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T2, R2, Prng 67: American Frigate vs British Frigate

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  • panther3485
    I'm giving the British frigate a very slight edge here against "regular" American frigates but if pitted against a Humphries frigate (which is a separate candidate in these polls) I would go the opposite way with no hesitation.

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  • panther3485
    Originally posted by panther3485 View Post

    From my reading so far, my understanding is that the frigate as such (I mean, designed so from the beginning - not cut down from a larger ship) was initially a French development. If that's correct, then my guess would be that the British razees may have been an initial response to get something similar into service quickly; until they could build proper frigates of their own from scratch.
    I was not correct in my supposition regarding the first point. Both the French and the British were razeeing larger ships before the first true frigates appeared. However, I've crammed so much reading into the last several months, I've decided not to punish myself too severely for that.

    However, it looks as if I did manage to get the rest of it right; that is, regarding the frigate proper being a French initiative:
    "Like the 74-gun ship of the line, the frigate was one of many French maritime developments of the 1730's and 1740's. Medee, built for the Marine Nationale and commissioned in 1741, is widely regarded as the first true sailing frigate."
    Page 14, British Frigate vs French Frigate 1793-1814, Mark Lardas, Osprey, 2013.

    However, on reading further through this book and other sources, it seems that the British had overtaken the French by the end of that century. Another short extract from the same source, page 22:

    "British shipwrights were designing and building the finest frigates in the World by 1800 ... "
    However, the author does add that the American Humphrey's frigates, which were coming into service around this time, were arguably at least on par. My thinking is that some authors would consider the Joshua Humphreys designs (as exemplified by USS Constitution) to be at least par and probably better. IMO, the Humphreys frigates do stand out and that's why I've made them a separate candidate in their own right, in this tournament. (#40 - American Heavy Frigate.)
    Last edited by panther3485; 26 Oct 18, 23:54.

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  • panther3485
    Originally posted by Jose50 View Post
    If I recall, the frigate was initially "invented" by the Brits when they 'razeed' or cut down some of their high fore and sterncastle ships to make them faster and more maneuverable.
    From my reading so far, my understanding is that the frigate as such (I mean, designed so from the beginning - not cut down from a larger ship) was initially a French development. If that's correct, then my guess would be that the British razees may have been an initial response to get something similar into service quickly; until they could build proper frigates of their own from scratch.

    Leave a comment:

  • Jose50
    If I recall, the frigate was initially "invented" by the Brits when they 'razeed' or cut down some of their high fore and sterncastle ships to make them faster and more maneuverable.

    Leave a comment:

    The classic combat- perhaps from a British point of view- was the dual between HMS Shannon (Leda Class) and USS Chesapeake.

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  • Merkava188
    I remember during the War of 1812 the British Admiralty issued orders that now british frigate was to engage the American frigates 1 on 1. I also remember Nelson making a remark about the American frigates after seeing at Gibraltar saying " I see a great deal of trouble in these ships." I wonder how he would've faired if he'd lived past the Battle of Trafalgar.

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  • T2, R2, Prng 67: American Frigate vs British Frigate

    39 - American Frigate
    65 - British Frigate

    In your opinion, which of these two warship types was most significant, influential and/or effective?
    Feel free to apply those criteria as you please, along with any others you think appropriate.
    Note: Suggestions for some additional criteria are at the foot of this post.

    According to the criteria as you see and apply them, please vote for your preferred candidate in the attached poll.
    If your chosen criteria are significantly different from those suggested, telling us what they are and why you used them would be helpful.

    39: American Frigate 1801-1860

    For our first example, we have USS Boston, launched in 1799 as the third American ship to bear this name. She was built through public subscription and carried a nominal* main armament of 32 guns.
    (*Note: At this point, I should mention that the nominal armament was not always an accurate reflection of what was carried in service. Rather, it was the intended level set by the designers of the ship; generally laid down as part of the original specifications. Over the service life of warships such as these, there could be numerous variations and adjustments to the number and indeed, precise types of main guns fitted.)
    Boston was at the smaller end of the range for a frigate, displacing not much more than about 400 tons. Her 32-gun armament comprised 24 x 12pdr and 8 x 9pdr. She carried a complement of 220 officers and men.

