Ships of the Line
A Ship of the Line was a type of naval warship built from the 17th century through to the mid 19th century. These vessels where designed for the naval tactic of the line of battle where two opposing columns of warships maneuvered to fire their cannons from their broadsides. The introduction of steam propulsion brought an end to reliance on the wind for pure sail-driven vessels when maneuvering for battle and the term Ship of the Line fell into disuse. Ships were rated by their size, a First-Line ship being the largest and a Sixth-Line ship the smallest.
Naval Cannon Fire
With the introduction of Ships of the Line sailing down a line of attack firing broadsides, came the devastation of broadside cannons firing several different weights of cannon balls and various forms of cannon shot, chains and linked cannon balls. These projectiles had a destructive effect on wooden hulls, masts, rigging and the crew. The French favoured long range fire to bring down masts and rigging thus disabling the enemy vessel.
The British favoured a closer attack with rapid fire of cannon balls to shatter the hull below and above the water line of the enemy ship with devastating effect. Cannon balls would enter the hull and careen around the interior of the ship leaving a swath of destruction. However, it was not only the ball that did damage, wood splinters from the wooden hull and interior generated terrible injuries to sailors below decks.
War of the Spanish Succession – 1701-1714
The Capture of the San Joaquin – 1711
HMS Jersey took part in actions during this war including the Action off Cartagena where she was involved in the capture of the San Joaquin. The galleon San Joaquin, accompanied by a tender, sighted several vessels which they thought were French but turned out to be British. The ensuing engagement lasted just twenty minutes with the galleon being dismasted and with many casualties she then surrendered. Jersey was responsible for capturing the San Joaquin’s tender.
The War of Jenkin’s Ear – 1739-1748
The “War of Jenkin’s Ear” might well be the title of a 1950s British Ealing Studio comedy film, but in reality, it was a war between Britain and Spain that lasted some 9 years and encompassed battles fought in Spain and in the Caribbean. Its unusual name was coined by Thomas Carlyle, one hundred and ten years after hostilities ended and referred to an ear severed from Robert Jenkins, the captain of a British merchant ship, following the boarding of his vessel by Spanish coast guards in 1731. This incident was of minor importance until several years later the British South Sea company used this incident to spur outrage against Spain in order to get permission from Spain to sell slaves to Spanish America. The war resulted in heavy British casualties and after 1742, the war was subsumed into the wider War of the Austrian Succession.
Battle of Cartagena de Indias – 1739
HMS Jersey’s first battle in the War of Jenkin’s Ear was an attack on the port of Cartagena, Columbia. This was a heavily defended port and the British, after an attack lasting 60 days, were forced to retreat; a disastrous defeat that had lasting effects including the collapse of Robert Walpole’s government. When news of the defeat reached Europe, it had immense repercussions which lead to the war of the Austrian Succession. Jersey ended up as a prison vessel in New York during the American war of Independence. She was eventually abandoned and burned in 1781 when British forces retreated from New York.
Attack on Portobello and San Lorenzo el Real – 1740
In 1740, after the destruction of the fortress and town of Portobello, the British moved on to attack the last Spanish stronghold on the area, the fortress of San Lorenzo el Real Chagres in present day Panama. A British squadron which included the Bomb Ketch HMS Alderney bombarded the Spanish fortress, which surrendered after two days.
However, the end result of the War of Jenkin’s Ear was not a success for the British whose territorial and economic ambitions in the Caribbean had been repelled, while Spain managed to defend her American possessions.
The victory at Portobello was greeted with much enthusiasm in Britain and the Portobello Road in London was named after this triumph.
HMS Alderney was a bomb ketch, a vessel whose principle armament were mortars mounted near the bow elevated to a high angle. Following this raid, she returned to Jamaica and was subsequently caught in a storm, beached and abandoned.
HMS Alderney – 1742
Another HMS Alderney was a sixth-rate frigate, originally built as HMS Squirrel but renamed in 1742.
Launched in 1742, decommissioned in 1749 and converted to a transport vessel.
After her decommission, Alderney brought settlers to Halifax in 1750 where a new township was created named Dartmouth. The Dartmouth school Alderney Elementary is named after this vessel.
