The Haitian Navy, from Independence to this day.

The Haitian Navy

The Armed Forces of Haiti (Forces Armées d’Haïti) of the Republic of Haiti are now reduced to the Haitian Army (700 active personnel in 2023) and Haitian Coast Guard managed by the National Police. There is no longer a Navy and the country is largely disfonctional today due to the lack of simple police. But it was not used to be that way in the past. As the first independent Black Republic in the 19th century from its Napoleonic rule, born from the Haitian Revolution as the Indigenous Army gaining independence, formally declared on 1 January 1804. Haiti became a “militarized country” over several decades in order to protect this independence from a possible return of French troops. This was the Prussia of the Carribean. This early military elite held political and economic power until the military was reorganized in the 1880s, divided between a small active army, much larger reserve and a small navy which grew to include among others until 1895 four large gunboats as main deterrence. Until 1915, this Navy was quite consequent by Carribbean standards.

The Indigenous Army was disbanded under the US occupation in 1915, replaced by an American-trained “Gendarmerie d’Haïti”. In 1934 it became the “Garde d’Haiti” and was full independent again, and the “Army of Haiti” in 1947, then the “Armed Forces of Haiti” in 1958 under François Duvalier presidency, leading decades of interference in politics, military coups and attempted coups until disbanded in 1995. Pdt. Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded them in December 1995. The Haitian National Police replaced it, solely reponsible for internal order. By 17 November 2017, the armed forces were restored under President Jovenel Moise and fully staffed in 2018. But in 2023, it just counted a single infantry battalion (700 men), completement by a small coast (50 personnel).

The Haitian Navy was created in 1860, with the commission of the single “1804” a former 600t one funnel frigate built and modernized as an iron gunboat, launched in Britain in 1875. Two additional gunboats entered service: “22 Décembre”, and “St Michael” launched 1860 and 1875 also in Britain, followed by the corvette Dessalines launched in 1883. By 1900 three more British and a single French-built gunboats were launched, pure steam vessels, designed almost as unprotected cruisers: Toussaint Louverture (1886), Capois la Mort (1893) and Crete a Pierot (1895).
They would made the mainstay of the Haitian Navy for decades, especially the latter.

The wreck of Crete a Pierot after her duel with SMS Panther in 1902, scuttled on the shore of Gonaives archipelago.

In 1902, the Haitian gunboat Crête-à-Pierrot had a brief fight against a German warship that was seen in territorial waters bound for the capital intended to land troops. Admiral of the fleet, Hammerton Killick, scuttled his ship rather than surrender. His nemesis was the Gunboat Panther. Killick was birn 1853 in Gonaives, and described as an “Anglo-Haitian mulatto.” He was put at the head of the Navy, which was in poor state, with few ships serviceable, badly needing maintenance abnd being cannibalized, having haf their crew and no pay, no ammunition or coal, in an unstable country with the current president Hyppolite facing scores of rebellions and the scorn of the international community.

He purchased the Yacht Natalie that was refitted in Savannah and in 1896 the Navy acquired its most treasured vessel, Crete a Pierot. Until 1899 he tried to buff the crew and equip the ship, which was his flagship and the only really serviceable gunvessel at the time. By May 1902 tension was high after the Emil Lüders incident (imprisoned and released under a German navy-backed ultimatum), which was extremely embarrassing for president Sam. Resentment led to his demise and new revolt led by Presidency candidate A. Firmin. On 15 May, Killick took his ship to Cap-Haïtien to pick up Firminist troops and transport them to Port-au-Prince. Killick started to blockade the harbor at Cap-Haïtien and bySeptember 2, 1902, his crew seized a German ammunition ship (Markomannia) en route to port to support rival Alexis’ forces. Alexis asked help from Germany to sink the “pirate ship” and the the gunboat SMS Panther was sent to just that task against Crête-à-Pierrot.

On September 6, Crête-à-Pierrot was in port at Gonaïves with Killick and most of the crew on shore leave and he rushed on board as soon as Panther appeared, but since the ship was in no way ready for a fight he and ordered his crew to abandon ship. Killick then allegedly wrapped himself in a Haitian flag and fired the aft magazine to blew up his ship to avoid capture. So the “naval battle” never really took place. Panther still fired thirty shots to finish her off before sailing away. Firmin’s revolution failed and went into exile in Saint Thomas whereas Killick became a national hero.

Crete a Pierot before the duel

SMS Panther in 1901

After 1912-1915 the Haitian Navy ceased to exist. Crews were disbanded. The ships in any case never had been properly maintained from entry into service and were inoperable. Two auxiliary schooners were purchased as the only means to patrol local waters. No data on their caracteristics and armaments, thet were likely privately owned.