    Boston served both in the Quasi-War (1798-1800) against France and the early part of the First Barbary War (1801-05), in alliance with Sweden and Sicily against the Barbary States of North Africa. Towards the end of the former conflict, Boston had engaged and captured the French corvette Berceau.
    In 1802, she was laid up for extensive repairs/refurbishment but this work does not appear to have been completed.
    Nevertheless, during the War of 1812 (1812-15) against the British, Boston was burned to prevent her from falling into enemy hands.

    Drawing of the frigate Boston


    Our second American frigate is USS Essex (1799), the first ship so named.
    Essex was originally rated to carry between 32 and 36 guns but is known to have carried up to 46 much of the time. A major contributing factor making this increase possible was the fact that most of these guns were carronades*, rather than the standard cannon or "long guns".
    (*Note: Carronades had shorter barrels with larger bores and the weapons themselves weighed substantially less than the long guns originally planned. However, in battle the main advantage of carronades was the much greater weight of shot they could fire, having a considerably larger bore. When they hit something, they were usually more destructive than the standard type of ship's gun. The significant disadvantage was the carronade's shorter range, which was a serious handicap against a warship with regular guns until the range of engagement was closed to a suitable distance. For this reason, many warships of the period carried a combination of both types of weapon, in varying ratios.)

    Essex displaced about 850 tons and her usual mix of guns was 40 x 32pdr carronades plus 6 x 12pdr long guns. Her crew was 315 officers and enlisted men. She participated in the Quasi-War, the First Barbary War and the War of 1812. It was during the last of these conflicts that she arguably made the biggest impression. She began in July 1812 by capturing a British transport ship near Bermuda and in the following month, engaged and captured the British sloop HMS Alert (originally a collier named Oxford), which remained in American service until 1829. Essex continued attacking merchant ships and by the time of return to New York in September, had captured no less than 10 prizes.
    Incidentally, at this time the youngest member of Essex's crew was a 10-year-old midshipman named David Farragut, who would later become the very first Admiral of the US Navy.

    Essex was the terror of British whaling ships, capturing at least 13 of them. However, a streak of good fortune does not last forever and she ran into some real trouble in 1814. This occurred when Essex was penned into neutral waters near Valparaiso, Chile. Keeping her "bottled up" there for no less than six weeks were two British warships; the Frigate HMS Phoebe and the Sloop-of-War HMS Cherub. Essex's captain, David Porter, eventually decided that coming out and fighting was a better option than waiting for more British warships to arrive! Accordingly, he engaged the enemy ships and fought them vigorously for about 2-1/2 hours.
    Quite apart from the 2-to-1 odds, a major disadvantage for Essex was that her main armament was almost all carronades, compared to the British ships mostly equipped with regular long guns. The British captains were well aware of this and cannily did all they could to keep the range in their favor. Their vessels could equal or exceed Essex's speed and maneuverability, so with skilled crews on both sides the outcome was all but a foregone conclusion. Eventually, Porter had no reasonable alternative but to surrender.

    A nicely finished model of Essex


    Our third example is USS Constellation, launched in 1797. Constellation had a nominal main armament of 38 guns but in practice, often carried as many as 48.
    Her balance of weapons was more even than that normally carried by Essex and typically consisted of 28 long guns + 20 carronades.
    Constellation took part in the Quasi-War, First Barbary War, War of 1812 and the Second Barbary War (1815). She performed well in all of these conflicts.
    Among her most notable achievements was the surrender of the French Frigate L'Insurgente during the Quasi-War (see below) and a brilliant defense against British forces in the War of 1812. Constellation continued to serve her country very well and one of her last significant actions took place in 1843, where her presence at the Hawaiian Islands helped to prevent them from becoming a British protectorate. She was finally disassembled in 1853.