HMS Victory – 1744
Launched in 1737, wrecked in 1744
Victory was a 96-gun second-rate ship of the line. Not to be confused with the later and more famous HMS Victory of the Battle of Trafalgar fame.
Expansive features in her design compromised her stability and due to jealousy of the shipwright, the order to build a vessel “low and snug” was ignored and a particularly large and roomy vessel was built which was a feeble sailing vessel requiring several refits before passing her sea trials.
Victory was wrecked with the loss of her entire crew of 1,150 during a storm in the English Channel. For many years she was believed to have foundered on the Black Rock off the Casquets. The wreck was eventually found 80 kms from where it was thought to have gone down.
The Seven Years War – 1756 – 1763
This could be described as the first truly global war as it spanned five continents: Europe, The Americas, West Africa, India and the Philippines. Although all European powers became enmeshed in the conflict, mostly in land battles in Europe, it was only a global war between the French and English. For other protagonists in Europe and for indigenous people in North America and India, it was more of a local land war. The end result though was a change in the balance of power between major states. The war restructured not only the European political order but also affected events around the world, paving way for the beginning of later British world superiority in the 19th century, the rise of Prussia, the beginnings of tensions in British North America, as well as clear signs of France’s turmoil.
Although there were relatively few classic naval battles, Quiberon Bay being one, the Royal Navy was the key to the success of the British in this war. The contribution of the navy varied from protecting trade while attacking that of the enemy, providing defense against invasion and blockading enemy warships and merchantmen. During this war, a distinctly British approach to conducting warfare developed in which the key element was the integration of the army and navy in amphibious power projection. The outcome of war was successful for Great Britain, which gained the bulk of New France in North America, Spanish Florida, some individual Caribbean islands in the West Indies, Senegal, and superiority over French trading posts in the Indian sub-continent and solidified the importance of the Royal Navy in Britain’s superiority at sea.
HMS Alderney saw active service during the Seven Years’ War and during the American War of Independence. She was principally deployed in the North Sea protecting British fishing fleets and merchant trade.
James Cook took part in this war when he served as master of HMS Pembroke and participated in the assault that captured the French Fortress of Louisburg and in the Siege of Quebec City and the subsequent Battle of the Plains of Abraham, ending French territorial ambitions if North America. The only French territories that remained in North America are the two Islands of the Newfoundland coast, St. Pierre and Miquelon, which exist to this day as French territory. His skills in cartography and surveying were responsible for the mapping of the entrance to the St Laurence river which allowed General Wolfe to make his famous attack on the Plains of Abraham. These skills brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and the Royal Society in a crucial moment in the direction of British overseas discovery. In 1776, the Admiralty engaged Cook to command a scientific voyage to the Pacific Ocean, his first of three scientific voyages around the world.
HMS Arethusa was originally the French frigate Aréthuse captured by the British off Brittany in 1759 and renamed Arethusa. She served during the war in British home waters and was responsible for capturing several French cutters. She fought a famous duel with Belle Poule in 1778. This was was the first battle between French and British forces during the American Revolutionary War and took place about three weeks before the formal declaration of war by France. In 1779, after engaging the French Aigrette, she sustained considerable damage and was wrecked the next day off Ushant.
Battle of Quiberon Bay – 1759
The Royal George was launched in 1756 and sank off Spithead in 1782. She was the largest warship in the world when she was launched. She sank when being heeled over for work on her hull. She was heeled over past her centre of gravity and with the gun ports open, she rapidly filled with water, rolled over and sank in 60 metres of water.
This was the most decisive battle of the 18th century and was the culmination of British plans to eliminate French naval superiority and scuttle France’s plans to invade England. A British fleet of 24 ships under Sir Edward Hawke in HMS Royal George tracked down and engaged a French fleet of 21 ships of the line under Marshal de Conflans off the coast of Brittany. After a hard battle, the British fleet sank or ran aground 6 French ships, captured one and scattered the rest. This gave the Royal Navy one of its greatest victories and ended for good any French plans for invasion.
The battle signaled the rise of the Royal Navy in becoming the world’s foremost naval power.
