Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

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Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Crazedwraith » 2012-01-16 04:49pm

I've been reading the Hornblower series recently and have just finished off the Admiral Hornblower omnibus.

So while reading "The Commodore" a question arose in my mind. Hornblower takes command of a small fleet going to help Russia out. He has one 74 with Captain Bush in command, a couple of brigs with Commanders in charge and three small ships in the command of Lieutenants. (two bomb-ketches and a cutter.)

Now reading through the books, they make much of the need for promotion. Everyone wants to become a Post-Captain right? Because being a Captain is a) cool and b) makes you guaranteed to be an Admiral in time. Barring death or total disgrace resulting in discharge from the service. Promotions past Post-Captain being strictly based on seniority.

In Lt. Hornblower. Bush has a section about how good for promotion being a big ships LT is. Especially a first Lt. Since they get all the opportunities. (Though over the course of the book Hornblower the fourth Lt. manoeuvres himself well enough to get promoted to Commander)

So my question is this: In the period is it better for your career to be an Lt on a big ship working under a Captain or is it better to an Lt. in command of a small ship like a cutter or brig?
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Mr Bean » 2012-01-16 05:30pm

Crazedwraith wrote:
So my question is this: In the period is it better for your career to be an Lt on a big ship working under a Captain or is it better to an Lt. in command of a small ship like a cutter or brig?

The same factors that apply today are because of the same factors all the way back in the rich Naval tradition. Being the sole commander of a smallboy is not as beneficial career wise as being the Lt on a big ship working under a Captain and possibly an Admiral. Reason being your chances of glory on a cutter are few depending on the era and if you do participate in a battle it's likely a small skirmish unless you get very lucky or be very good the chances are your going to be pulling the kinds of duties one uses brigs and cutters for, the unglamorous ones that need doing.

Meanwhile on bigger ship you will have less responsibility but a chance to study under someone else who has the connects or the skill to make Captain on their own. And make no mistake you need both to advance in the Navy. If your Captain is a ass-kissing boot licker who got to where he was on pure connections alone, then making a friend of your captain is going to do your career wonders. The same is true if your captain got there by skill. Unless you have a massive amount of one or the other of the two prime Captain traits, studying under both types goes you that much farther to being Captain yourself.

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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2012-01-16 06:55pm

Being a Lt. on a sail-of-the-line was better for connections and so on, but being in sole command of a ship may well have been better for your reputation, which in Nelson (and Hornblower's) day was equally important. It shows you have potnetial as a leader rather than an intermediary. Also, as Captain of a small vessel, you get the lion's share of any prize money you might acquire, and were more likely to actually earn prize money than you would on a capital ship, which mostly were on blockade duty.

Of course, being a Lt. (or indeed, any rank or rating) on a frigate trumps them all.
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby LaCroix » 2012-01-17 03:43pm

Captain of a Cutter - End of career. You will certainly never get into the spotlight again (except for pulling a brass-ballsy stunt and winning), and without being known by name&face by your superior, you will not get any promotions. You are too small to go after prizes that count, but you'll have a decent living without too much danger. Costal patrols, chasing pirates away from harbours, that stuff.

LT on a cutter - Entry position or end position - whose daugther were you caught with?

Captain of a small ship - wealth building time. You can go after prizes and can do some stuff that makes your name being known in the circles that count. Prize money can be used to buy influence and wealth. Also, the most dangerous post, as these ships are the main casualties in any battle.
Or you are of peerage, but too blatantly stupid to be given a good command.

LT - you are waiting for your Captain to get hurt in battle so you can take over and shine. Decent income, so the waiting doesn't hurt well. Also the end position if you are of lower birth. You'll never become a captain.

Captain of a 1st or 2nd rank - You are already wealthy, usually have earned a nice title and lot's of wealth, and are relatively safe in battle. You won't chase down merchants, anymore, but you aren't in it for the money anymore.

LT - you did very well on a smaller ranked boat, or were transferred with the Captain. This is usually a waiting position, getting a bit more experience while waiting to be promoted to Captain. Better be nice to the uppers, or a Cutter waits for you. Usually entry position for peerage.
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Zinegata » 2012-01-22 10:32pm

Crazedwraith wrote:b) makes you guaranteed to be an Admiral in time.


Not exactly.

Barring death or grave misconduct, Captains were "guaranteed" to become an Admiral eventually, but this promotion can go two ways.

