused to flood the surrounds while they had time, and they never secured communication with allies who could have taken advantage of temporary military successes to break the siege—but they were inventive. They were so inventive that the Spanish commander, Alexander Farnese, later Duke of Parma, despaired.  He wrote that mere humans couldn’t penetrate their devilish inventions. War’s End was many times bigger than any other vessel, an artillery platform the Dutch hoped to float with corks and annihilate the Spaniards. It grounded on a sandbar. However, even to design and build it horrified their enemy.

This invention by engineer Federigo Giambelli did work. It was the first ship bomb detonated by a clock at a pre-set time (crew not necessary), attached to a flint that fired a wick that blew up 7,000 pounds of explosives and flesh-shredding metal or stone contained by a pyramid-shaped cone that forced the blast sideways rather than up. Loss of life was devastating, 1,000 in an instant. It did breach the bridge of ships the Spaniards had built across the River Scheldt. But the Antwerp defenders didn’t check on their success for a couple of days, so the Spaniards were able to repair the bridge. The siege continued, but the notion of the dreaded Hellburners took on mythic status in Spanish minds, contributing to the eventual defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

READER CONTEST: The mystery vessel described in a primary source by Strada had no sails on deck. Instead, it had an underwater mast and sail that allowed it to be propelled straight at the bridge by the current of the River Scheldt. According to Strada, the Dutch built two: one with hooks to tear the boat bridge apart, the other with 4,000 pounds of explosives. Both hit the boat bridge, so the design worked. They just weren’t big enough to win the war for Antwerp. I look forward to your ideas and designs!

UPDATE: I’m pleased to announce that R.L. Crossland, retired Navy SEAL and naval officer, award-winning author of Jade Rooster and Red Ice, has agreed to judge the entries. The deadline for submission ( is March 31st, 2019.

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