Storming of the Plains of Abraham – 1759
Although James Cook is best known for his voyages of discovery in the Pacific, he did play an important role in the Storming of the Plains of Abraham, a battle where General Wolfe seized Quebec from the French, greatly assisted by the Royal Navy.
After the seizure of Louisburg, and with the French Navy losing over a quarter of their ships trying to hold the fort, this left the way open for the attack on Quebec City.
A major problem facing the British was navigating the treacherous St. Laurence river, a failed expedition in 1711 lost eleven ships and 1,000 men. However, in 1759 the Navy was blessed with excellent navigators of which Captain Cook, master of HMS Pembroke, was one of the best. As at Louisburg, the close cooperation between the Royal Navy and the army was the crucial factor in the success of the scaling of the cliffs, hauling artillery pieces up the cliffs and the subsequent success in the battle on the plains. With the British forces now prepared to besiege the city and the Navy positioned to bombard the city, the French formally capitulated. The fall of Quebec was a significant event in the Seven Years War. It brought about a financial crash for Versailles and many French merchants in France suffered huge losses. It also impacted France’s ability to continue the war in Germany.
In 1754 Britain had been a European power with large overseas interests. By 1763, with North America conquered and India and the West Indies relatively secure, Britain was very much an imperial power looking beyond Europe for its vital national interests.
Battle of Restigouche – 1760
HMS Dolphin circumnavigated the world twice under John Byron. In 1765 he took possession of the Falkland Islands, which nearly caused a war with Spain
This was a naval battle fought between the French and English on the Restigouche River in New Brunswick. After Quebec had fallen to the British, French forces still remained in New France in large numbers. Appeals to the French government were met with indifference or neglect partly because the French Navy had been smashed at the battle of Quiberon Bay. However, a frigate was dispatched with supplies and troops from Bordeaux accompanied by five merchant ships. Only three ships arrived in the St Laurence, the others having been seized trying to break through the British blockade of France. In the meantime, a force of Royal Navy ships under Commodore John Byron left Louisburg to intercept the French ships. The ships faced off against each other in the Restigouche river where the outcome was a victory for the British. The loss of the Battle of Restigouche and the consequent inability to supply the troops, marked the end of any serious attempt by France to keep hold of their colonies in North America, and it severely curtailed any hopes for a lengthy resistance to the British by the French forces that remained in North America.
John Byron in Dolphin went on to establish British settlements in the South Atlantic and following this he completed a circumnavigation of the globe. In 1769, he was appointed governor of Newfoundland, a post that he held for three years. In 1779, he unsuccessfully attacked a French fleet at the battle of Grenada.
Byron carried the nick-named “Foul-weather Jack” throughout his career owing to his frequent encounters with bad weather at sea.
Battle of Bishops Court – 1760
This was a naval engagement between three French and three British ships fought in the Irish sea between the Isle of Man and the Irish coast. After a close fought action the three French ships were battered into surrender, with ships dismasted and reduced to sinking condition. The British took all three French ships as prizes.
HMS Pallas was one of the three Royal Naval ships that took part in this encounter.
Pallas was a 36-gun Venus-class fifth-rate frigate, launched in 1757, wrecked in 1783.
Traveling from Halifax to England, she developed a leak during the Atlantic crossing and with some eight feet of water in the hold was forced to run aground on the Azores. It was found that the keel was so severely eaten by worms that it would be impossible to make repairs. Stores and provisions were taken off Pallas and she was then burnt on orders of her captain. There was some resistance by locals to her being burnt due to rumors of barrels of gunpowder left on board, however, the captain’s order was carried out.
Battle of the Windward Passage – 1760
This was a small naval action between French and British fleets that took place in the Caribbean between Cap-Francois and eastern Cuba. HMS Boreas and HMS Lively played a key role in this battle. The result was a British victory with the French losing seven ships, captured or destroyed.
Invasion of Martinique – 1762
A British naval force under George Rodney, with troops commanded by Robert Monkton, landed on Martinique and after a short battle captured the island. Following this successful battle, Monkton went on to capture St Lucia, Grenada and Saint Vincent.
