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T2, R2, Prng 75: British Ship of the Line vs French Ship of the Line

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  • T2, R2, Prng 75: British Ship of the Line vs French Ship of the Line

    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.

    66: British Ship of the Line 1801-1860

    From about the mid 17th to mid 19th centuries, the ultimate expression of Naval power was the "great ship" or - as it became better known - the ship of the line. One obvious measure of the power of any nation's navy was the number of such ships it had in service. Of course, this is by no means the only important consideration. A substantial number of "soft" factors; including for example, leadership quality, crew quality and training could make a critical difference.
    With regard to such factors, an argument can be made that even when Britain did not have the greatest number of ships of the line in service, nevertheless in overall qualitative terms by the second half of this period, her navy was equal to or better than that of any other single power. This proposition can arguably be supported by the performance of the Royal Navy in certain key battles; especially those against Britain's then most formidable opponent, France.

    Among the examples available, I would point in particular to the Battle of the Nile (1798) and the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), which helped to cement British naval supremacy - in the global context - for at least a century. Although the French were taken completely by surprise in the former, this was certainly not the case in the latter and in both battles it is possible to identify the very same key factors in leadership, training and general performance that helped to make British victory more complete.

    Special note: I mention these "soft" factors because we are allowed to include them in our deliberations on all of the ships in this tournament. It does not have to be merely a comparison between the hardware of each nation; although we are all free to take that approach if we wish. Use whatever criteria you deem reasonable. As a reminder, some suggestions are included at the head and foot of every poll.

    For our first example, I present HMS Superb, launched in 1798. Superb was a Pompee class ship of the line, displacing about 1,900 tons and rated for 74 guns (nominal). Her design was based on that of the French ship Pompee, which the British had captured in 1793. Generally speaking, French warships of this era were second to none for build quality and design efficiency. The British were not too proud to learn from them, as well as pressing captured French warships into service whenever they got the opportunity.

    Superb's typical mix of weapons was:
    • Main gun-deck - 28 x 32pdr
    • Upper gun-deck - 30 x 18pdr
    • Forecastle - 4 x 9pdr
    • Quarterdeck - 12 x 9pdr
    Superb fought in a considerable number of engagements, including the 2nd Battle of Algeciras Bay (near Gibraltar) 1801, the Battle of San Domingo 1806 and the Bombardment of Algiers 1816.
    In the Algeciras Bay battle, as part of a British squadron she was particularly lucky. With Captain Richard Keats in command, she started by destroying two very large (112 gun) Spanish ships of the line. The engagement occurred on a moonless night and when Superb fired at one of the pair, some of her shot passed over the deck and hit the other one. In the confusion and darkness, the two Spanish ships - each thinking the other was British - then proceeded to fight each other. After a while, they collided and their rigging became entangled. One of them caught fire and the conflagration spread, both ships being destroyed in the resulting explosion. Superb continued unscathed and shortly afterwards engaged a French 74-gun ship of the line, which eventually surrendered.
    (Was this a good night's work for Keats and his crew, or what?)

    Algeciras Bay 1801:
    Superb quietly slips away while the two Spanish ships destroy each other.


    Our second example is HMS Caledonia, launched in 1808. Caledonia was a 120 gun (nominal) 1st rate, displacing over 3,600 tons. A typical combination employing 122 guns was:
    • Lower gun-deck - 32 x 32pdr
    • Middle gun-deck - 34 x 24pdr
    • Upper gun-deck - 34 x 18pdr
    • Forecastle - 2 x 12pdr + 2 x 32pdr carronades
    • Quarterdeck - 6 x 12pdr + 10 x 32pdr carronades
    • Poop deck - 2 x 18pdr carronades
    Caledonia was Admiral Pellew's flagship in the Mediterranean and among her more important actions, in common with HMS Superb (above), was the Bombardment of Algiers in 1816.
    At the time of her entry to active service, she was the largest and most heavily armed warship in the Royal Navy. She sailed and handled surprisingly well for her size. To quote from records of the time:
    "This fine three-decker rides easy at her anchors, carries her lee ports well, rolls and pitches quite easy, generally carries her helm half a turn a-weather, steers, works and stays remarkably well, is a weatherly ship, and lies-to very close." She was "allowed by all hands to be faultless".

