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"USS Constitution versus two British 38 gun frigates - AAR" Topic

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Blutarski04 Mar 2018 11:57 a.m. PST

We ran a small three ship 1814 scenario USS Constitution (Elite crew) versus two British 38 gun Frigates, Tenedos (Veteran crew, fast ship) and Junon (Poor crew) off the coast of Massachusetts. Constitution is heading for a safe port on Cape Ann after a long six month raiding cruise in the Caribbean, but finds the two British frigates blocking her path. Rather than try to go toe-to-toe in close action with two opponents, Constitution opted to fight a drawn out battle of maneuver. We actually ran the scenario twice. The first game allowed everyone to get accustomed to the rule mechanics (especially movement no hexes) and the effects of close range dismantling shot when you are too aggressive in closing your opponent (Note British ships did not carry dismantling shot by 1814; but Constitution had a very ample outfit thereof).

The re-play was a really interesting exercise in tactical maneuver, with the British attempting to corner Constitution and bring the fire of both frigates to bear simultaneously while Constitution counter-maneuvered to frustrate the British design in order to concentrate her attention upon one British opponent. We played about 60 turns (equivalent to about 1.5 hours of real time), which is great with two players who had never seen the rules before.

Constitution ultimately succeeded in completely disabling Junon aloft, shooting away her main topmast and mizzen topgallant mast, reducing all the rest of her sails and rigging to tatters and leaving her unmanageable and adrift. With Constitution concentrating upon Junon, Tenedos suffered only light damage by comparison.

Constitution did suffer materially from the fire of both ships, but by doing her best to keep beyond hulling fire range and to limit the ability of the British to bring the fire of both ships to bear simultaneously, she still had sufficient remaining gun and maneuvering power at the end to discourage the faster Tenedos from seeking a one-on-one action.

All in all, a masterpiece of tactical acumen and execution by the American player.


attilathepun47 Inactive Member04 Mar 2018 9:17 p.m. PST

That sounds like a very historical outcome to me. Given the superior power of the Constitution, she should be able to do this with an able skipper and a bit of luck--maybe I should add with an experienced crew (considering the fate of the Chesapeake). With bad luck or a dunderhead in command, the British should win.

Blutarski05 Mar 2018 6:18 a.m. PST

Hi Attila -
Regarding a plausible historical outcome, I thought so too.

I like to craft "real world" scenarios. These three ships did in fact catch sight of one another off the coast of Massachusetts in Spring 1814. The Constitution was in fact returning from a lengthy raid in the Caribbean and the two named British frigates were cruising as a pair in accordance with an Admiralty edict that British frigates should not engage the large American frigates singly. In the historical event, bad visibility due to misty conditions enabled Constitution to elude her pursuers.

A funny thing about comparative gun-power … When I was working up the ship charts, I was a bit startled to discover an unexpected aspect regarding respective gun power. The rules define 72 pounds of broadside weight as one gun factor. On that basis, the 1814 version of Constitution has 5 long gun factors + 4 carronade factors. But the British frigate Junon, which carried a very heavy carronade armament technically came out as 4 long gun factors + 4 carronade factors … very close in nominal terms. The way the rules of hull defensive value (and ship size) work, the Constitution could absorb considerably more damage before losing gun factors (about 2x more than Junon), but the starting broadside strength of Junon was noteworthy.


attilathepun47 Inactive Member05 Mar 2018 10:20 a.m. PST


I like to find historical "what if" scenarios too. Regarding the gun power situation, packing in a lot of carronades could really add a lot of punch to a ship, theoretically. Trying to get close enough to use them was a problem, of course. Are you familiar with the case of U.S.S. Essex? She was built as a conventional 32-gun frigate, but was rearmed at some point with carronades only, contributing heavily to her loss, even though commanded by David Porter, one of the best American skippers of the period. But he was facing two British warships, a frigate and a sloop.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP05 Mar 2018 4:46 p.m. PST

An interesting scenario, and better balanced than the
actual USS Constitution vs. HMS Cyane and HMS Levant.

One does wonder what might have happened had Stewart been
forced to fight HMS Leander and HMS Newcastle rather
than escaping ?

Blutarski05 Mar 2018 6:17 p.m. PST

Indeed, Ed.

It is not an altogether well known fact that, toward the end of the War of 1812, Great Britain launched a class of their own heavy frigates to directly counter the Constitution Class. I do not think that Constitution survives a fight with two such ships (competently led and crewed).

And then there were the Majestic Class razeed 74s …


Blutarski05 Mar 2018 6:38 p.m. PST

Hi Attila -
Essex vs Phoebe and Cherub is a scenario near and dear to my heart as well. You are correct that the ultimate cause of the loss of Essex was inadequate range of her (more or less) all carronade main battery. However, the proximate cause of her defeat was the loss of her main topmast to a sudden squall as she was seeking to escape from Valparaiso harbor. That pretty much crippled her power of maneuver to the degree that Captain Porter felt obliged to fight it out at anchor. Captain Hillyar of the British Phoebe then accepted the luxury of slowly bombarding Essex into submission from beyond the effective range of her carronades.

I worked up a small scenario based upon this battle, which assumes that Essex does not become crippled aloft attempting to escape and instead accepts Captain's Hillyar's challenge to a one-on-one duel to the finish against HMS Phoebe on the open sea outside Chilean territorial waters. If you give Essex a speed advantage, it becomes a really interesting (and tricky) action to play out.


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