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T2, R3, Prng 87: French 2-Decker vs Spanish Ship of the Line

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  • T2, R3, Prng 87: French 2-Decker vs Spanish 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.

    72: French 2-Decker 1701-1800

    "Two-decker" sailing warships in the age of sail are generally regarded as those having two full decks of guns and in many cases they also had at least a few more guns - usually smaller ones - on quarter-decks, poop decks and forecastles (where these structures existed).
    By the mid-to-late 1700's two-deckers of sufficient size and gunpower could still, if need be, function as ships of the line and be designated as such but the larger ones generally no higher than 3rd rate, more commonly 4th; and medium-sized vessels - if so employed - 5th or 6th rate. Otherwise, they were often used for roles and duties similar or equivalent to a frigate.

    The French, in common with many of the other navies of this period had already been using two-deckers for at least a century (give or take a bit). They were considerably cheaper to build and operate, as well as being more versatile and useful overall than a 3-deck ship of the line. Eventually, we do see 2-deckers - as a type - beginning to lose favour in some navies as heavy frigates with a single main deck came into service. (More on this elsewhere in these polls.)

    Our first example is one of the smaller French 2-deckers, Louis Le Grand, from the early 1700's. She was rated to carry 50 guns (nominal).
    This fine model is in the Musee de la Marine, in Paris, and is 1/12 scale. Apparently, it dates back to that century. If so, it has been kept in remarkably good condition but of course, is likely to have been restored or repaired a number of times. Still impressive, though. The model itself is said to have been used to assist in the training of naval officer students in Rochefort.

    Model of Louis Le Grand in Paris

    2dckr Louis le Grand 1701 50gun 1.jpg

    Louis le Grand model, closer view from bow.
    The intricacy of the rigging is very well shown here.

    2dckr Louis le Grand 1701 50gun 2.jpg

    Our final example in this pairing is Neptune, launched in early 1778. She displaced 1,500 tonnes and was designed for a nominal armament of 74 guns; putting her definitely at the large end of the range for a 2-decker. As with many warships of her time she could carry a few extra guns and 78 was her usual total. With that number, her armament was distributed as follows:
    • Lower gundeck - 28 x 36pdr long guns
    • Upper gundeck - 30 x 24pdr long guns
    • Forecastle & quarterdeck - 16 x 8pdr long guns and 4 x 36pdr carronades
    Neptune got her career off to a good start almost immediately. In October 1778 under the command of Captain Latouche, she captured the 30-gun British privateer Hercules. In 1782, she was one of the ships in a squadron led by de Grasse at the Battle of the Saintes.

    The French lost the battle but the crew of Neptune had fought well enough, engaging both HMS Repulse and HMS Candia and surviving to fight in later battles. These included the Bataille du 13 prairial an 2 (better known as Glorious First of June) and Croisiere du Grand Hiver.

    When Neptune's end came, it was by accident. She ran aground and was destroyed in December 1794, with the loss of 50 of her crew.

    Model of Neptune 1778

    2dckr Neptune 1778 74 guns.JPG

    89: Spanish Ship of the Line 1701-1860

    One of the most distinguished Spanish ships of the line was San Juan Nepomuceno, launched in 1765. She was a very large 2-decker and a 3rd-rate, originally fitted with 74 guns as follows:
    • Lower gun deck - 28 x 24pdr
    • Upper gun deck - 30 x 18pdr
    • Forecastle & Quarterdeck - 8 x 12pdr + 8 x 8pdr.
    At full strength, San Juan Nepomuceno carried a crew of 530:
    8 Officers, 11 Midshipmen, 19 Leading Seamen and 492 Able Seamen.
    She was a well built ship with good sea-keeping qualities. Among her more notable exploits were the following:
    • Distinguished service in the Caribbean until 1779
    • Anglo-Spanish occupation of Toulon, 1793
    • Fought against the British at the battle of Cape St. Vincent, 1797
    • In alliance with the French, fought the British at the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805
    It was at Trafalgar that she put up her most valiant fight, even though it ended with her defeat. Here is a partial (edited) extract from the account:

