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"Highly Recommend Sam Willis' "Fighting at Sea"" Topic


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huevans01125 Jan 2018 3:30 p.m. PST

Sam Willis's "Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century" has completely changed my ideas of war in the age of sail. Chapters read so far deal with chase strategies, difficulties of identification and the use of ruses, reading signals and station keeping. I had no idea of most of this stuff, despite years reading about Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey.

My major discovery is just how bloody DIFFICULT this stuff all was. Lines of battle extended for miles and broke apart when different breezes and tides affected different parts of the line. Signals were misunderstood in the glare of the sun. Ships collided and lines broke apart! Even forming line of battle could take HOURS and often admirals and fleets simply gave up trying!

I now realize that my previous conception of war under sail was hopelessly unrealistic sort of like "driving automobiles disguised as ships" around a blue painted highway. In the historical reality, captains had a far more difficult task and many of them failed to rise to the challenge!

I cannot recommend this book enough and I am only halfway through!

link

Lieutenant Lockwood25 Jan 2018 3:39 p.m. PST

Very helpful, thanks!

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP25 Jan 2018 5:06 p.m. PST

Agreed. This book is a superb introduction and summary of the nature of fleet actions in the age of formal fleet battle under sail.

If you like Willis' book, you would probably also like Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail: The Evolution of Fighting Tactics, 1650-1815 by Brian Tunstall.

Both of these have a permanent place on my book shelf. I wish either had been published decades earlier.

Once you finish either/both of those, read (or re-read) The Influence of Sea Power Upon History by Alfred Thayer Mahan, and the brief accounts of the battles will make more sense and deeper impressions. Warning: You will probably also want to game them too. :-)

Be sure to get any of these books while they're still in print. These are limited productions for niche audiences and the prices shoot up alarmingly once the print run sells off. (Caveat: the Mahan book is frequently free or cheap as an ebook these days.)

- Ix

BrianW25 Jan 2018 5:59 p.m. PST

Yes, indeed. Willis' book is an eye-opener, and I have been a naval gamer for years. I will also second YA's suggestion of the Tunstall book, although that is a bit more of a specialist work.

huevans01125 Jan 2018 7:27 p.m. PST

Thanks again, Admiral. I have bookmarked Tunstall's book in the catalogue of my alumnus university library and will pick it up after I read Willis's "Glorious First of June" book!

What about this one??

link

BrianW25 Jan 2018 8:33 p.m. PST

huevans,
I have that one also. It's not bad, but it's a general coffee-table type book, whereas Willis and Tunstall's books are academic level works full of footnotes. Overall, Ireland's book is good for an introduction to the period with Willis and Tunstall being for more detailed looks at specific topics.

Blutarski26 Jan 2018 9:27 a.m. PST

Some thoughts -

> Willis is a refreshingly welcome addition to the academic community studying the Age of Sail. His PhD thesis is available in PDF for free download from the British Library Ethos doctoral paper archive website.

> Another important tactical factor worth keeping in mind is that in just about any line of battle, the components ships presented a considerable variation in speed capabilities – which might well alter (in relationship to one another) depending upon wind conditions and point of sailing. The best speeds of a very fast sailing 2-decker and a very dull sailing 3-decker might vary by as much as three or four knots.

The close-hauled line was the basic foundation stone of tactical maneuver because only upon a Beam Reach or Close-hauled heading could ships easily manage and finely adjust their speeds in order to maintain a close but safe interval. It was practically impossible to safely maintain a close order line on any other point of sailing.

B

devsdoc26 Jan 2018 10:29 a.m. PST

I think David Manley's rules FALOB Have a start rule which open's the line out and messes it up.
Be safe
Rory

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP26 Jan 2018 1:11 p.m. PST

This was the first Willis book I read. Tunstall also is a good resource on signal and communication development in the Age of Sail. With Willis I find these two give a good flavor of C&C in the era.

Just finished reading Admiral Benbow by Willis. Well researched. Also liked his book on the Glorious First of June. Was disappointed by his most recent book on the American Revolution though, but it is still a decent read.

huevans01126 Jan 2018 4:24 p.m. PST

The Admiral Benbow book caught my eye too. I was wondering how different things were in the late 1600's compared to the "classic" Nelson epoch.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP27 Jan 2018 2:26 p.m. PST

Benbow is a good read. It is different from the books you read. It is more a biography. Willis is good in his research. What is interesting is how little we know of the period compared to Nelson 100 years later. Willis notes there are gaps in the record, and some areas of Benbow's life we simply know little about.

