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T2, R3, Prng 86: Brit. Ship of the Line 1701-1800 vs Brit. Ship of the Line 1801-60

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  • T2, R3, Prng 86: Brit. Ship of the Line 1701-1800 vs Brit. Ship of the Line 1801-60

    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.

    61: British Ship of the Line 1701-1800

    Our first British example is HMS Yarmouth, launched in 1745.
    Yarmouth was a 64-gun 3rd-rate ship of the line, with two full gun decks. She displaced about 1,300 tons and had a crew of 480 officers and men. Yarmouth carried 26 x 32pdr guns on her lower deck and 26 x 18pdr on her upper. The additional armament was 9pdr guns on her forecastle and quarterdeck.

    Yarmouth had a successful career spanning more than 60 years; fighting in numerous wars and battles. Her many distinctions include honours and awards in the Second Battle of Cape Finisterre, 1747; the Seven Years' War, 1756-63; the American Revolutionary War, 1775-83 and the Battle of the Saintes, 1782.

    One of Yarmouth's more notable actions was against the American frigate USS Randolph (36 guns) and some smaller American warships, during the American Revolutionary War.
    In February 1778, Randolph - commanded by Captain Nicholas Biddle and accompanied by four smaller American armed ships - was under orders to break the British blockade of Charleston, South Carolina. However, upon sailing out to meet the enemy, no British ships were in sight at that time; so they set sail for the West Indies to raid British commerce. Through late February and into early March, they attacked and overcame a small number of British vessels.
    Things came to a head when lookouts spotted a large warship near Barbados. One account states that Biddle correctly identified the size and type before it came within fighting range; being a ship of the line and an enemy vessel. It was HMS Yarmouth (a 2-decker of 64 guns), commanded by Captain Nicholas Vincent. Another account has Biddle unsure of the exact type of ship until it was close enough to engage. Given that the engagement itself occurred after dark, this seems quite possible.
    In either case, Biddle decided to keep the strongest of the smaller American warships - the 20-gun General Moultrie - with him for much needed support and ordered the others to make good their escape.

    Following some initial maneuvers, the two American ships raised their flags at about 9:00pm and opened fire on Yarmouth. The British ship returned fire and both sides engaged intensively for about 20 minutes. In this initial exchange, Biddle was wounded but continued with the fight. (It is thought that the gunfire he was wounded by actually came from a mistaken volley fired by the General Moultrie.) Randolph in particular, had engaged Yarmouth more closely; and for a while at least the Americans seemed to be holding their own against the British ship, which had also sustained some significant damage.
    However, soon there was an unexpected titanic explosion aboard Randolph, thought to have been sparked in her powder magazine. This effectively ended the fight and the General Moultrie made good her escape. Yarmouth attempted pursuit but due to her extensive damages - much of which had been caused by falling debris from the exploding Randolph - she had to abandon the chase.

    Yarmouth (left) vs Randolph, March 1778, near Barbados

    SoL Yarmouth 1745 vs Randolph p22-23 onv161.jpg

    Our second British example is HMS Bellona, launched in 1760.
    Bellona had a crew of 650 officers and men. She displaced about 1,600 tons and was also a 2-decker, rated for a nominal 74 guns. The usual distribution of her armament was:
    • Lower gundeck - 28 x 32pdr
    • Upper gundeck - 28 x 18pdr
    • Forecastle - 4 x 9pdr
    • Quarterdeck - 14 x 9pdr
    Bellona was effectively a "prototype" for what was to become a very standard and classic British 74-gun 3rd rate ship of the line. With minor variations, more than 40 examples of this basic design were built.
    Bellona saw good service, with some breaks, over a period or more than 50 years until 1814, when she was finally broken up.

    The "brand new" Bellona, performing blockade duty off Brest, April 1760 during the Seven Years' War

    SoL Bellona 1760 blockade duty off Brest by Geoff Hunt.jpg

    For our third British ship of the line, we have HMS Barfleur, launched in 1768. Barfleur was a full 3-decker 2nd-rate of 90 guns nominal. This was usually 98 guns in practice. She displaced about 1,900 tons and had a crew of 750 officers and men. A typical armament composition with 98 guns was:
    • Lower gundeck - 28 x 32pdr
    • Middle gundeck - 30 x 18pdr
    • Upper gundeck - 30 x 12pdr
    • Forecastle - 2 x 9pdr
    • Quarterdeck - 8 x 12 pdr
    Barfleur had a very distinguished career through to the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, spending her last few years "in ordinary" until being broken up in 1819. Her service included action in the following:
    Battle of the Chesapeake; Battle of St. Kitts; Battle of the Saintes; Battle of the Mona Passage; Glorious First of June; Battle of Groix; Battle of Cape St Vincent and Battle of Cape Finisterre.

    Barfleur at the Battle of the Saintes, 1782, off Dominica in the West Indies.
    This painting shows the surrender of the French flagship Ville de Paris and with it, the final capituation of what was left of the French fleet.
    Ville de Paris is close to the right, with Barfleur to her left.

    SoL Barfleur 1768 batt Saintes 1782 surrender Ville de Paris v2.jpg

    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, a strong argument can be made that Britain's navy was equal to or better than that of any other major naval power. This proposition can 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

    Time to consider your verdict for these British ships of the line:
    Will it be the 1701-1800 group? Or 1801-1860?

    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).
    61 - British Ship of the Line 1701-1800
    66 - British Ship of the Line 1801-1860
    Last edited by panther3485; 10 Nov 18, 22:22.
    "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
    I could just as easily have voted for either of these options. In the end, I went for 1701-1800 because I see this as the critical period when the foundations for British naval supremacy began to be indisputably evident.
    British ships of the line arguably reached the height of their effectiveness during the second half of the 18th century (1751-1800) and the early decades of the 19th (1801-1830). However, the trend towards this position arguably began some time during the first half of the 18th century (1701-1750) if not a little earlier.
    Compared to those of the other major navies, British ships of the line were not always the most powerful nor always of the very best build quality; however, they were almost invariably of sufficiently good build quality and generally at least competitive in fighting power.
    However, this IMO was not the most decisive factor in the comparison with other navies. Based on my reading, it seems that the Royal Navy was the best trained and best organized of any of the major naval forces in the World, for most if not all of the time covered by these two periods.

    The fighting effectiveness of a ship is the combination of its physical attributes - including of course its armament; the morale, training and efficiency of its crew and the quality of leadership.
    Those factors are further enhanced and can even be multiplied by the overall quality of senior leadership in larger fleet actions.
    In these key aspects, the Royal Navy often out-performed its major opponents during the period in question here.
    Last edited by panther3485; 14 Nov 18, 10:04.
    "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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