    In spite of being dismasted by HMS Victory, she achieved glory in this battle under the command of Don Cosme Damian Churruca and constituted for the Spaniards a handsome example of the heroism of their nation and the bravery of their sailors.
    ..... San Juan Nepomuceno was one of the last Spanish and French ships still fighting, as by this stage in the battle most had either been captured, destroyed or had surrendered. Churruca ordered his flag to be nailed to the highest possible point on the mast. (Among most seafaring nations, it was commonly accepted that lowering one's flag was a signal of surrender; otherwise known as "striking the colors" or simply, "striking".) Nailing the flag in this way was a message to one's own crew, as well as to the enemy, that it should be a fight to the bitter end.
    From this point as time passed, Churruca sustained mortal wounds including having one of his legs torn off by a cannonball. Under continued British gunfire, the carnage was terrible and the decks became covered in blood, entrails and gore; yet, those of his crew who were still able continued the fight. Knowing that his death was inevitable, Churruca forbade his officers to surrender the ship as long as he remained breathing.
    Upon Churruca's death, his second-in-command - Francisco Moyna - continued the fight until he himself was killed.
    In turn, Moyna was replaced by the next officer in command, who also refused to surrender the ship.
    However, by this stage the Spanish ship's ability either to fight or to maneuver was gone and there was no chance of breaking the encirclement of fire which at this point included no less than six British ships. The toll of dead and seriously wounded men on the Spanish ship now exceeded 400 out of a complement of 640.
    In order to prevent further pointless loss of life, the last officer left alive on San Juan Nepomuceno surrendered and the British took her as a very battered and bloody - but still repairable - prize.

    San Juan Nepomuceno was repaired and taken on Royal Navy strength for a number of years. Initially, she was re-named as HMS Berwick; but shortly afterwards this was changed to HMS San Juan, in honor of the exceptional courage of Churruca and his crew. For a time at least, the cabin he had occupied bore his name on a brass plate and all who entered it were required to remove their hats as a mark of respect for a gallant enemy. The ship was used mainly for secondary duties until being paid off and sold in January 1816.

    Model of San Juan Nepomuceno 1765

    SoL San Juan Nepomuceno 1765 2.jpg

    Next, we have Montanes, another 3rd rate of 74 guns (nominal); but she generally carried about 80. Launched in 1794, she was the name ship of her class. Montanes was of good build quality and a well-balanced, fine handling ship. Also, being among the first Spanish warships of this era to be fitted with copper plates to her hull, she was faster than average. She carried a crew of 715 officers and men.
    Montanes had a good career and performed very well at Trafalgar despite being on the losing side. She also suffered relatively low casualties during that battle and was able to re-capture two ships (Santa Ana - a 112 gun 3-decker and Neptuno - another ship of her own class) that had been captured by the British. Montanes' relatively successful career was cut short when she ran aground in 1810.


    SoL Montanes 1794-1810.jpg

    We end this Spanish trio with the behemoth Neustra Senora de la Santisima Trinidad (Santisima Trinidad for short) launched in 1769. This ship started as a 3-decker with 112 guns (nominal) ranging from 36pdr to 8pdr but by 1796 had been upgraded to 130 guns. This was achieved by closing over the spar deck (between the forecastle and quarterdeck); effectively providing the ship with a fourth full gun deck. Furthermore, in 1802 the number of guns was increased to 140. However, the weapons on the 4th level were all relatively small. Nevertheless, in terms of her sheer weight of shot, Santisima Trinidad was the most heavily armed ship in the World at the time of her final rebuild and carried the greatest number of guns of any warship in the Age of Sail. After the 1802 upgrade she displaced almost 5,000 tons. Her complement was about 1,000 officers and men.

    Santisima Trinidad became the flagship of the Spanish fleet. Her sheer gun-power made her formidable in battle but she did have an extremely close encounter prior to her final demise at Trafalgar in 1805. This was also against the British at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797 (following her first major upgrade). As a result of some very intense fighting, Santisima Trinidad became so badly damaged she actually struck her colors. However, the British failed to take possession of her and she was able to be rescued, returning to Spain for badly needed repairs.

    Her final demise, as mentioned above, came at Trafalgar; her enormous size and position in the order of battle making her the target of a concentrated attack by several British ships. Santisima Trinidad eventually surrendered and at first was taken in tow but due to the severity of her damages, was later scuttled by her captors.

    Image from an excellent painting of Santisima Trinidad in the later years of her service. I think it conveys the impression of her sheer size very well.

    SoL Santisima Trinidad 1769 2.jpg

    Whose ships of the line should progress to Round 4?
    The French or the Spanish?

    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).
    72 - French 2-Decker
    89 - Spanish Ship of the Line
    Last edited by panther3485; 07 Nov 18, 17:59.
    "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
    In general terms, I believe the French ships were both more effective and more influential in the global context.
    Furthermore, during this period the French were the most powerful rival Naval power to the British, while the Spanish navy continued on the wane in terms of relative influence and importance.
    "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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