I would recommend his book on the Glorious First of June before Benbow. I would not say it is better, but is more of what you are probably interested in, based on your posts.

huevans01128 Jan 2018 9:59 a.m. PST

Thanks. Am picking up the 1st of June book in a couple of hours.

Stew art Supporting Member of TMP30 Jan 2018 12:14 p.m. PST

This was also the first (and so far only) serious book about AoS that I've read and was happy with it. There is a lot to learn about this Genre and it's very satisfying.

Bozkashi Jones04 Feb 2018 5:42 p.m. PST

On Amazon I can get it second hand for £990.00 GBP

Or new for £48.00 GBP

Hmm.. I'll let you guess which one I'm ordering! Thanks for the recommendation Huevans.

Nick

Bindon Blood05 Feb 2018 4:34 a.m. PST

It's a long time since I read him, but I didn't like Mahan. It was all very biased against the British, he seemed to think the French were better, but unlucky every time.

While I totally agree with his core premise that naval power is of benefit to a nation, his historical analysis was skewed…

of course, ymmv….

huevans01105 Feb 2018 6:26 a.m. PST

On Amazon I can get it second hand for £990.00 GBP GBP

Or new for £48.00 GBP GBP…

Hmm.. I'll let you guess which one I'm ordering! Thanks for the recommendation Huevans.

Nick

If you are near a university library, see if you can get an external reader card or alumni card. For less than $100 USD Canadian per year, I have access to 1,000's of books that I could never afford to read or even find otherwise!!

BTW, just read "The Glorious First of June" by Willis and would also recommend that highly as a follow-on.

devsdoc05 Feb 2018 7:57 p.m. PST

Reading it now. I'm liking it.
Got mine 2nd hand from Amazon for £20.00 GBP-89 with postage.
Be safe
Rory

SgtPrylo12 Feb 2018 12:23 p.m. PST

There are some names on here that I trust for their opinion, so I just bought Willis' "Fighting Sail". Unfortunately Amazon.ca says it won't be here for a month…

huevans01112 Feb 2018 1:22 p.m. PST

Willis is a refreshingly welcome addition to the academic community studying the Age of Sail. His PhD thesis is available in PDF for free download from the British Library Ethos doctoral paper archive website.

> Another important tactical factor worth keeping in mind is that in just about any line of battle, the components ships presented a considerable variation in speed capabilities which might well alter (in relationship to one another) depending upon wind conditions and point of sailing. The best speeds of a very fast sailing 2-decker and a very dull sailing 3-decker might vary by as much as three or four knots.

The close-hauled line was the basic foundation stone of tactical maneuver because only upon a Beam Reach or Close-hauled heading could ships easily manage and finely adjust their speeds in order to maintain a close but safe interval. It was practically impossible to safely maintain a close order line on any other point of sailing.

B

Can you explain to a lubber how being close-hauled was such an advantage in moderating and controlling the speed of a ship?

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP12 Feb 2018 2:03 p.m. PST

Close hauled has the wind coming in off the bow, forward of midships. It allows a ship to more easily back its sails to act as a brake. Not as easy in other settings.

huevans01113 Feb 2018 3:37 p.m. PST

Close hauled has the wind coming in off the bow, forward of midships. It allows a ship to more easily back its sails to act as a brake. Not as easy in other settings.

Thanks. Now a little clearer.

It's a little tough for a newbie to get his heard around. Ships are massive, unmaneuverable behemoths which weigh hundreds of tons, can barely steer, move at about 10 kilometers per hour AND CAN'T BRAKE!!

It takes 15 minutes to slowly, inevitably crash into the ship in front, but you still can't do anything to avoid the collision!!

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP13 Feb 2018 5:56 p.m. PST

Yup, and 10 km/hr is probably the max for a line of battle for that reason. I would say between 5 to 10 at the most.

Blutarski13 Feb 2018 8:13 p.m. PST

Hi huevans011 -
Sorry for the slow reply. Thoughts and observations.

You wrote –
"Can you explain to a lubber how being close-hauled was such an advantage in moderating and controlling the speed of a ship"

Response -
A sailing warship is principally propelled by the force of the wind upon its square sails. It is possible to rotqte the yards carrying the square sails to a limited extent, perhaps +/- 30deg or so from a line perpendicular to the keel, in order to translate the force of the wind into motive power.

Now, when a ship is on a "beam reach" point of sailing (source of wind directly abeam) or "close-hauled (source of wind, say 10-15deg forward of the beam, it is possible to rotates the square sails to do other things:

> The yard can be rotated in such a way as to cause the wind to press on the front or face of the sail and retard the progress of the ship. This called "backing the sail".