One is a regular promotion, where you become an Admiral commanding a squadron or a fleet.

The other possibility is that you'll become a Rear-Admiral of the Yellow, which is actually a euphemism for "retired". "Yellow" is a non-existent squadron in the Royal Navy, and getting promoted to this position basically means that you'll never get a command again and will be on a Rear-Admiral's half-pay for the rest of your life.

It's a decent enough retirement package, but you will never become a Nelson if you got "yellowed".

======

Also, the ideal post to get a promotion is any post that sees a lot of combat action. While connections helped, combat experience was still the most valuable skill that the Admiralty looked at when they promoted officers (which is why some outright crooks got to become Admirals - it didn't matter that they stole prize money from their own sailors; what was more important was that they could be relied upon to fight).

Knowing this, the ideal posting is not necessarily on a big ship-of-the-line. It depends on whether or not Britain is at war with someone.

If it's peacetime, then most of the ships-of-the line are gonna be mothballed and its officers will be stuck on shore living on half-pay. By contrast, command of a small ship on anti-piracy duty would be much more valuable to advancing your career - it's more lucrative and you get to pad your resume with a string of small skirmishes that could get you a shiny new battleship or frigate when wartime comes.

Conversely, wartime offers opportunities for participating in a big battle; and being a Lieutenant of the Bellerophon at Trafalgar is gonna count more than winning three minor skirmishes against pirates along the African Coast.

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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby PeZook » 2012-01-23 01:51am

I guess that's why it was safest to get a frigate, wasn't it? If you got a frigate you could reasonably count to stay active both in peacetime and in war :)
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Zinegata » 2012-01-23 07:30am

PeZook wrote:I guess that's why it was safest to get a frigate, wasn't it? If you got a frigate you could reasonably count to stay active both in peacetime and in war :)


Frigates typically don't engage directly in large naval battles however, so your achievements will dim in comparison to an officer who is fortunate enough to fight and survive in a major battle on a ship-of-the-line.

To stand out as a frigate Captain, you need to do something truly remarkable.

One route is to capture a capital ship, of which I know of only one instance in the entire age of sail (Captain Edward Pellew's Indefatigable and another frigate capturing a French '74).

The other is to be a brillant coastal raider, of which only two emerged during the time of Nelson - Thomas Cochrane (who would be the inspiration for Jack Aubrey, from Master & Commander) and Sidney Smith (Who foiled Napoleon at Toulon, Egypt, and Portugal/Brazil: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Sidney_Smith )

By comparison, the dozen or so members of Nelson's "Band of Brothers" all made their careers on capital ships - helped by the fact that there were very many wars and major battles fought during their time period.

====

If all you want is to make post-Captain however, a Frigate is indeed your best bet. In fact, there's one known officer of the Royal Navy who made Post-Captain despite being of African descent (and most likely a former slave) and never spent a single day of his career on England to foster any special relationships. As long as you can command men and you can fight, you can make that rank.
Last edited by Zinegata on 2012-01-23 07:38am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby PeZook » 2012-01-23 07:38am

Zinegata wrote:Frigates typically don't engage directly in large naval battles however, so your achievements will dim in comparison to an officer who is fortunate enough to fight and survive in a major battle on a ship-of-the-line.


Obviously, yes - that's why I said it might be the safest spot to ensure promotion post captain at some point in the future, rather than one that promises the most reward (career-wise at least, from I understand you could get pretty wealthy as a frigate captain just from the prize money).
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2012-01-23 09:11am

Rear-Admiral of the Yellow was, as well as a retirement package, used by the Admiralty to get younger, more capable post-captains promotions. As it was based on seniority, you could be the next in line for an Admiral's flag while being old and off your rocker. By promoting you to Rear Admiral of the Yellow, it clears you out of the way for better officers to move up the list.

This is also were the rank of Commodore was used: to give post-captains positions where they had real power and chances for success despite being several places down the Captain's List.

But, yes, serving on a Frigate was the ideal if you wanted money and advancement. Of course, being an Admiral gave you a good income as well: you automatically got 1/3rd of the prize money given to Captain's under your command. The Jamaica station was much sought after as a result :)
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Thanas » 2012-01-23 09:24am

Zinegata wrote:One route is to capture a capital ship, of which I know of only one instance in the entire age of sail (Captain Edward Pellew's Indefatigable and another frigate capturing a French '74).