The First Coast Guard 1937-70

The Haitian Coast Guard was formed in the late 1930s, 20 years after the Haitian Navy was disbanded. It received at first two small picket boats and the 161-ton converted yacht schooner Sans Souci, former “Captain James Taylor”. From 1942 onwards a number of ex-US Coast Guard vessels were transferred under US supervision. List provided below. In addition to six 83-foot cutters, were three 121-ton SC-class submarine chasers (Toussaint L’Ouverture, 16 Aout 1946, Amiral Killick) transferred in 1947 and the 47-ton cutter Savannah, light transport Vertières.
In 1948, a US Naval Mission arrived in Haiti and the transport Vertières (sunk in 1951) was replaced by the Artibonite, and LCT previously wrecked on the Haitian coast and salvaged by the US.
Admiral Killick was stricken in 1954, replaced a buoy tender in 1955 (same name). In 1956 the 100-ton coast cutter La Crête-à-Pierrot became a major acquisition, with rhe two remaining submarine chasers from WW2 stricken in 1960. The ex-US Navy netlayer USS Tonawanda (Jean-Jacques Dessalines) was first acquired under a five-year loan, extended to 17-year lease.
Maintenance and training was organized by US officers.

The Cold war up to this day

On April 21, 1970, La Crête-à-Pierrot, Vertières, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines mutinied, shelled the Presidential Palace at Port-au-Prince, attacked by Haitian loyalist fighters, they fled and took refuge in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, dusarmed by US authorities. Rhey were trasferred to Puerto Rico and back to Haiti as the situation stabilized under Pdr. Duvalier. The latter declared the coast guard was again the “Haitian Navy” and in 1973, her attempted to expand it by purchasing 24 Fast attacj craft (Torpedo) moslty ex-WW2 PT boats, but this was never realized.
In 1976, five small patrol craft were purchased instead from Sewart Seacraft of Berwick in Louisiana. They replaced the ships stricken. Only fleet tug in service was the USS Samoset, a Sotoyomo-class tugboat renamed Henri Christophe.

Again, the unfavourable political situation in the 1970-80s caused such neglect that the vessels were all inoperable and by 1977, all discarded. Those that still existed in the 1980s were handed over to the Haitian Coast Guard after the disbandment of the military.
Apart four small patrol boats discarded in the 1990s, the Coast Guard was left with little or no asset to prevent arms smuggling, protect fisheries, or prevent drug trafficking.
In 1997 the remnants of the Haitian Navy went into the “Coast Guard”, part of the Haitian National Police, maintained with extensive US support from Coast Guard. By 2004, $4.6 million were spent to train Haitian personnel as well as restoring the Coast Guard base Port-au-Prince only base.
In 2000, the Coast Guard boasted 40 personnel, four “Boston Whaler” since 1996. They were refitted in Miami in 1999. In 2011 the personal amounted to 99 and then 150 by 2015 and 200 by 2019.
There was a full remobilization of the “Haitian Navy” (as renamed) by President Jovenel Moïse, to purchase vessels from Russia, China, and South Korea in 2022, a large re-equipment plan.
However again, without proper finances this was never done. Instead, the current coast guard comprises eight small patrol vessels (see the list below).

Early Warships of the Haitian navy

1804 (1875)

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This iron gunboat built in britain displaced 600t, measured 44.20 x 8.84 x 3.05 m and had a single shaft 100 nhp coumpound team engine for 12 knots, one funnel, six 4-in Armstrong BL, Rifled guns, but originally she had a single 10-inches (250 mm) MLR (Muzzle Loading, Rifled) heavy gun. She was discarded after 1912. Before this in the 1890s her 254mm/15 gunw as removed.

22 Décembre (1860)

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This 900t one funnel ships was launched in 1860 originally and armed with four 4.7 inches 40 pdr Armstrong of 121mm/22 BLR. She measured 63.4 x 9.14 x 4.88 m and had a single shaft compound engine rated for 360 hp and 9 knots. Like her sister 1805 she had no armour and was retired after 1912.

Saint Michel (1875)

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This 850t gunboat with one funnel, three masts, was armed with a single 11-inches (280 mm)/12 MLR and 4-in/22 Armstrong 25 pdr BLR, converted from the original steamer Jacmel.

Dessalines (1883)

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Dessalines was the ex-Ethel, built in Hillman, Camden, Philadelphia USA, as a brig-rigged corvette with one funnel, former fruit steamer, launched in July 1883 and completed at the end of the year.
She displaced 1200t FL, measured 56.4m long for a beam of 9.75m and draught of 4.50 mean. One shaft conmpound 760 hp, 16 kts. She was armed with a mixbag of one US 107mm/29 30pdr Parrot MLR, one French 100mm/26 Canet M1881, and two German 87mm/22 Krupp RK L/24 C/82. She was stricken in 1915.

Toussaint Louverture (1886)

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A french built steel-hulled, brig-rigged gunboat with a flush deck and one funnel in Normand, Le Havre, launched 1886, comp. 1886. She measured 50m pp x 7.49 x 3.25 m max for 500t, had a single VC steam engine with 2 cylindrical boilers for 790 hp, 13 kts, 120t of coal, 3000 nm endurance at 10 knots. She was armed with a single 165mm/28 Canet M1881, and two 120mm/27 Canet M1878 guns. She was discarded in 1915.