> The yard can be rotated in such a way as to cause the sail to not catch the wind at all, in which case the sail neither helps to propel the ship nor retard its progress. This is called "shivering" the sail.

Such sail adjustments are most frequently performed by means of the topsails, which is one reason why they are considered such important sails. Judicious combinations of these techniques confer the ability to closely manage ship speed under light and moderate wind conditions. For example, backing the mainsail while keeping the fore and mizzen sail filled would cause a ship to rest motionless ("heaved to") but ready to leap ahead as soon as the mainsail was rotated in such a way as to once again fill. Backing, filling and shivering of the mizzen topsail was a common means of making fine adjustments in ship speed in order to maintain proper station in the line.

Why was this important? Because no two ships could ever realistically be expected to make exactly the same speed under sail and sometime the speed differential could be impressively large … especially when the sq

These techniques were physically impossible for a square-rigged ship to employ when sailing on the "quarter reach" or "before the wind".

The interval between ships when maneuvering or performing evolutions in line of battle was usually two cables (about 400 yards); when preparing to actually engage the enemy, the line would typically close up to one cable (200 yards) interval between ships. One rare occasions, one might read of a half-cable (100 yards) interval

"It's a little tough for a newbie to get his heard around. Ships are massive, unmaneuverable behemoths which weigh hundreds of tons, can barely steer, move at about 10 kilometers per hour AND CAN'T BRAKE!!

It takes 15 minutes to slowly, inevitably crash into the ship in front, but you still can't do anything to avoid the collision!!"

- – -

Blutarski13 Feb 2018 8:43 p.m. PST

Hi huevans011 -
Sorry for the slow reply. Thoughts and observations.


You wrote
"Can you explain to a lubber how being close-hauled was such an advantage in moderating and controlling the speed of a ship"

Response -
A sailing warship is principally propelled by the force of the wind upon its square sails. It is possible to rotqte the yards carrying the square sails to a limited extent, perhaps +/- 30deg or so from a line perpendicular to the keel, in order to translate the force of the wind into motive power.

Now, when a ship is on a "beam reach" point of sailing (source of wind directly abeam) or "close-hauled (source of wind, say 10-15deg forward of the beam, it is possible to rotate the square sails to do other things:

> The yard can be rotated in such a way as to cause the wind to press on the front or face of the sail and retard the progress of the ship. This called "backing the sail".

> The yard can be rotated in such a way as to cause the sail to not catch the wind at all, in which case the sail neither helps to propel the ship nor retard its progress. This is called "shivering" the sail.

Such sail adjustments are most frequently performed by means of the topsails, which is one reason why they are considered such important sails. Judicious combinations of these techniques confer the ability to closely manage ship speed under light and moderate wind conditions. For example, backing the mainsail while keeping the fore and mizzen sail filled would cause a ship to rest motionless ("heaved to") but ready to leap ahead as soon as the mainsail was rotated in such a way as to once again fill. Backing, filling and shivering of the mizzen topsail was a common means of making fine adjustments in ship speed in order to maintain proper station in the line.

These techniques were physically impossible for a square-rigged ship to employ when sailing on the "quarter reach" or "before the wind". The only means of increasing or decreasing speed rested in either making or taking in sail, which was a cumbersome and time-consuming exercise that could not provide much at all in the way of fine adjustment and management of speed

Why was this important? Because no two ships could ever realistically be expected to make exactly the same speed under sail and sometime the speed differential could be impressively large … especially when the squadron contained a mix of brand new long hulled 74s fresh from the constructer's yard, some clean-bottomed ships fresh from refit, other ships which had been at sea for a year since their last dockyard visit, a few decrepit 30 year old hog-backed 64s hastily pulled out of the fleet reserve and one or two huge, slow and cumbersome 3-deckers. The interval between ships when maneuvering or performing evolutions in line of battle was usually two cables (about 400 yards). This interval was not arbitrarily plucked out of the air. Given the typical average speed of a ship in line of battle under maneuvering sail, 400 yards was considered to provided the necessary "sea room" (read: timing interval) for the ship next ahead to make a satisfactory start in executing an order maneuver (tacking, wearing) before the following ship covered the intervening distance.

- -

You wrote -
"Ships are massive, unmaneuverable behemoths which weigh hundreds of tons, can barely steer, move at about 10 kilometers per hour AND CAN'T BRAKE!!

Response -
These ships were indeed massive: a large late 18th century 3-decker might have (in modern terms) a displacement of 5,000 tons.

Degree of maneuverability depended a good deal upon wind and sea states. Under favorable conditions, their degree of handiness could be surprisingly good. For example, don't discount the ability of a sailing ship to exploit the wind to assist in changing its heading. John Harland's "Seamanship in the Age of Sail" is a good resource, as would be the writings of Sam Willis and N A M Rodgers.