Didn't capture her. She ran aground and was destroyed by heavy seas.
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Teebs » 2012-01-23 05:23pm

Zinegata wrote:If all you want is to make post-Captain however, a Frigate is indeed your best bet. In fact, there's one known officer of the Royal Navy who made Post-Captain despite being of African descent (and most likely a former slave) and never spent a single day of his career on England to foster any special relationships. As long as you can command men and you can fight, you can make that rank.


Do you have any more information on the guy? He sounds interesting.

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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby LaCroix » 2012-01-23 05:34pm

Teebs wrote:
Zinegata wrote:If all you want is to make post-Captain however, a Frigate is indeed your best bet. In fact, there's one known officer of the Royal Navy who made Post-Captain despite being of African descent (and most likely a former slave) and never spent a single day of his career on England to foster any special relationships. As long as you can command men and you can fight, you can make that rank.


Do you have any more information on the guy? He sounds interesting.


I believe he is thinking of John Perkins?
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Zinegata » 2012-01-23 07:02pm

I believe he is thinking of John Perkins


Yep, that's him.

Thanas wrote:Didn't capture her. She ran aground and was destroyed by heavy seas.


Ah, yes. I incorrectly recalled they captured the French '74 after they forced it to run aground. Still, it was one of the very few (if not the only) engagements wherein frigates beat a ship-of-the-line.

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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby LaCroix » 2012-01-24 07:11am

Zinegata wrote:Still, it was one of the very few (if not the only) engagements wherein frigates beat a ship-of-the-line.

Well, his companion was a 74 (and maybe some others, as well). You can be fairly sure who dealt the real damage here. He managed to keep the Duquesne engaged until his big buddy could arrive. Mainly because she had some small brigs with her who he would have torn to pieces if she didn't assist. (A frigate is to a brig like a 1st rate to a frigate.)

Edward Pellew, he was an exceptional captain, with exceptional balls. Most frigates encountering a 3rd rate would do what they were designed for - to out-run a stronger enemy.

Some quick math:
Frigate: 28-36 guns, usually 32, with 1/4 of those deck guns of ~8-9pdr (which won't do much more than mess up the outer planking of the double SOTL's hull). Main armament was 18pdr. - Broadside weight: 13x18+3x9= 261 lbs, 16 holes in the enemy.

Ship-of-the-line: Let's use the standard 74' recipe
28 x 36 pdr, 30 x 18 pdr, 16 x 9 pdr - Broadside weight: 798 lbs, 37 holes in the enemy.

You could very much expect a 'Man' to blow a frigate out of the water with one broadside, and a second to finish her off - shiver me timbers, indeed.

You'd need a lot of frigates to take down one 3rd rate 4 or thereabout, but then you'd get into problems with blocking LOF, giving the 74' chance to use both sides, etc.

Frigates were the best thing to earn money and a name, but once you were in a real battle (not just shooting up pirates and merchants), you better had something with three decks under your feet.
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby LaCroix » 2012-01-24 07:28am

I was getting curious and made a bit of research...

These two ships were the INDEFATIGABLE (44 - Pellew) and AMAZON (36 - Reynolds) , so they were very heavy frigates.
I know now that the INDEFATIGABLE was a 'razed' 74 (one battery deck was removed), which actually carried 46 guns, 26 x24, 14 x12 and 6x42 carronades. That's not a "frigate", that's a Pocket-Ship-Of-The-Line.

DROITS DE L´HOMME (74 - Lacrosse) (already damaged by a storm)
DROITS DE L´HOMME sank after running aground, as did the AMAZON
INDEFATIGABLE had 4 feet of water in the hull and barely made it back to Plymouth, where it took 2 months to patch her up.

My assumption that he won by the sheer weight of his balls seems confirmed. He survived because he was the only one not to run aground.
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2012-01-24 09:05am

Indeed, the Indefatigable was more a 4th rate than a frigate (5th or 6th rates, 5th being 30+ guns IIRC, with 6th being 20+).

As for multiple frigates attacking a 74, coming in on both sides is actually a good idea. The 74 does not have enough crew to man both broadsides at once (no ship did, it was impractical to carry that many men), so each gun crew was responsible for a gun on each broadside. With targets on either beam, the ship either has to ignore one enemy to focus on another (possible but leaves you open to the second frigate) or split the gun crews between port and starboard (as in, alternate guns on each side are being used). This will weaken each broadside considerably.

Of course, if it's a sufficient difference between the two frigates and the 74, this won't matter.