American Revolutionary War – 1775 – 1783
The Revolutionary era is generally considered to have begun with the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 and ended with the United States Bill of Rights in 1791.
The military phase of the American Revolutionary War lasted from 1775 to 1783.
The war of American Independence is unique in that it was a world war, spanning some thousands of miles of European, Asian, and North American waters and eventually embracing a complex of struggles against France, Spain and Holland, as well as dissident American Colonies. It was also the only major war fought by Britain without a single ally. As a consequence, Britain was unable to assert constant command of European waters and was unable to impose the customary blockades of French bases in Europe. Between 1778 and 1782, the squadrons of Spain and France had almost complete freedom of movement from their home ports to destinations on the other side of the Atlantic as well as the Indian ocean.
When France entered the war, it became impossible to find enough ships to escort convoys effectively all of the time. However, that ships and convoys kept moving with few interruptions was largely owing to the fact that France was far more interested in seizing Britain’s Caribbean colonies than helping the rebellious colonists. Similarly, Spain was much more interested in winning back Gibraltar and Minorca than in helping either France or the Thirteen colonies. As for Holland, although she contributed a number of naval vessels, they were mostly unfit for action and short of men and supplies. At the outbreak of the war the American colonies did not have any naval vessels. Two years after the start of the war, some vessels had been completed but they played little part in the campaigns that followed and the French commanders tended to scorned the trivial contribution of their inexperienced ally.
The French formally recognized the United States on February 6, 1778 with the signing of the treaty of Alliance. The Americans were then supported by the French against the English and this resulted in a number of naval battles that were fought between the English and French mostly in the West Indies. The American ships were mainly bottled up in port by the British blockade; nevertheless, there was a constant flow of privateers that flowed from New England’s fishing ports which harassed British shipping in coastal waters and across the Atlantic in European waters.
Initially the British had few naval bases in the Americas. Halifax being the only North American dockyard with Jamaica and Antigua used when necessary, so ships in need of major repairs often had to be sent home.
During the American War of Independence, there were a number of British Naval actions that took place in the Great Lakes, American coastal waters and in the West Indies.
USS Hanna – 1775
The armed schooner USS Hanna was the first American naval vessel of the American Revolution and is claimed to be the founding vessel of the United States Navy. She was commissioned on Sept. 2, 1775, and was out of service in October 1775. Her brief naval career ended after one-month when she was run aground by HMS Nautilus. She was not destroyed but suffered damage and was decommissioned by General Washington who found more suitable vessels for his cruises.
The Navy Schooner Lee – 1775
Washington purchased the schooner Lee as a replacement for the Hanna after she was run aground by the British Navy. She was one of five schooners that made up the original Continental Navy. She captured a number of trading vessels bringing food and supplies to British troops. She was returned to her owners in 1777.
USS Andrea Doria – 1775
USS Andrea Doria was acquired by Washington’s Navy in 1775.
In 1776, She participated in the Battle of Nassau where American troops captured the island of Nassau.
Following this, she was engaged in a fierce fight with HMS Glasgow and HMS Cabot off Rhode Island, a battle that was considered a success for the British.
Later in 1776, she captured HMS Racehorse in a two-hour engagement off the Dutch island of Sint Eustatius. Racehorse was renamed The Surprise and was scuttled in 1777 to avoid capture by the British.
HMS Druid Attacked by the Raleigh – 1776
In 1777, HMS Druid was escorting a convoy off the American coast when she was engaged by the Raleigh, who had captured signals for the convoy from the British brig Nancy. In the ensuing battle, Druid was damaged but the approach of British escorts forced the Raleigh to retire.
HMS Druid was launched in 1776 and sold in 1783. In 1779 she was renamed HMS Blast. Besides this engagement with the Raleigh, she participated in the Battle of the Saintes in 1782.
The Raleigh was later captured by the British after a seven-hour running battle with HMS Unicorn and HMS Experiment where the Raleigh was run aground on an island off Maine. The British refloated her and she was commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Raleigh.
