No announcement yet.

T2, R5, Prng 93: French Frigate 1701-1800 vs American Heavy Frigate 1801-1860

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • panther3485
    Originally posted by Jose50 View Post
    Well, obviously I chose the American heavy frigate over the French. One of the reasons is that I grew up within eight miles and have been aboard USS CONSTITUTION many times starting when I was just a young boy. Another reason for my vote is the design of the framework. Some consider the American frigates of this period to be 'overbuilt'. This opinion may be true for a non-combatant ship but in the case of CONSTITUTION it led to her nickname, "Old Ironsides".
    As to length of service...well, USS CONSTITUTION is still a commissioned US warship and is the oldest still afloat.
    Some very good reasons and you are calling it as you see it. (I would expect nothing less. )

    Yes, the hull framework design in particular was very significant (based on a variation of the Seppings system of diagonal bracing, IIRC) and it allowed the American heavy frigates to be larger and longer, without excessive hogging or sagging.
    The extra hull size accommodated considerably greater firepower but it retained good overall handling and excellent sea-keeping, as well as being a very stable gun platform.
    From my reading, these heavy frigates also effectively became American capital ships; especially as the building of "traditional" 3-deckers in adequate numbers would have stretched the resources available to a young naval force beyond reasonable limits at that time.
    The six Humphreys heavy frigates served American needs quite perfectly, IMHO.

    Leave a comment:

  • Jose50
    Well, obviously I chose the American heavy frigate over the French. One of the reasons is that I grew up within eight miles and have been aboard USS CONSTITUTION many times starting when I was just a young boy. Another reason for my vote is the design of the framework. Some consider the American frigates of this period to be 'overbuilt'. This opinion may be true for a non-combatant ship but in the case of CONSTITUTION it led to her nickname, "Old Ironsides".
    As to length of service...well, USS CONSTITUTION is still a commissioned US warship and is the oldest still afloat.

    Leave a comment:

  • panther3485
    In one aspect at least, I tend to lean towards the American heavy frigates as these were - IMHO - the ultimate frigates in the closing decades of the age of sail. They also helped to establish the US Navy as a power to be seriously reckoned with.
    That said, the French frigates contributed significantly in maintaining naval potency for a major 18th century power. They were also influential in terms of future sailing frigate design, including the American ones.
    I could just as easily go either way and I find this a difficult decision. IMO, this poll should be close. I'll put in a vote for the French to keep it so. Let's see where the rest of the votes fall after this.
    It will be interesting, I think.
    Last edited by panther3485; 07 Dec 18, 07:29.

    Leave a comment:

  • T2, R5, Prng 93: French Frigate 1701-1800 vs American Heavy Frigate 1801-1860

    71 - French Frigate 1701-1800
    40 - American Heavy Frigate 1801-1860

    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.

    71: French Frigate 1701-1800

    As mentioned in Round 1, the French in the mid 1700's are regarded as having made a significant step forward in the development and refinement of the frigate concept. Indeed, from my own reading it seems quite reasonable to expand this: When it came to both the design and the construction of good quality warships, the French were leaders rather than followers during this general period.
    To give relevant parts of a quote from Dr James Pritchard, Associate Professor of History at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada:

    "Eighteenth-century naval officers thought that French warships were the finest in the World. Perceptive observers remarked on their attributes as early as the War of the Spanish Succession, when inferior French forces proved almost impossible to intercept. At the end of the century, French warships continued to display innovations that revealed their builders to be still in the forefront of naval ship design and construction. ... "
    " ... A recent scholar goes so far as to claim that French warships were not only the best on the seas then, but probably as good as any produced before the advent of steam. But the surest proof of the high quality of French ships lay in the British practice of sometimes converting prizes into flagships and designating particular vessels as models on drafts of English ships. ... "

    Of course, as we very well know victory at sea depends on a great deal more than just the build quality or design refinements of one's warships. Nevertheless, I thought this a reasonable consideration to raise before we look at a couple of French frigates.

    The first of our two French examples is Hermione, a Concorde class frigate launched in 1779. Hermione was of substantial size, displacing about 1160 tons. She was rated to carry 32 guns and had a crew of 255 officers and men. Nevertheless, she was designated as a "light" frigate; presumably based on the size of her guns, which were 12-pounders. She became famous when she ferried General Lafayette to the United States in 1780, to support the Americans in their Revolutionary War.
    In June 1780, Hermione, under command of Lieutenant de Latouche, was involved in a fierce engagement against the 32-gun British frigate HMS Iris, commanded by James Hawker. The engagement was indecisive, with both captains claiming that the other's ship and crew had got the worst of it; both ships having suffered substantial damage. However, Hermione was repaired and continued to render good service for well over a decade after this engagement.

    Hermione's career came to an end when she ran aground in September 1793.

    Construction of a sailing replica commenced in the late 1990's.

    Replica of the frigate Hermione 1779.
    Among her voyages was a goodwill trip to the USA in 2015.

    Frigate Hermione 1779 replica 1998 5.jpg

    Our second French example is Cleopatre, a Venus class frigate launched in 1781.
    Cleopatre displaced about 1,080 tons and, like Hermione, was rated to carry 32 guns. This began as 18 x 12pdr and 14 x 6pdr long guns.
    A couple of years later, the 12pdr guns were exchanged for 18pdr weapons.
    Finally by 1793, the fit was 36 guns comprising 26 x 12pdr and 10 x 6pdr.
    Cleopatre's crew was between 250 and 260.

    Cleopatre fought well in a number of engagements, including naval support for the taking of Cuddalore in India, in 1782.

    Cleopatre 1781

    Frigate Cleopatre 1781 36gun p20 duel52.jpg

    However, Cleopatre's hardest fight was her final one against the British frigate HMS Nymphe in June 1793, commanded by Captain Edward Pellew, near the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. After a short but exceptionally ferocious battle, during which both crews fought with remarkable courage and tenacity, the British mounted a determined assault and captured her. The French captain, Lieutenant de vasseau Mullon, had suffered mortal wounds during the battle.
    The British repaired Cleopatre and brought her into service as HMS Oiseau. She served her "new owners" quite well indeed for more than a decade after this.

    Artist's impression of the desperate situation aboard Cleopatre not long before her capture.

    Frigate Cleopatre quarterdeck view 1793 p56 duel52.jpg

    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

    OK, so which group of frigates is most worthy to progress to the Final?
    Should it be the pioneering French designs of the 1700's, which served as the optimal basic pattern for all nations thereafter?
    Or, should it be the later American heavy frigates which represented the ultimate and most powerful development of that fundamental working model?

    YOU can help decide!

    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; 02 Dec 18, 02:15.

Latest Topics