B

huevans01114 Feb 2018 5:11 p.m. PST

Thanks! I learned a lot from that post and appreciate that you took probably quite a chunk of time to write it!

Blutarski15 Feb 2018 3:33 p.m. PST

You're very welcome, Huevans. Happy to share.

B

NedZed21 Feb 2018 10:32 p.m. PST

Blutarski,
Many thanks for the information about Willis' thesis at the British Library. I read it and it was outstanding – answering questions I've had for 50 years, ever since I was trying to write my own Napoleonic naval rules when I was in high school. I assume his book was based on that paper, so it must be really excellent.

huevans01122 Feb 2018 5:41 a.m. PST

Many thanks for the information about Willis' thesis at the British Library. I read it and it was outstanding answering questions I've had for 50 years, ever since I was trying to write my own Napoleonic naval rules when I was in high school. I assume his book was based on that paper, so it must be really excellent.

Do you have a link for the paper?

I tried to locate it and struck out.

Blutarski22 Feb 2018 1:26 p.m. PST

Hi huevans011 -

Go here link

This will direct you to the British Libray EthOS digital repository of doctoral papers published in the UK.

You will need to register in order to download documents, but the deal is basically cost-free. Log in, find an interesting paper, request a PDF and the site will transmit it to your email address. Not all papers are available for free, but a huge number are.

It will pay to explore the EthOS site through the Search function. It contains numerous documents of interest to the war-gamer and military history buff.


B

NCC1717 Supporting Member of TMP22 Feb 2018 7:58 p.m. PST

Finding it in the Ethos advanced search engine is easier if you know that the first name is "S. B. A." (with the spaces).

Thanks for the link!

NedZed24 Feb 2018 11:10 a.m. PST

Since I have the Willis PDF now, I can email it to interested parties. it is about 19.8 MB. nedz AT mindspring DOT com
If Blutarski's rules accurately portray Willis' concepts, they must be good.

huevans01125 Feb 2018 2:42 p.m. PST

Thanks – saves me from having to go through the registration process. My email is huevans at hotmail dot com .

NedZed26 Feb 2018 11:27 p.m. PST

Sent…

BrianW26 Feb 2018 11:31 p.m. PST

NedZed,
I think I might have a copy, but would you send it to me anyway? My email is brianw0405 AT gmail DOT com
Thanks,
BWW

huevans01127 Feb 2018 12:51 p.m. PST

Thanks, NedZed. Received.

NedZed27 Feb 2018 8:43 p.m. PST

Brian, just now sent …

BrianW27 Feb 2018 8:56 p.m. PST

Thanks NZ, it just arrived. Definitely NOT the one I thought I had. Once again, many thanks.
BWW

John Tyson10 Mar 2018 2:42 p.m. PST

Thanks to this thread and BrianW's blog reviewing the book, I just ordered, Sam Willis's "Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century" through Amazon. I'm looking forward to receiving this book.

BrianW10 Mar 2018 9:00 p.m. PST

Thank you John! I'm flattered.

huevans01111 Mar 2018 6:26 a.m. PST

Thank you John! I'm flattered.

Curious about your blog?

Stew art Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2018 8:43 a.m. PST

@ Huevans011

BrainW's blog can be found here (I'm a follower):

link


-Stew

SgtPrylo14 Mar 2018 2:10 p.m. PST

Just finished the book. Worth every dime. i can see now that no game system I have played or read really treats fighting in this period properly, nor could they. Not and be playable, that is.

Blutarski14 Mar 2018 2:57 p.m. PST

SgtPrylo wrote -
"I can see now that no game system I have played or read really treats fighting in this period properly, nor could they. Not and be playable"


What do you view as irreconcilable disconnects?


B

huevans01114 Mar 2018 4:12 p.m. PST

Thank you John! I'm flattered.

Brian, do you have any objections if I try to link your blog to the Aubrey-Maturin FB page for the benefit of the membership thereof?

Not the owner of the FB page; just an ordinary member.

SgtPrylo15 Mar 2018 12:57 p.m. PST

Blutarski:

'Irreconcilable' is a strong word. The simple answer is that no game system that I have found can simulate the key points Willis makes in any playable form. It's important to note here that my definition of playable and yours may be very different. And that is the key to my statement. There are endless discussions on these boards about the various pros and cons of the multitude of systems out there. Proof positive that our opinions will vary enough that people will disagree with me.

