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T2, R2, Prng 68: American Heavy Frigate vs Venetian Heavy Frigate

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  • T2, R2, Prng 68: American Heavy Frigate vs Venetian Heavy 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.

    40: American Heavy Frigate 1801-1860

    From about the mid 1780's, Barbary pirates were beginning to become a more serious threat to American merchant ships trading through the Mediterranean area and the situation only grew worse. For example, in 1793 no less than 11 American ships had been captured; with both their crews and their stores being held for ransom. This was simply intolerable. In the short term, stronger escorts allocated from existing resources would have to suffice but with the Naval Act of 1794, the building of more suitable warships was given a much higher priority. The act provided for funding to construct six new, very powerful heavy frigates. These were intended also to be able to fill the role of capital ships for a while, if need be; for this very young nation that had as yet insufficient resources to compete in the building of 3-decker ships of the line.

    In particular, the designs of Joshua Humphreys came to the fore. His solution was to build larger, longer-hulled frigates. This called for stronger scantlings; a term that essentially refers to the key parts of the structural framework in a wooden-hulled ship. Humphreys' solution called for substantially greater diagonal bracing to the hull framework, thus permitting the required increase in hull length combined with a greatly reduced tendency to "hog" or "sag". These new and very powerful frigates employed a single main gun deck, with provision for additional armament on a quarterdeck and/or spar deck.

    The final outcome - and proof of Humphreys' exceptionally good work - was six extremely powerful, well designed and highly efficient heavy frigates. Indeed, IMO a case could be made that these were the best and most formidable frigates produced by any nation during the age of sail up to this time. Certainly, some previous "heavy frigates" with a full two-decker configuration had been as well armed or even somewhat more so. However, none had been able to combine so effectively or to such a well-balanced degree the attributes of gun-power, speed, maneuverability, good handling characteristics and structural strength. In short, the Humphreys frigates set a new and substantially higher design standard.

    The first of the new frigates was United States, launched in May 1797. She displaced about 1,500 tons and her armament changed somewhat over time. She was initially rated for 44 guns but always carried more. During the war of 1812, the usual 56-gun mix was 32 x 24pdr long guns and 24 x 42pdr carronades. Her complement varied between about 400 and 600 Naval officers and men, plus 50 marines.

    United States' first duties were protecting American merchant shipping during the Quasi-War with France. She took part in a number of actions, including one in February 1799 in which she pursued and sank the French schooner L'Amour de la Patrie, taking the survivors prisoner. The following month, south-east of Antigua, she intercepted and captured the French privateer La Tartueffe, at the same time liberating the American ship Vermont which the French had previously taken.
    United States continued to serve her country in numerous engagements and missions until well into the 1840's, after which she was used only intermittently before her final assessment in 1864, being broken up the following year.

    Drawing of United States

    HFrigate United States 1797 p25 onv79.jpg

    Our second and final example is the famous USS Constitution, launched in October 1797. She was the third Humphreys frigate to be be completed and in common with her sister-ship United States, displaced about 1,500 tons. Her armament varied a fair bit but a typical mix was:
    • 30 x 24pdr long guns,
    • 20 x 32pdr carronades
    • 2 x 24pdr long guns as bow chasers
    The size of her crew varied somewhat but usually was about 450, which included 55 marines and 30 boys. Constitution had a very long and highly successful career, serving the nation of her birth extremely well indeed. Earlier conflicts she participated in included the Quasi-War, the First Barbary War and the War of 1812.

    The catalog of Constitution's exploits is very impressive but for now, I have chosen her battle with the British frigate HMS Guerriere in August 1812. This took place in the Atlantic Ocean, about 400 miles south-east of Halifax, Nova Scotia. At the time, Contitution's captain was Isaac Hull and the captain of Guerrierre was James Dacres. Guerriere was in fact a captured French frigate now in British service. She was not as heavily armed as Constitution, carrying 49 guns at the time; mostly of smaller caliber as follows:
    • 16 x 32pdr carronades
    • 1 x 18pdr carronade,
    • 30 x 18pdr guns
    • 2 x 12 pdr guns
    Nevertheless, she was still a quite potent warship in good order and capable of putting up a decent fight.

    USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere - The Battle

    At the time, conditions were cloudy and there was a brisk wind. Captains and crews of the two ships recognized each other as enemies at about the same time. Both had time to make the necessary preparations for battle and both began firing at relatively close range.
    After about 15 minutes, it was apparent that Guerriere had got much the worst of the exchange; mainly on account of her lighter guns and less robust timbers. Within a few more minutes, her mizzen mast had fallen overboard but was still attached to the ship, so it created drag in the water and began to turn Guerriere like a rudder. Hull took advantage, as this allowed Constitution to rake Guerriere, bringing down the British ship's main yard. The American captain then attempted to exploit the situation further still but maneuvered a bit too close, causing Guerriere's bowsprit to become entangled in Constitution's mizzen rigging.