Another thing to consider in frigate-versus 74 situations is the number of decks. As the frigate has one deck and the 74 two, it will be much harder for the frigate to board the 74 if she gets close enough. It alos allows the lighter guns on the 74's upper deck to fire down onto the exposed decks of the frigate. This is especially dangerous if the 74 has carronades loaded with grape or canister. This is basically why HMS Victory was able to survive being sandwhiched between the i]Bucentair[/i] (sp?) and the Redoutable at Trafalgar - she had three decks while the two Frenchmen were two-deckers. It gives you quite an advantage.

For those who are interested in my source on all this, it's from an excellent (albeit large) book called The Trafalgar Companion, which covers all of Nelson's career in detail as well as ship classification, construction, command and control, gunnery and tactics and officers and crew.

Edited for spelling.
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby PeZook » 2012-01-24 09:39am

Is it at all feasible to try and derudder a ship of the line in your tiny outmatched frigate? Precision gunnery like this is probably out of the question in the Age Of Sail, but who knows, maybe somebody pulled it off :)
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Zinegata » 2012-01-24 10:01am

LaCroix wrote:My assumption that he won by the sheer weight of his balls seems confirmed. He survived because he was the only one not to run aground.


Well, Pellew also wreaked some havoc on the French fleet that tried to land an army on Ireland - that was a fiasco in itself and demonstrated the poor quality of French sailing by this point.

There's also another famous engagement involving Thomas Cochrane, who captured the frigate El Gamo using a 14-gun sloop (Cochrane was said to joke that he could carry his broadside in his pocket). That involved a great deal of subterfuge however.

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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Thanas » 2012-01-24 10:14am

PeZook wrote:Is it at all feasible to try and derudder a ship of the line in your tiny outmatched frigate? Precision gunnery like this is probably out of the question in the Age Of Sail, but who knows, maybe somebody pulled it off :)


To what end? They'll just rig up other rudders for steering and while you can rake the stern, that is not going to kill a ship of the line that is bigger than a 4th rate.

You will be pretty much screwed if you just make one mistake or the enemy makes one move you cannot anticipate. It kinda is the equivalent of attacking a modern tank on open field with charges. Sometimes you will get close to it but in 99% of the cases you will die.
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2012-01-24 11:40am

It would depend some on what the frigate actually was in any even; gun counts get very deceptive with frigates as some of them had nothing bigger then a 9pdr or even four pdr and others had a considerable battery of 24 pdrs and 32 pdr carronades that aren't so divorced from the firepower of another ship of the line, just inferior in total numbers and height of command. Actually aiming to go for a rudder though is more then slightly hampered by the fact that many ships of the line were actually faster then frigates running dead downwind until you got to the really big ones.
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby PeZook » 2012-01-24 12:53pm

Thanas wrote:To what end? They'll just rig up other rudders for steering and while you can rake the stern, that is not going to kill a ship of the line that is bigger than a 4th rate.

You will be pretty much screwed if you just make one mistake or the enemy makes one move you cannot anticipate. It kinda is the equivalent of attacking a modern tank on open field with charges. Sometimes you will get close to it but in 99% of the cases you will die.


Yes, I figured it was one of those "one shot wonder" solutions that laymen are notorious for proposing and that mostly depend on the target cooperating fully and not doing anything nasty like shooting back. And if you're trying to run away, it's better to just run away than risk getting into gun range.

Unless the sea is choppy. Then you might not even have that opportunity :)
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby LaCroix » 2012-01-24 06:00pm

Eternal Freedom wrote:As for multiple frigates attacking a 74, coming in on both sides is actually a good idea. The 74 does not have enough crew to man both broadsides at once (no ship did, it was impractical to carry that many men), so each gun crew was responsible for a gun on each broadside.

While they didn't carry the full crew, they had enough crew to man a broadside optimal, 10-12 men per gun. These guns could be handled by 4 men, so in fact, they had enough manpower to split and have all guns manned by 4 to do the loading and aiming, with the 4 more jumping from side to side to help running the pieces out. They wouldn't be at optimal speed, but decently operational. If memory serves me right, under-manning was forgone in preparation of big battles, where the ships usually were manned fully.
(Also, they usually would load both sides while you are still approaching.)

Still, I believe the problems of getting into your lines of fire makes multiple approach impractical. These ships weren't known for their turning ability, and communication was zilch. Friendly ramming/fire is a definite possibility, which was (if I remember correctly) one of the reasons fleets formed neat lines to pass each other.