    The image below depicts a moment during the fight between Constellation and L'Insurgente during the Quasi-War, near the island of Nevis in the Caribbean, 9 February 1799. The French captain assessed the somewhat larger American frigate as being more powerful than his own and in any case, his mission was commerce raiding and it was probably his brief to avoid entanglements with enemy warships as far as possible. He was also aware that his lighter frigate was very fast and reckoned on being able to make good his getaway. He was incorrect in this assumption.
    Initially, Constellation's captain - at this time, Thomas Truxton - was not sure of the identity of the ship he was approaching. Contrary to the hopes of the French captain, he gradually closed the range until he was close enough to signal. Upon receiving no answer, he proceeded to chase down and prepare for battle. While doing so, he attempted again to signal the other ship and still got no answer.
    A brief squall and rainstorm then brewed up, forcing both ships to partially reef sail (reduce their sail area).

    When the squall passed, the chase resumed with full gusto. In the course of all this, the heavier top-weight of Constellation's guns and her excessive heeling (angle of lean in the wind) had compelled her to yield the weather gage to the French ship. For those unsure about what this means, here is a direct quote from the wiki article:
    "The weather gage (sometimes spelled weather gauge) is the advantageous position of a fighting sailing vessel relative to another. It is also known as "nautical gauge" as it is related to the sea shore. ... A ship at sea is said to possess the weather gage if it is in any position upwind of the other vessel."

    However, in the meantime the combination of wind strength and vigorous maneuvering had caused the top of L'Insurgente's mainmast to snap off, severely slowing her progress and speeding up the onset of the inevitable clash. By this stage of course, there was no further point in trying to conceal her nationality so the French captain had the Tricolor defiantly hoisted on his foremast. The Americans focused most of their fire on the hull of their enemy, while the French were aiming mainly at the sails, masts and rigging of the American ship, seeking to cripple her mobility.
    Nevertheless, with desperate maneuvering and circling, and exchanges of broadsides to both port and starboard, Constellation's heavier firepower had been devastating to L'Insurgente, slaughtering many of her crew. The Americans were than able to maneuver across the bow of the French, delivering an even more devastating rake down her full length. The French, who had fought with such desperate bravery, finally struck their colors and it was all over. For Constellation and its crew this event was very significant, being the first major victory of an American designed and built warship at sea.

    Constellation (left) fighting the French frigate L'Insurgente


    65: British Frigate 1801-1860

    First in our trio of British frigates is HMS Euryalus, launched in 1803 to carry a main armament rated at 36 guns but in practice she usually carried 40; a typical mix being 26 long guns and 14 carronades.
    Euryalus served at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805, in the early part of the Napoleonic Wars) and in the War of 1812.
    However, in the former she was too small to participate in the main part of the battle. Nevertheless, following the death of Admiral Nelson, Admiral Collingwood - who was now in overall command - transferred the flag from his badly damaged ship of the line Royal Sovereign, to Euryalus; effectively making her the fleet's flagship.

    She rendered good service in the War of 1812; most notably when fighting American shore batteries. While these actions did not - as a whole - yield conclusive results, as an individual ship Euryalus had performed well and managed to come through it all with relatively light casualties among her crew.
    One interesting aspect of her service in this conflict was a challenge by her commander at the time - Charles Napier - issued to Charles Gordon, captain of the American frigate Constellation, to a "duel" of single-ship combat. Gordon accepted the challenge. Given that both men were expert captains with well trained and experienced crews, although Constellation was a little larger and somewhat more powerfully armed, the outcome would have been interesting at the very least. However, the duel never took place because Euryalus was first required to conclude naval operations prior to the Battle of New Orleans, following which a peace agreement was signed. Shortly afterwards, Napier sent a letter to Charles Gordon, stating that he was glad of the peace but should the situation change, "we shall have the opportunity to become better acquainted".
    Make what you will of that!

