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T2, R6, Prng 94 (Final): British Ship of the Line vs American Heavy Frigate

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  • T2, R6, Prng 94 (Final): British Ship of the Line vs American 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.

    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

    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

    Weigh both of these warship types against all the criteria you consider relevant!
    Which of them do you really think is most worthy as our tournament winner?

    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
    40 - American Heavy Frigate 1801-1860
    Last edited by panther3485; 09 Dec 18, 07:32.
    "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
    The American Heavy Frigate get my vote because that was when America began building frigates with the goal of firepower supremacy.
    "Stand for the flag ~ Kneel for the fallen"

    "A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer." ~ Bruce Lee


    • #3
      Originally posted by Persephone View Post
      The American Heavy Frigate get my vote because that was when America began building frigates with the goal of firepower supremacy.
      For American built ships, perhaps, but the foremost warship of the Age of Sail was the "Seventy-Four", a Third-Rate ship-of-the-line, and that includes the war for American independence. When the comte de Grasse's French fleet intercepted and drove off Grave's British fleet off the Virginia Capes attempting to support/evacuate Cornwallis's army from Yorktown, 17 of the 24 French ships-of-the-line were seventy-fours, as were 12 of the 19 ships-of-the-line in the British fleet. Fortunately for America and the pivotal Battle/Siege of Yorktown, the Battle of the Virginia Capes was a rare lapse of Rule Britannia; when the 2 fleets met again in the Caribbean at "the Saintes" months later, the French were defeated; British seventy-fours ruled, they were in the majority at Trafalgar as well, another overwhelming British victory.

      While the relative handful of American Heavy Frigates were fine ships they couldn't claim the heaviest frigate build, or firepower supremacy, even when launched. When the seventy-fours came to dominate the Royal Navy's line-of battle, the smaller sixty-fours were taken out of the line and several were razeed i.e. cut down into 44 gun heavy frigates when still new; later, several seventy-fours were similarly treated. One of the former, HMS Indefatigable, has been called the most successful frigate ever built.

      The British seventy-four gun Third Rate ship-of-the-line was long-lived, powerful, manoeuvrable, adaptable, and overwhelming more important across the board, than the American Heavy Frigate.
      Last edited by Marmat; 09 Dec 18, 15:29.
      "I am Groot"
      - Groot


      • #4
        The British ship of the line for me despite the period of time was different therefor more Modern ideas came into play. lcm1
        'By Horse by Tram'.

        I was in when they needed 'em,not feeded 'em.
        " Youuu 'Orrible Lot!"


        • #5
          The American heavy frigates were, IMO, truly outstanding and - as I have alluded to before - arguably represented the ultimate development of the sailing frigate.
          However, only six were built and the nation they served was not yet a global naval power in the full sense. Nor did they really help the USA to become such; although they did help to ensure its survival and growth; and therefore indirectly its eventual ability to compete and even dominate globally. Nevertheless, such American ascendancy would be achieved using ships from a later age.

          The British ships of the line were also extremely effective in their designated role. This was due not only to the design and construction of the ships themselves - which was both sound and competitive - but probably more so to the standard of training of their crews, which was generally better than those of any of the other major naval powers, throughout the entire period we are discussing here at the very least.
          In turn, this helped to establish and maintain Britain as the most powerful nation in the World, in terms of global influence and dominance. This status would not be seriously challenged until well after the age of sail had passed.

          British ship of the line for me.

          "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!)


          • #6
            Have to vote for Old Ironsides.

            Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

            Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

            by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"


            • #7
              British ship of the line.

              Many more built - the 74 was the mainstay of the RN throughout the late c18th and early c19th.
              Longer service - see above
              Versatile - Back bone of any fleet or squadron. A ship of the line had much more firepower than even the heaviest frigate.
              "To be free is better than to be unfree - always."


              • #8
                This final was as close as it gets without having a draw.
                However, the winner of our 2nd Warships Tournament (T2) is:

                Candidate #61
                British Ship of the Line, 1701-1800

                "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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