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POLL: Britain's Abyssmal Frigates

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jowady writes:

British Frigate design was actually quite good. That whole notion about French Frigates being batter generally didn't prove true when one considered what the royal Navy did, their ships stayed at sea for long periods of time. However, by the time of the War of 1812 most British Frigates were massively undermanned and the American 44s were larger and better armed and crewed. In some instances they were better Captained as well.

Broke's "Shannon" was probably one of the few British 38s that could have stood up in a 1 0n 1 fight against an American 44. This was due in no small part to Broke himself. He had been in command of the Shannon for years, and had worked his crew up to an amazing level of gunnery and sailing ability. Still, the victory over Chesapeake was anything but easy and one should remember that while Shannon's crew was one of the best in the Royal Navy while Chesapeake's was comparatively green.

One thing though, and Gardiner makes a point of this in his book "Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars" was that many British Captains suffered from what I would call "Nelson's Disease", this being the idea that as long as you laid your ship alongside the enemy and pounded away at him you would win. The American Captains were masters at maneuver and they had the large trained crews necessary to do it and work the guns. The idea of going "straight at 'em" worked well against the French, whose gunnery was poor, but against an American 44 was liable to get you shot to pieces.

Moreover the American method of fighting fit their ships. And this is often misunderstood, but they had the ships to do it as well. That's the true wonder of the "spar deck", it allowed for easier handling of the ship without interfering with the guns, again this is Gardiner's statement.

The simple fact is that the US Navy had a great advantage. They built the 44s to be extremely strong vessels, figuring that there would be very few of them. A small number of ships meant that they could recruit very large, good crews. And relatively unburdened by systems of patronage they could afford to appoint very good Captains to them. The British on the other hand were near the end of their rope man-power wise (I really think that the British would rather not have stopped American ships to impress seaman, it's just that they had no choice.)

All in all the British Frigate force fought very well against the French and Spanish.

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Personal logo David Manley Supporting Member of TMP remarks...

A comment seen elsewhere on the wargaming 'net, regarding Britain's frigate force during the Napoleonic Wars:
Britain had the best line-of-battle force, no question – but the performance of their frigates, ships and crews, is average to downright abysmal.
Would you agree with this view?

Poll set up by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian, based on this pre-poll discussion.