The Capture of the Merchantman The Millern – 1776
During the beginning of the war, American privateers found it safer to cruise English waters to seize prize ships as the Royal Navy had concentrated its forces off the American coast. In an engagement off the coast of Ireland in July, 1776, the English merchantman The Millern was captured by the American ship The General Montgomery. After a short one-hour engagement, the prize was captured and sent to America but on the trip both ships were re-captured by the British off the Delaware Capes. The General Montgomery was later re-captured by the Boston based brig, Oliver Cromwell.
Blockade of Boston – 1776
HMS Lively was part of the fleet that blockaded the port of Boston, following the Boston Tea Party, enforcing the Boston Port Act. She remained part of the British presence during the siege of Boston and was the first ship to fire at the fortifications the American militia had erected, helping to spark the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The Capture of HMS Edward – 1776
During the war of Independence, there were a number of single-ship battles where American ships tackled British Naval vessels. In this incident, the 16-gun brigantine USS Lexington, under Captain John Barry, espied HMS Edward off Egg Harbor, New Jersey, during the night. The next morning, at a distance of 300 yards, the ships opened fire on each other. After one hour of battle the Edward’s guns fell silent, she struck her colours and she was boarded and captured by the crew of the Lexington. This incident is notable for being the first capture of a British naval vessel in combat by the American Navy. She was renamed USS Sachem
USS Randolph – 1776
The USS Randolph was the first Continental frigate to put to sea. When she was launched, seamen were scarce and so she was crewed by captured British sailors who were let out of jail to join the ship. On her first voyage, she was charged with escorting a convoy of American merchantmen out to sea from the Delaware River. When the convoy separated, Randolph turned north hoping to encounter HMS Milford which had been capturing New England shipping.
During the search for the British vessel, she experienced severe rigging issues and her main mast toppled into the sea which meant returning to port for repairs. With repairs completed, she put to sea again, avoiding the British blockade of Charleston Harbour, and went on to look for British merchantmen to capture. On the afternoon of March 7, she came upon a vessel which she did not recognize, it was HMS Yarmouth, a much more powerful warship with double the guns that the Randolph had. Fire was exchanged between the ships until the Randolph’s magazine exploded and the ship sank with all hands.
The French commander Comte de Grasse served under Comte d’Estaing and fought in the Battle of Chesapeake Bay and the Battle of the Saintes.
British Invasion of New York State – 1776
HMS Rose played a major part in the British invasion of New York State, firing on fortifications and making forays far up the Hudson River. Under the command of Sir James Wallace, she was responsible for driving George Washington and his troops from New York city and forcing him to retreat to White Plains.
The actions of Rose around Rhode Island, putting an end to smuggling, was instrumental in the creation of the Continental Navy. Rhode Island’s merchants paid to outfit a vessel for naval service to rid Narragansett Bay of the Rose. This vessel was commissioned as the sloop of war Providence.
Rose met her end in 1779 in Savannah, Georgia, where she was scuttled in a narrow part of the channel to effectively block it and prevent the French fleet from assisting in the American assault. Savannah remained in British hands until the end of the war.
HMS Roebuck took part in the battle of Long Island attacking American gun batteries. This battle gave the British control over New York City, a strategically advantageous position. She also saw action with HMS Phoenix and HMS Tartar on the Hudson river.
The Capture of the Prince of Orange – 1777
American privateering actions are typified by an incident in 1777 off the Dutch coast where an American Privateer based in France, The Surprise, seized the British mail vessel Prince of Orange and her cargo of mail being transported between Holland and Harwich, England. The captain of The Surprise went on to harass British shipping for a further twelve-months.
Capture of USS Delaware – 1777
In 1777, under the command of Philippe D’Auvergne, HMS Alarm captured USS Delaware and landed a company of marines on Fogland Ferry where they destroyed a guard house. In 1778, when French frigates entered Rhode Island, D’Auvergne was forced to scuttle Alarm; she was run aground on Rhode Island and set on fire.
