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"Destroying wooden ships" Topic

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Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP10 Oct 2019 11:23 p.m. PST

I grew up reading Hornblower. The O'Brien opus has been continually consulted over the past 10 years. Both series have given me an impression that, barring accidents to the Powder Room or unlucky uncontrollable fires, a wooden ship was difficult to destroy using gunfire.

I've come late to Alexander Kent & the Bolitho series. I'm on my fourth novel and quite happy with he standard of writing. But it seems that ships sink in this world after a few shrewd salvoes from the enemy. Certainly, this is at odds with the previously mentioned authors.

Who's correct?

BrianW10 Oct 2019 11:48 p.m. PST

Given the sinking of HMS Implacable in 1949, I'm going to go with the first set of authors. The Royal Navy blew out the bottom of the vessel, but she still didn't sink for 3 hours. I read somewhere that they finally had to ram her with a tug, but couldn't find that source again.

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(shows the charges going off. Skip to about 2:00 if that's what your'e interested in)




gunnerphil11 Oct 2019 1:59 a.m. PST

I thought that sinking an enemy ship was a bad result. The idea was to capture them. Fortunes could be made (by Captain and Senior Officers) if a ship was captured.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Oct 2019 4:00 a.m. PST

Any ship that had taken a pounding from gunfire was likely to need a considerable amount of work to bring her into useful service again. Many ships struck their colours before that happened though. If the outcome was inevitable it was not considered dishonourable to surrender after putting up a good fight.

Just because a ship doesn't sink doesn't mean that it is re-usable. Many captured French ships were not taken into the battlefleet as they were too weak or damaged – some were used as transports, others sold or scrapped.

A battle distant from shelter or a home port could mean disaster from bad weather and more ships were lost in those circumstances after damage in battle than were sunk actually at the battle.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2019 9:54 a.m. PST

Like a lot of the captured French and Spanish ships from Trafalgar.


JMcCarroll Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2019 10:35 a.m. PST

I also enjoyed Alexander Kent books.
I think the term sunk or wrecked could mean the same as " no longer the ability to fight ". The crew could be to busy keeping it afloat, little or no guns, and or just surrendered. For gaming purposes the ship fights no more.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2019 12:06 p.m. PST

The material used in the building of C17/C18 and more
limitedly early C19 ships had natural buoyancy.

It'd float for an appreciable period of time.
Most (remember, 1 more than half) of ships which struck
their colors were not in a sinking condition. Rather,
crew casualties and damage to rigging/sails rendered
them unmanageable to continuing the fight.

As far as Ochoin's question ("Who's right ?") I'd go
with Forester and O'Brien. Forester (which is a pen
name. His RN was Cecil Louis Troughton Smith) did
extensive research among period documents (The Naval
Chronicle among them) ships' logs and Admiralty records
as well as using James extensively.

Well it can't be said with certainty how many of
Hornblower's exploits (or Aubey's and Maturin's)
are fictionalized accounts of real events, it is
without doubt that some are, particularly the
careening and repair of HMS Lydia after her fight
with the Natividad and Aubrey's stint in the stocks
while being surrounded and protected by members
of the RN.

Ships of the era were self-sufficient in some measure,
particularly as far as hull, masts, spars and rigging

Jozis Tin Man11 Oct 2019 12:37 p.m. PST

I know he is not popular among many age of sail experts, but Keegan's Price of Admiralty concludes that it was about man killing and not ship killing.

I am a novice on the topic, but was it more likely for a ship to actually sink in a large battle or in a one on one frigate duel? I don't know but I am guessing the dynamics are different.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2019 12:45 p.m. PST

As mentioned upthread, sinking was unlikely in either
case UNLESS weather or fire or explosion played a part.

Keegan's is an excellent point. When the crew level
reached a certain point (varied depending upon the
size of the ship) then the fight could not be continued
to any advantage.

SBminisguy11 Oct 2019 1:22 p.m. PST

In the Form Line of Battle fleet scale rules ships rarely sink outright during a battle, they usually strike if they cannot retreat and are taken as a prize, but may be lost after the battle if there are heavy seas or a storm.

A ship would only sink during a battle under two conditions:

1. Flooding from waterline critical hits could eventually sink a ship, but during the scope of a battle they remain in place as a hulk/movement obstacle.

2. A rare magazine explosion from a raging fire or rare critical. In that case the ship is removed from the table, ships close to the explosion may be damaged, and ships may have to make make morale tests to continue the action. For example, at the Battle of Aboukir Bay the explosion of L'Orient stunned both sides (literally many ships' crews were stunned by the massive blast both physically and morale-wise) and it broke the morale of the French fleet.

At least 6 British and French liners were damaged in the bast.

"For ten minutes after the explosion there was no firing; sailors from both sides were either too shocked by the blast or desperately extinguishing fires aboard their own ships to continue the fight"

Old Contemptible11 Oct 2019 3:15 p.m. PST

There were plenty of WW2 ships which survived an atomic bomb during Operation Crossroads.

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP12 Oct 2019 10:21 a.m. PST

From what I've read, wooden ships were indeed difficult to sink.

Those shot full of holes though, would probably be hulks though, that might be difficult to repair effectively and sturdily, if they were pounded at close range for any amount of time.

Blutarski15 Oct 2019 5:00 p.m. PST

About half the line-of-battle ships captured by the British at the Battle of the Nile were taken into RN service. For example, the French 80 Franklin became the British 80 HMS Canopus (which was only broken up in 18871). The French 74 Spartiate was put into service as the British 74 HMS Spartiate and fought under St George's ensign at Trafalgar.

Those French ships captured at the Nile and, whether due to the effects of battle damage or grounding or both, found unworthy of retention were burnt in situ.

It is an interesting exercise to trace the careers of some of these French and Spanish ships in British service.


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