Wednesday, 6 January 2021

British Frigate vs French Frigate 1793 - 1814 - Mark Lardas/Peter Dennis (Osprey Duel Series)

Let's get 2021 off to a good start with the first book review of the New Year and an Osprey Duel Series book I got for Christmas from my Mother-in-Law, thank you Barb.

I know I have written before how easy it is for those of us who have been in the hobby of historical wargaming for any length of time to take Osprey Publishing somewhat for granted. 

They have always been there, ever since my early days in the hobby back in the mid-seventies, and with improvements in publishing technology and their commitment to recruiting some of the best historians and military artists in the field of military history, have improved their books tremendously since those early first editions, many of which I still treasure, as much for their nostalgia value rather than their content.

Of course with such a large back catalogue of titles to choose from some of these small books are better than others, providing as they do a starter but with lots of pointers to further reading to add to the knowledge and understanding of a given subject.

As mentioned these are small paperbacks usually of just under one-hundred pages with lots of illustrations interspersing the text, providing an introduction to a subject or period and so can be read cover to cover quite quickly, and in this case over two nights during the Xmas break.

A model of the Flore Americaine illustrated in the book, one of the early French frigates from the Seven Years War that pioneered the early development of the new cruiser type of warship.
Photograph by Rama Neko, Wikimedia Commons, Ce-by-sa-2-0-fr

I have to say that I thought this particular title was definitely one of the better ones with a logical progression of chapters looking at the development of the frigate to replace the small 40-44 gun two decker fourth rates that often had difficulties opening their lower tier of gun ports in heavy weather; seeing that lower gun deck given over to crew quarters and storage, which with the increased stores capacity improved the cruising range between stops to re-provision; and, by extending the length of the hull, enabling a longer single gun deck arrangement above it, with slightly fewer guns but all able to operate in all practical weathers, thus increasing the firepower and with the weight saving and longer hull offering improved handling and speed advantages over the old small fourth rates, enabling a very cost and combat effective cruiser.

With the new class of warship finding its niche in the line up of the major world fleets as a cruiser, scout and merchant/transport escort, the race became one of developing the ships into ever larger more powerfully armed units whilst retaining the elements of speed and manoeuvrability that saw a gradual development of first the 20-22 gun 8/9-pdr frigate to the 26-28 gun 12-pdr model with the later 32-36 gun 12-pdr frigate becoming the standard European type of medium frigate superseded in those navies by the 38-44 gun 18-pdr heavy frigate, with the British settling on the 38-gun design after their experience of taking in battle several of the larger French and Spanish 40 gun designs with, to them, little perceived advantage to those respective navies in fighting capability for the extra time and cost involved in building the slightly larger ship.

HMS Endymion was a British built 40-gun frigate seen here exchanging broadsides with USS President in 1815

The British would revaluate this assessment after their experience of encountering the American super-frigates, nearly the length of a third rate with their reinforced hulls of white oak, but often with reduced manoeuvrabilty. The British experimented with a larger 40-gun model with the building of HMS Endymion, but with the development of the carronade and the ability to produce lots of 38-gun Leda Class type heavy frigates with plenty of third rates and medium frigates in support, they saw little need for the more costly American 'Tiger tank' type frigate to police their ever growing world empire.

The frigate concept began as a French idea and they led the world in the eighteenth century in the development of fast sailing and well armed ships, which drew the attention of British designers when they were captured to not only imitate the designs but to adapt them with improvements better suited to British needs.

The access to supplies of suitable oak and pine for hulls and masts favoured the British supply chain and French designers were forced to adapt, using lighter components than in a typical British design, with thinner frames and spaced further apart, leading to long hulls that gave speed through the water but weaker hulls more prone to 'hogging' or bending at the stern and bow with the centre of buoyancy pushing the ship up in the middle, with the weight of any guns on the forecastle and poop making the problem worse.

The Great Guns as illustrated in the book by Peter Dennis illustrating the arrangements for the 8/9, 12 and 18-pdr Long Guns and the British 12, 18 and 32-pdr carronades eventually matched though not very successfully by the French 36-pdr brass obusiers de vaisseaux, later changing to iron carronades similar to British models

As time went by the lead in frigate design shifted from the French to the British, never averse to adopting and adapting French building techniques, something seemingly not copied by French designers and thus with the development of the carronade and coppering of hulls, the British took a distinct lead in the design of these types of ships from the late eighteenth century. 

Thus it would be the French Marine National force of large and medium frigates that posed the greatest threat to British mercantile trade and force projection and against whom the majority of frigate versus frigate engagements would be fought between 1793-1814, although, as the book illustrates, surprisingly fewer that one would imagine, with just forty-five ship to ship engagements illustrated on a great little map of the globe for handy reference.

One of those rare French victories is illustrated by Peter Dennis depicting the moment French boarders 
from MNF 28-gun 8-pdr Baionnaise overwhelmed the upper deck of the British 32-gun 12-pdr frigate HMS Ambuscade off the French Biscay coast, 14th December 1798.

During this time period the Royal Navy enjoyed unrivalled success winning thirty-five of these encounters, with seven described as inconclusive and with three French victories, with the book going on to describe three such encounters in detail, something really handy for those of us messing about developing scenarios to refight on the table.

A section of the map illustrating the positions around the globe of the forty-five Anglo-French frigate actions between 1793 -1814

British Frigate vs French Frigate is 80 pages cover to cover and includes the following chapters:

Design and Development
The Strategic Situation
Technical Specifications
The Combatants
Statistics and Analysis
Further Reading

I really enjoyed this little gem from Osprey, proof of which was that I did indeed read it from cover to cover and yes a significant amount of material was not new to me, but then I have been doing this stuff a long time and have read a few books before coming to this one.

That said Peter Dennis' artwork is as usual worth the cover price alone to inspire my own ideas around this subject and Mark Lardas compliments the ten pieces of colour artwork, diagrams and maps together with forty-nine illustrations, many from his own personal collection that I had not seen before, and with some really interesting stats and comparisons that I know will inform my scenario designs for these type of table-top engagements.

British Frigate vs French Frigate has a cover price of £12.99 but I see Amazon have it listed new for just £8.99 on Prime with free delivery and second hand copies from £5.90 plus postage and packing.

So next up I have the last few Vassal games played before the Xmas break to report on which included a fun campaign game of Rommel in the Desert with Steve and I battling backwards and forwards along the North African coast, followed by a foray into the Wars of the Roses with a game of Columbia's Richard III.

Following that, the French shipyards are at full capacity with six generic third rates on the stocks as I write and I am having fun with the video camera again trying out something new for the new year - more anon.

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