    In later years, Caledonia was to become a benchmark for British three-decker design. She acquitted herself well in all her duties and assignments, which included some work as a member of the Experimental Squadron of the Channel Fleet. Eventually, in 1856 she was converted into a hospital ship. She served in that and related roles until the early 1870s, being broken up in 1875.

    Caledonia in Plymouth Sound

    SoL Caledonia 1808 120gun 1rate in Plymouth Sound.jpg

    For our final British example, I don't think I could do justice to the topic without mentioning the service of HMS Victory, launched in 1765. Victory displaced about 3,500 tons and was rated for 104 guns (nominal). Her actual number and mix of guns varied quite a lot over her career. Since she is most famous of all for her service at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, I have shown her set-up at that time:
    • Lower gun deck - 30 x 32pdr
    • Middle gun deck - 28 x 24pdr
    • Upper gun deck - 30 x 12pdr
    • Forecastle - 2 x 12pdr + 2 x 68pdr carronades
    • Quarterdeck - 12 x 12pdr
    Victory's complement varied somewhat but was usually about 850 officers and men. Despite having been launched in 1765, there were some unusually lengthy delays to her active service proper, which did not commence until 1778. Nevertheless, before the turn of the century Victory rendered good service in a number of battles. These included the First Battle of Ushant 1778, the Second Battle of Ushant 1781, the Battle of Cape Spartel 1782 and the Battle of Cape St Vincent 1797.

    Without doubt however, the Battle of Trafalgar is widely regarded as Victory's "finest hour", as well as Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson's greatest triumph; albeit tinged with the sadness of his death. This is not the place to discuss it in detail but a link is provided. Suffice to say, it was one of the most important battles in the entire history of the age of sail and without doubt, the most decisive naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars. It also helped to cement and confirm Britain's status as the leading Naval power of the World; a position that lasted for at least a century thereafter.

    As for Victory herself, after a very long period of uncertainty she was eventually restored and is now a static "flagship" and museum ship.

    A very impressive painting showing a portion of the Battle of Trafalgar.
    Victory is just to the right of center. Most of the other ships near her can be identified.

    Battle of Trafalgar 1805 by W Stanfield 1200px.jpg

    75: French Ship of the Line 1801-1860

    As one of the leading maritime nations, France continued to develop and use sailing ships of the line well into the 1800's. Of course, with the advent of steam power for the propulsion of ships, significant changes were both imminent and inevitable for all of the World's navies.
    (If things go according to plan, we'll be taking a closer look at this in our next Warships tournament, T3, in 2019.)

    Our first Fench example is Friedland, launched in 1810. Friedland was a Bucentaure-class ship of the line, designed by Jacques-NoŽl Sanť. This was a generally successful class, of which 21 examples were built. As we might expect, they had very mixed fates; some lasting much longer in service than others and a few of them until the 1860's. Friedland was rated for 80 guns (nominal) but usually carried a few more. A typical 86-gun mix was as follows:
    • 30 x 36pdr
    • 32 x 24pdr
    • 18 x 12pdr
    • 6 x 36pdr howitzer
    Friedland was initially assigned to the Brest squadron but under the Treaty of Fontainbleau in 1814, she ended up being given to the Netherlands and the Dutch re-named her Vlaming. She was broken up in 1823.

    Image from a painting showing the launch of Friedland.
    Napoleon Bonaparte and Marie Louise, together with Jerome Bonaparte and Catharina of Wurttemberg were present to assist with the ceremony.