When I say 'Willis' points', I mean all of his points, because he presents them as a whole. My takeaway from the book is that there is no one factor that is most important when fighting under sail in the 18th cent, but rather how a captain or admiral deals with the entire picture before him.

I've said before that at this stage of my game (career? life?) that I prefer games that are fast and bloody and can capture the feel of the period. My days of the Advanced Squad Leader simulations are over. Blasphemy, I am sure, to some on these boards, but there you have it.

Blutarski15 Mar 2018 2:13 p.m. PST

Don't get me wrong, Sarge. I'm not looking to start any sort of debate. I'm just curious to understand what aspects of real world AoS naval warfare are ignored or get short shrift.

I'm not a Tractics/ASL person either.

B

huevans01115 Mar 2018 2:23 p.m. PST

Maybe the way to go is to dice roll ability levels for each ship in your fleet and have this represent the captain and crew's ability to repair damage, keep station, read signals, spot ruses, etc??

Blutarski15 Mar 2018 2:49 p.m. PST

huevans011 you just more or less described the system employed by my rules.

From another thread -

- -

"Regarding orders: How do you reflect crew differences in carrying out orders, rigging and adjusting the sails in the middle of battle, etc,"

> In brief, this is dealt with by dicing against the ship's "crew initiative" rating an inestimably important contribution to these rules made by my friend Phil Jarvio. Every ship's crew has a D6-based initiative rating, ranging from 5 for the best crews to 3 for the worst crews. If, in the movement phase of a game turn, a player wishes to make sail, reduce sail, commence a turn, heave to, etc, he throw 1D6 for each function he wishes to be performed by his ship. A score </= the crew's initiative rating means the task is accomplished; any higher score indicates that the task was not carried out and the ship proceeds in accordance with its previous state of condition. Same in the gunnery phase: the player dices for initiative to move his gun crews from one side to another or to change from one ammunition type to another, etc.

The consequences of this feature are that an individual ship with a high initiative rating is far more likely to be able to take advantage of a fleeting tactical opportunity. In addition, a division or squadron of high initiative value ships can be (comparatively speaking) reliably maneuvered as a group whereas maneuvering (or attempting to maneuver) a formation of ships with very low initiative ratings (say, raw Spanish crews) is on the other hand akin to herding cats.

- -


B

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP15 Mar 2018 2:55 p.m. PST

Just finished the book. Worth every dime. i can see now that no game system I have played or read really treats fighting in this period properly, nor could they. Not and be playable, that is.
I have to disagree. :-)

I can't help feeling you're overreaching here. Abstraction is always necessary to reduce the player's decision cycle to only those things his real-life counterpart would consider, and to replicate the results of conditions impossible or impractical to recreate exhaustively. Trying to simulate every last detail of activity is too much in any period of gaming. (I hated ASL. Didn't even like the original Squad Leader much.)

fast and bloody and can capture the feel of the period
I personally find these two requirements incompatible in almost any period (with exceptions for periods that really were bloody, like WWI charges across No Man's Land…). "Fast play" and "good simulation" are not opposites, and "fast" does not automatically imply "bloody". I rather find that accelerating the pace of damage is unnecessary and reduces feel for the period (usually very badly).

In the case of Age of Sail gaming, rules aiming to be "fast and bloody" inevitably contain design decisions that distort or negate period tactics. Age of Sail combat was pretty slow and stately, so to speed up the pace of the game, each turn has to represent a longer chunk of time. If ships erode too quickly under fire (or worse light on fire or blow up too often), maneuver is reduced ad absurdum to a few turns of approach, and then everyone does paperwork until the unlucky players lose at Yahtzee.

I prefer to play Age of Sail games at the level of admiral, but to accomplish that I had to write my own rules, since most "fleet" rules were either way too bloody or too detailed (or both) to allow management of real fleets (2-3 dozen ships per side, sometimes more). A few years ago I also discovered Jeff Knudsen's rules Admirals, and I look forward to playing them anytime I can get into one of his games.

For strictly tactical play (1-2 ships/player, captain's decision cycle), I was not entirely unhappy with the pace of Post Captain. I had several complaints, but the pace of the damage, pace of the game, and level of simulation were not among them.

For that matter, once upon a time I really enjoyed the overall results of the old rules Heart of Oak. I thought the game moved along at a reasonable pace and captured the feel of maneuvering under sail, despite some of the overly-fussy mechanics (e.g., move distances differentiated by mm!).

- Ix

huevans01123 Mar 2018 2:12 p.m. PST

I would have thought that slow attrition was the looked-for result of most games that recreate Age of Sail fighting. Although you would have to factor in the occasional ammunition store blowing up sky high and destroying everything for a half mile in all directions!

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