PeZook wrote:Yes, I figured it was one of those "one shot wonder" solutions that laymen are notorious for proposing and that mostly depend on the target cooperating fully and not doing anything nasty like shooting back.


Also, you overestimate the precision of period gunnery. A 24pdr would have ranges of ~3000 yards at max elevation (close to 10°), still, you would be lucky to actually hit a ship at point blank (300 yards), lest aim at a thing like the rudder, which was only a bit wider than the ball. Typical engagement ranges to consistently hit the target vessel were about 100yards. (That's why they invented carronades - you didn't need more range.)
Trying to hit it would mean that you'd have to get close, and they won't let you do that without shooting back.

And even if you derudder them because the whole ship was asleep for hours and didn't notice you sneaking closer, these ships won't stop moving. Turning around and approaching for a second attack would take you about 15 minutes, and by then, they would have the rudder jury-rigged. They don't need a working one, if they just get it to neutral they could actually steer by angling the sails.

Even if they are stuck, they'd only need to try and sail a circle - they only need to get you into their firing arc, somehow.

De-masting is the thing you would want, as it would immediately bring the ship to a full stop and defenceless against stern-crossing. Good luck with that.
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Eternal_Freedom » 2012-01-24 06:12pm

LaCroix wrote:
Eternal Freedom wrote:As for multiple frigates attacking a 74, coming in on both sides is actually a good idea. The 74 does not have enough crew to man both broadsides at once (no ship did, it was impractical to carry that many men), so each gun crew was responsible for a gun on each broadside.

While they didn't carry the full crew, they had enough crew to man a broadside optimal, 10-12 men per gun. These guns could be handled by 4 men, so in fact, they had enough manpower to split and have all guns manned by 4 to do the loading and aiming, with the 4 more jumping from side to side to help running the pieces out. They wouldn't be at optimal speed, but decently operational. If memory serves me right, under-manning was forgone in preparation of big battles, where the ships usually were manned fully.
(Also, they usually would load both sides while you are still approaching.)

Still, I believe the problems of getting into your lines of fire makes multiple approach impractical. These ships weren't known for their turning ability, and communication was zilch. Friendly ramming/fire is a definite possibility, which was (if I remember correctly) one of the reasons fleets formed neat lines to pass each other.


So even if they manned all the guns it would still be at a reduced fire rate, which for the French is a bad thing as their fire rates were IIRC very bad compared to the British crews.

Getting in the way of your allies is indeed a problem though. Although the numbers game is still fairly academic, multiple frigates will still suffer when trying to board the sail of the line, will still struggle to penetrate their hulls and so on.

As I recall, there was an unwritten rule that sail of the line didn't engage frigates unless the frigate fired first.
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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Zinegata » 2012-01-24 06:59pm

How about pitting an American "super frigate" (i.e. USS Constitution) against a ship-of-the-line? I know they were designed to avoid the battleships rather than fight them, but would they have good chances if they got cornered?

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Re: Age-Of-Sail Naval Question

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2012-01-24 07:04pm

LaCroix wrote: (That's why they invented carronades - you didn't need more range.)


I wouldn't go that far, one US frigate in the war of 1812 decided to arm herself entirely with carronades and was destroyed by an RN frigate with gunners trained for long range fire. Its entirely possible to hit at considerable ranges with smoothbore cannon, it was just not typically for gun crews to be all that well trained for the task as gunners took heavy losses in action and captains had varying opinions on the importance of such training. If the enemy also had long range guns, you'd generally just not bother with the attempt since shot for shot, the guns are just going to be more destructive at close ranges and powder was very expensive. The RN generally had good gunners and never liked the carronade to the degree that some other navies, particularly the US did.

Eternal_Freedom wrote:
As I recall, there was an unwritten rule that sail of the line didn't engage frigates unless the frigate fired first.


Well, I for one have never heard of that and I do know of cases of British ships of the line running down frigates, more the once, in the war of 1812 alone. Nobody is just going to decline to engage because his enemy is weaker, that's kind of absurd.

The French were bad in the Napoleonic Wars at both rate of fire and aiming because they had ships loaded down with revolutionary conscripts and most of the officer corps had fled the revolution, while at the same time they were attempting to radically expand the fleet. The fleet was also built of unseasoned timber so the crew spent half its time trying to stop them from falling apart. French performance in earlier wars was not so bad.
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