First Naval Battle between British and French Ships – 1778
HMS Aruthsa was originally the French frigate Arethuse, captured by the British during the Seven Year’s War in 1759 and renamed Aruthsa. She fought the first battle between French and British naval force in the American Revolutionary War, the famous duel against the French frigate Belle Poule 20 miles south of The Lizard. After a furious two-hour battle, with the Aruthsa crippled by the loss of her masts, the Belle Poule escaped. This battle took place three weeks before the formal declaration of war by France. The battle was widely celebrated as a victory both in France and in Britain and became the subject of a traditional Sea shanty, The Saucy Arethusa.
In 1779, after an engagement with the French Aigrette, where she sustained considerable damage, Aruthsa was wrecked off Ushant the following day.
1st Battle of Ushant – 1778
This was the first major naval engagement between the French and English fleets in the American Revolutionary War. It ended inconclusively and led to political conflict in both countries. It was fought off Ushant, an island at the mouth of the English Channel off the north westernmost point of France. The English fleet consisted of thirty-three ships of the line, the French fleet consisted of thirty ships of the line. Admiral Augustus Keppel did not manage this battle well and the end result was a badly mauled British fleet, the French fired high into the rigging of British ships, with the French sailing off under cover of darkness.
In Britain, violent quarrels broke out which resulted in two courts-martial and the resignation of Keppel.
On the French side this was initially regarded as a great victory until reports started coming in which showed that far from being a victory, the battle was at best indecisive.
HMS Tamar participated in the battle. In 1780 she was seized by the French ship, Le Duc De Chartres, off the Scilly Isles.
Battle of Flamborough Head – 1778
Another incident between a British Naval ship and a Continental frigate was the capture of HMS Serapis by the Continental frigate Alliance, affectionately called the favourite of the people. Alliance was captained by John Paul Jones and captured Serapis off the Yorkshire coast. The American ship had sailed to France, who was now an ally of the American revolutionaries, and joined a flotilla of vessels that was tasked with creating a diversionary raid on the northern British Isles. This flotilla was under American flags but the vessels were on loan from France, except for the Alliance, and were mostly crewed by French, American and captured British sailors. On September 23, rounding Flamborough Head, he sighted oncoming vessels that were part of a convoy of 40 British merchantmen under the escort of The Serapis.
In the resulting 2-hour battle, Serapis was heavily damaged and surrendered to Alliance. During the battle, the Flotilla’s flagship USS Bonhomme Richard, commanded by John Paul Jones, had been sunk. The French then ordered the remaining ships including Serapis, now with Jones in command, to sail to the Dutch coast where they anchored in Amsterdam’s deep water harbour. Although the British had lost the engagement, with Serapis being captured, they had sunk the flagship Bonhomme Richard and had achieved their mission by protecting the convoy from attack by any of the flotilla’s ships.
Battle of Newport – 1778
The Battle of Rhode Island and the Siege of Newport were the first attempts at cooperation between French and American forces following France’s entry into the war as an American ally. Operations against Newport were planned to be made in conjunction with a French fleet and troops but were frustrated by difficult relations between the commanders and by a storm which damaged both French and British fleets, the British were commanded by Admiral John Byron. The majority of the fighting took place on land and with a major storm developing as the fleets maneuvered for position, the fleets became scattered. There were some minor naval skirmishes and the French fleet regrouped off Delaware and the British regrouped at New York. Two British ships, HMS Cerberus and HMS Lark were scuttled during the French fleet’s advance on Newport and this underwater site is included in the National Register of Historic Places.
The French naval vessel Languedoc
In 1776, when France decided to intervene in the American War of Independence, Admiral d’Estaing was ordered to bring a French fleet to the Americas. On the 10th of August, the French fleet encountered the English fleets of Howe and Byron. A storm broke out and Languedoc lost her rigging and steering. Although she was raked by fire from HMS Renown, she was saved by the timely arrival of a French squadron.
Languedoc took part in the Battle of St Lucia in 1778, an abortive attempt to recapture the island from the British. She then took part in the conquest of Grenada.
In 1781, under Admiral de Grasse, she took part in the Battle of the Chesapeake.
In 1782 she participated in the Battle of the Saintes where she eventually fled the battle leaving de Grasse to be captured; de Grasse was found to be ultimately responsible for this disaster. Languedoc was eventually scuttled in Venice in 1796 after being used for a floating barracks.