    By this stage, both captains had boarding parties ready for action and musket fire was already intensifying. Casualties were beginning to increase quite heavily. The only path between the two ships was Guerriere's jammed bowsprit but in the heavy sea conditions, it was moving too much. However, at the same time the two ships were slowly rotating around in the water and after a while, the bowsprit broke free. Then, quite suddenly Guerriere's foremast and mainmast both snapped off near deck level. Dacres attempted to set sail on the bowsprit but it was too badly damaged and it broke.
    During this time, the Crew of Constitution had also been hastily repairing some damages before turning again towards Guerriere. Just as action was about to re-commence, the crew of Guerriere fired a shot in the opposite direction (away from the American ship). This was taken as an indication of surrender, which turned out to be the case.
    When Captain Dacres made to surrender his sword to Hull, the American Captain refused, saying that he would not take it from an opponent who had fought so gallantly.

    Image from a painting showing Constitution's battle with Guerriere

    HFrigate Constitution vs Guerriere 1.jpg

    Our third image shows most of one side of the main gun-deck on a Humphreys heavy frigate. However, the general arrangement would be similar for many other large sailing warships of the period.

    Humphreys frigate gun deck p27 onv79.jpg

    96: Venetian Heavy Frigate 1701-1797

    The Venetian Navy was an armed force in its own right until 1797, when an invasion by French troops under Napoleon effectively meant the end of Venice as an independent state.

    Here, we'll take a look at a classic example of a Venetian heavy frigate (2-decker) which arguably represents the most useful of their larger warship types during this period. Some sailing warships straddled the boundary between being a frigate and a small ship of the line. Generally, these were 2-deckers and when designed for or employed within the frigate role, they are sometimes referred to as "heavy frigates"*.
    (*It should be noted that this term is also applied to the exceptionally large single-deck frigates that began to be built and deployed from the end of the 18th century; the classic example being USS Constitution. )

    Our example for Venice is the heavy frigate Fama, launched in 1784.
    Fama was the flagship of Venice's last great Admiral, Angelo Emo, who was notable for his dedicated campaign of hunting down and destroying Barbary pirate ships, as well as leading a Venetian flotilla in the siege of Tunis in 1785. Although not able to capture Tunis, Emo managed to force the Bey (Barbary leader of Tunis) to accept terms favorable not only to Venice but also of benefit to other countries that had been suffering from Barbary predations. Not least among these was France and King Louis XVI became a firm friend of Venice, expressing sincere thanks and gratitude to Emo for the Venetian effort.

    Fama was the name ship for her class, of which 6 were completed. She was rated for 66 guns but usually carried 70 as follows:
    26 x 26.5pdr; 26 x 20pdr; 14 x 9pdr; additional 4 x 9pdr (two each as stern and bow chasers)

    In addition to this very effective armament, Fama was widely recognized as one of the fastest and best handling sailing warships of her size and type ever built. She served with exceptional distinction mostly within the Mediterranean region; and was particularly well suited to protecting convoys and hunting down pirates. Depending on availability of manpower, Fama's crew varied between 450 and 500 officers and men.

    Painting of Fama

    HFrig Fama 1784 painting.jpg

    Drawings of Fama

    HFrig Fama 1784 drwng hull side + top deck.jpg

    Rear half of model showing some of Fama's internal structure.

    HFrig Fama 1784 mdl hull rear int.jpg

    OK, so what did you decide?
    Are the American heavy frigates most deserving of your vote?
    Or do you think it should go to the Venetian heavies?

    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).
    40 - American Heavy Frigate
    96 - Venetian Heavy Frigate
    "England expects that every man will do his duty!" (English crew members had better get ready for a tough fight against the combined French and Spanish fleets because that's what England expects! However, Scotland, Wales and Ireland appear to expect nothing so the Scottish, Welsh and Irish crew members can relax below decks if they like!)

  • #2
    IMHO, the American Humphries frigates were the best and most potent in the entire age of sail.
    So, fine as these Venetian frigates were (for a 2-decker), I'm going American in this one.
    "England expects that every man will do his duty!" (English crew members had better get ready for a tough fight against the combined French and Spanish fleets because that's what England expects! However, Scotland, Wales and Ireland appear to expect nothing so the Scottish, Welsh and Irish crew members can relax below decks if they like!)


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