    HMS Euryalus continued to serve as a first-line frigate for a number of years; participating in numerous small-scale actions and working as a convoy escort among other roles before being converted into a prison ship, being used as such from 1825.
    From 1845 she became a coal hulk for a year or two and for a while after that a convict ship. Finally in 1860, she was sold for break-up.

    Model of Euryalus

    Frigate Euryalus 1803 36gun model.jpg

    Our next British Frigate is HMS Seahorse (1794). Seahorse was rated for a main armament of 38 guns but usually carried at least 42. The typical mix was 28 x 18pdr long guns on the main deck + 14 x 32pdr carronades; 2 on the forecastle and the remaining 12 on the quarter deck.
    Seahorse served in the French Revolutionary Wars, some single-ship actions in the Mediterranean and the War of 1812. She was broken up in 1819. Although her career was not nearly as long as some other frigates of this period, she nevertheless distinguished herself well. She had numerous successes in battle, the account below telling of one such encounter:

    On 27 June 1798, in a one-on-one battle lasting less than 15 minutes, Captain Edward J. Foote commandingSeahorse fought and captured the French frigate Le Sensible (1788) near the coast of Sicily. Sensible was rated at 32 guns.
    Foote had decided that his best approach was to close the range as quickly as possible, with the aim of capturing the French ship as a prize, with the minimum amount of damage.
    Therefore, while exchanging fire with all available weapons, at the same time he deliberately brought Seahorse right up alongside his adversary, with the bow close in so that the bowsprit protruded over the deck of the enemy vessel. This facilitated rapid boarding of the French ship with a substantial number of his crew. The French crew put up vigorous and determined resistance but after some desperate hand-to-hand fighting, they capitulated.
    Sensible was subsequently pressed into service with the Royal Navy, serving mainly in the capacity of a troop ship. Almost four years later, in March 1802, she was lost when she grounded on a shoal due to a navigational error.

    Painting of Seahorse (nearest ship) fighting Le Sensible

    Frigate Seahorse 1794 38gun captures Le Sensible 1200px.jpg

    For our third British frigate I have chosen HMS Pomone, launched in January 1805. Pomone was rated for a main armament of 38 guns but usually carried 44, consisting of 28 18pdr long guns and 16 32pdr carronades.
    Her active service - during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) - commenced later in 1805 but was cut short when she became wrecked in October 1811.

    During this relatively brief period, however, Pomone proved to be very successful. For example in 1807, between April 21 and June 7, she captured or destroyed 21 French vessels.
    Events such as this were repeated numerous times over the next several years. One of the more impressive episodes occurred when Pomone - in company with the British frigate Unite and the sloop Scout, destroyed two enemy warships and a merchant vessel off the shore of Corsica, along with four enemy shore guns and a mortar as well as some army field pieces and a tower-mounted cannon.
    At the time there was a dead calm, with no wind whatsoever, so the British ships had used their own boats to tow them into position for the battle. As soon as the destruction of the enemy ships and installations became evident, the British ships were withdrawn the same way as quickly as possible. This was just as well, because both enemy warships exploded violently shortly afterwards.
    For the French, an additional loss was some large cargoes of timber and the effect of this was to slow ship building at Toulon for the better part of a year afterwards.
    Pomone's losses were 2 dead and 19 wounded. The other two British ships sustained six wounded between them.

    The Frigate Pomone

    Frigate Pomone 1805 38gun p21 duel52.jpg

    Which frigates for you?
    The American or the British ones?

    Suggested additional criteria you might wish to consider, along with any others you deem appropriate.
    (Note: Some of these could be considered already covered by Significant, Influential and Effective)

    Which warship type ...
    • was the best?
    • was the greatest?
    • was the most widely used?
    • had the greatest longevity in service?
    • was the most versatile?
    • represented the best value for the cost/effort invested ("bang for the buck" in today's language)?
    • was the easiest to operate?
    Any other criteria you have applied (please tell us what they were).
    Last edited by panther3485; 20 Oct 18, 23:37.

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