Capois la Mort (1893)

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Two French built gunboats, ordered in 1891, Capois La Mort and Alexander Pétion at F C de la Méditerranée, Graville, France both launched in 1893 and completed the dame year. These were Steel-hulled boats with two pole masts, one funnel, a ram bow and a raised forecastle. Displacement was 256t
for 45 x 6.15 x 2.06 meters, 2 VCE engines for 680 hp, 14 kts, and armed with a single 100mm/50 Canet M1889, and four 37mm/20 Hotchkiss guns. Both discarded 1915.

Crête a Pierot (1895)

Conway’s rendition of Crete a Pierot in 1896.
A British built vessel at Earle, Hull, launched 1895, completed the same year. Dimensions unknown but she was rated as 950t, being a steel-hulled gunvessel resembling a scaled down protected cruiser with a VTE engine for 16 knots; she was armed with one 165mm/45 Canet forward, and one 120mm/45 Canet aft plus, four 100mm/45 Canet guns in sponsons on the lower deck. She was the only one to see action, famously sunk on 7.9.1902 after being badly mauled by the German gunboat panther and scuttled (blew up) to avoid capture.

Ferrier (1891)

The Cruiser Umbria, launched 1891 at Livorno Yard was sold in December 1910 to Haiti but and on her passage to America she foundered because of her inexperienced crew. Thus she was in service only for a few days. See the Umbria class for more.

La Liberté (1910)

A Merchant vessel (Earl King) bought in 1910 and converted to gunboat. She had an amidship belt was 25mm-thick, measured 60.9 x 8 x 4.30m for 500t, 12 knots, coal running, armed with one 57mm/40 Hotchkiss, two 47mm/40 Hotchkiss, and two 37mm/20 Hotchkiss. Apparently she was so badly mismanaged as to be stricken in 1912, two years after entering service. SS Earl King was modified into a gunboat in 1911 during the Revolution in Haiti. While in the port of Port-au-Prince she suffered an explosion. Only 23 crew members survived. She was declared a total loss.

The transport Vertierres behind the private yacht “pacifique” in Port aux Princes (cropped). src

The cold war Haitian navy

PC 453, “16 Aout”
After 1915, the Haitian Navy virtually ceased to exist. In WW2 records there is not a single entry for it, its coastal defence was ensured by the USN.
Postwar, the Navy started to be reconstituted from a bunch of WW2 vessels. Here is the list:
-6x Former USCG 83ft class boats. Commissioned already in 1942 (to avoid the country being used as an U-Boat base).
-“Savannah”: Former USCG Cutter GC1 Savannah (ex-CG56200), transferred 1944.
-“16 aout”: Former 1941 USN experimental prototype PC/SC453 submarine chaser: Transferred 1947.
-“Jean Jacques Dessalines”: Ex-Tonawanda, Former USN Cohoes class net tender, loaned to Haiti in 1960.
-2x LA CRÊTE-Á-PIERROT class patrol craft (her and Vertières), Former USCG ‘Cape’ class steel cutters transferred in 1956 and 1960.
———-All discarded 1977————–

Haitian Coast Guard:

-3x MH21-23 Jean Claude Duvalier class Patrol Boats: Former US 65ft Commercial Cruiser class transferred 1976. Discarded 1990-92.
-Henri Christophe (ex-Samoset, Sotoyomo) class auxiliary ocean tug, patrol vessel. Discarded 1993.
-4x US Dauntless 40 class, 4 purchased with US financial help. Built at SeaArk, Monticello as GC4004-4008. These 11t boats are powered by two Cummins QSB5-9 diesels at 26 knots, 260 nm range, armed with small arms and using a commercial nav radar. Extant 2023.
-3x 3812-VCF-class patrol boat 15 tons patrol boats. Extant 2023.

Read More/Src


The Sinking of a Haitian Gunboat”. The Times. No. 36868. London. 9 September 1902. col A, p. 3.
Neal, William George, ed. (1 December 1895). “Armed Cruiser for the Haytian Government”. The Marine Engineer. XXII: 355. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
Hesketh-Prichard, Hesketh Vernon (15 October 2012). Where Black Rules White: A Journey Through and About Hayti. Wermod and Wermod Publishing Group. pp. 77–84. ISBN 9780956183583.
Dubois, Laurent (3 January 2012). Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. Macmillan. ISBN 9780805095623.
Smith, Matthew (20 October 2014). Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica after Emancipation. UNC Press Books. ISBN 9781469617985.
Haiti: A Slave Revolution: 200 years after 1804. International Action Center. September 2004. ISBN 978-0974752105. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
“Killick Went Down with His Warship” (PDF). The New York Times. 11 September 1902. Retrieved 3 February 2015.

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