    SoL Friedland 1810 launching Van Bree 2.jpg

    For our second French example I have chosen Redoutable; a Temeraire class ship of the line, rated to carry 74 guns (nominal). This class was one of the most important in the entire history of warships; not only because the ships themselves were of consistently good quality; nor because they were arguably most representative or typical for their time. It is also because 120 of them (minus a handful unfinished) were built, which is more than any other single class since that system of classification began.
    When launched in 1791, her name was Suffren de Saint Tropez; the name change occurring in May 1794. Redoutable was quite a large ship, with a normal displacement of about 3,000 tons. She could exceed 5,000 tons when carrying the maximum load. A typical mix of 78 guns was:
    • Lower gundeck - 28 x 36pdr long guns
    • Upper gundeck - 30 x 18pdr long guns
    • Forecastle & Quarterdeck - 16 x 8pdr long guns + 4 x 36pdr carronades

    Among the battles and operations Redoutable took part in were Croisiere du Grand Hiver, the Battle of Groix and the Expedition d'Irlande. Following these and a number of other actions, Redoutable met her end fighting with incredible determination and tenacity at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

    At Trafalgar, the French flagship Bucentaure was left exposed when a gap opened in the French line. The captain of Redoutable, Jean Jacques Etienne Lucas, moved as quickly as he could in an attempt to cover the flagship. He tried in vain, to prevent the British ship HMS Victory breaching the French line and raking Bucentaure. However, Redoutable did succeed in hitting Victory with an intense volume of cannon and small-arms fire, which all but silenced her and resulted in Nelson's death. However, in the meantime another British ship - Temeraire (not to be confused with the French ship class of the same name) - had crossed Redoutable's stern and raked her. Temeraire then took up a position on the starboard side of Redoutable and continued heavy fire, taking the pressure off Victory, which was gradually recovering and returning some fire of her own. As the fight continued, Redoutable's crew suffered truly appalling casualties. Out of a complement of 643 officers and men, about 300 were dead and over 200 wounded. Lucas, who was now himself injured, became concerned most of all that if his already heavily damaged ship took much more punishment it might sink; taking his many wounded crewmen to their deaths. He had no choice but to strike.

    Sadly for some of his surviving crew, after the surrender when Redoutable was taken in tow by the British ship Swiftsure, she began to sink anyway. Swiftsure's crew deployed boats as quickly as possible but were not able to save everyone still on board. Of the entire French crew, altogether only 169 had made it alive on to Swiftsure.
    Lucas was received with great courtesy and after his release, was awarded the rank of Commander of the Legion of Honor by Napoleon.

    Image from a painting, showing part of the Battle of Trafalgar. Redoutable is at the centre, between Victory (left) and Temeraire (right).

    SoL Redoutable 1791 takes on Vic & Tem p35 duel9 1.jpg

    Our final French subject is Veteran, launched in 1803 and also of the Temeraire class. Her weights and dimensions were slightly greater than those of Redoutable, as was her armament. She too had started with a different name, being previously known as Quatorze Juillet until not long before her launch.
    In 1806 during the Atlantic Campaign, she cruised off the coast of Canada destroying merchantmen and skirmishing with British Royal Navy vessels. She eventually returned to France, managing to dodge a British blockade to enter the harbor of Concarneau on the north-western French coast. However, in reaching this safe haven she effectively found herself trapped and was unable to exit the harbor for years. She eventually managed to escape and reach Lorient but this harbor was also blockaded. Later, she escaped from that location as well, making it to Brest in 1812. After that, there is not much information but she seems to have remained relatively inactive. She was de-commissioned in 1833 and broken up in 1842.

    Image from a painting showing Veteran in Concarneau harbor

    SoL Veteran 1803 escapes to shallow waters Concarneau harbour Michel Bouquet.jpeg

    These contestants would arguably be among those representing the peak of warship development in the age of sail!
    But ... whose will you go for? The British or the French?

    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).
    66 - British Ship of the Line
    75 - French Ship of the Line
    Last edited by panther3485; 21 Oct 18, 05:36.
    "Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
    Vice Admiral Beatty to Flag Captain Chatfield; Battle of Jutland, 31 May - 1 June, 1916.

  • #2
    In terms of overall utility, nobody's ships of the line were their most useful types. However, certain pivotal battles were decided by that particular class and in this era without a doubt, none more so than the British IMO.
    So this was a relatively easy choice for me.
    "Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
    Vice Admiral Beatty to Flag Captain Chatfield; Battle of Jutland, 31 May - 1 June, 1916.


    • #3
      I see that, so far, I'm the only one who chose the French option.
      Qualitively,I think, there's little to choose between the two but, in battle, it was the British superiority in gunnery that made the difference.
      "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
      Samuel Johnson.


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