Friday, 31 July 2020

All at Sea - On the Stocks in JJ's Dockyard, Spanish Builds Part Five

Flying to Haiti, 1801 - The newly repaired Neptuno barrelling along under a full spread of canvass to make Haiti in 19 days following a 15 day repair job in El Ferrol.- Carlos Parilla Penagos

The Neptuno was an 80-gun ship of the Montanes class of third rates which I covered in my previous post looking at her sister ship of that name, the others being the 80-gun Argonauta and the 74-gun Monarca.

Like the Montanes, Neptuno was also built at El Ferrol and launched there on the 26th November 1795, being commissioned on the 7th January 1796, just prior to the Spanish declaration of war against Britain in August 1796.

By October she was based in Cadiz as part of Admiral Langara's fleet, later to be commanded by Admiral Cordoba, consisting of  twenty-seven ships of the line and eight frigates, Spain's contribution to a Franco-Spanish plan to sail a combined fleet into the English Channel to cover an invasion of the British Isles.

The plan was stymied when Cordoba fell in with Admiral Jervis's Mediterranean squadron at the Battle of Cape St Vincent on the 14th February 1797 but not before the Neptuno together with Terrible 70-guns and Bahama 74-guns were detached under Commodore Nava bound for Algaciras and thus missed the battle.

Admiral Jose de Mazzeredo, an interesting character, who wrote the Spanish tactical manual for the period with some interesting ideas for using fireships when the fleet was on the leeward side and tactics for breaking the enemy line when to windward

The Neptuno would continue to be based at Cadiz under the command of Admiral Jose de Mazzeredo y Salazar, perhaps one of the most gifted of Spanish commanders and hastily reinstated by prime minister Godoy after the failure by Cordoba at St Vincent, that after Godoy had previously sacked Mazzeredo for pointing out the lack of supplies and material being supplied to the Spanish fleet.

The Neptuno as part of Mazzeredo's fleet would spend her time in the next few years cruising the western Mediterranean in cooperation with French Admiral Bruix's fleet giving the combined squadrons a total of just over forty ships versus the sixty of the British Mediterranean squadron which in 1799 were spread out across the Mediterranean in several distinct squadrons

French and Spanish war aims were however not the same, so whilst Mazzeredo was keen on directing naval effort to the reconquest of Minorca from the British, Bruix was more concerned with defending Malta and resupplying French troops stranded in Egypt following Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798.

However the combined fleet would leave the Mediterranean in July 1799 bound for Brest which is where the Neptuno was in 1801 needing work to clean up her hull with a careening job which failed to deal with a major hole in her hull that caused her severe flooding when she set sail for Santo Domingue under French Admiral Latouche Treville. 

The flooding forced her to detach from the Franco-Spanish squadron and make for El Ferrol for urgent repairs which is the subject of Carlos Parilla Penagos's picture at the header of the post.

From the 3rd to the 5th of February 1802 Neptuno was part of French Admiral Villaret Joyeuse's squadron in support of troops landed at Cap Haiten which they captured and burned as part of the combined operation to take back the island of Saint Domingue from Toussant Loverture's Haitian Rebel army.

Following this operation, Neptuno returned to Spain and by May 1802 with the Peace of Amiens signed, she was in Cadiz, being placed in ordinary at El Ferrol by October not being recommissioned until February 1805 with the build up of Franco-Spanish squadrons prior to the Trafalgar campaign.

Captain Don Cayetano Valdez y Flores Bezan

When French Admiral Villeneuve's Combined Fleet gathered at El Ferrol in late July following his sortie to the West Indies and his interception by Vice Admiral Sir Robert Calder's fleet off Cape Finisterre on the 22nd July, the Neptuno was under the command of Captain Don Cayetano Valdez y Flores Bezan and it would be under Valdez that Neptuno would see action at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805.

Captain Valdez is described as a skilled officer and accomplished navigator having commanded the Atrevida 16-gun corvette as part of Admiral Malaspina's round the world expedition 1789 to 1794 and had combat experience commanding the Infante don Pelayo 74-guns that came to the rescue of the Santisima Trinidad at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797, later being part of the Franco-Spanish expedition to retake Santo Domingue in 1802, seeing action at Guarico and Port Dolphin.

When the opposing fleets made contact early in the morning of the 21st October the Neptuno had been the rear most ship in the Combined Fleet, but with Admiral Villeneuve's order to wear around 180 degrees at 08.00 in his effort to head back to Cadiz, the Neptuno found itself as the lead ship in the Allied van.

At about 14.00 the Neptuno together with the other Allied ships in the van turned about to enter the melee only to find herself met by HMS Minotaur 74-guns and Spartiate 74-guns who, engaging her heavily on each side, forced her to surrender after an hour's fighting that left her without masts together with 89 casualties (42 dead and 47 wounded).

Mr Francis Whitney, Master of the Spartiate recorded in the ship's records about the action with the Neptuno;
'Lay on her quarter ... firing obliquely through her, she returning at times from her stern chase and quarter guns. At 4.10 wore, not being able to bring our guns to bear, to engage her on the other tack, the other four ships having left her (Dumanoir and his three French ships)  .... 4.22 The Spanish ship engaged by the Spartiate and the Minotaur had her mizzen mast shot away. 5.10 she struck after having been very much disabled. She proved to be the Neptuno, 80 guns.

Mr Robert Duncan, master of the Minotaur, also recorded the action;
'At 2.10, observed four French and one Spanish ships bearing down towards the Victory. Hauled towards them, as did the Spartiate, and commenced firing on the Admiral's ship (Formidable). Passed the four French ships and attacked the Spanish ship with a broad pennant flying (Commodore Valdez). At 4, wore and got alongside of her, Spartiate in company. At 5.12 she struck; found her to be the Neptuno of 84 guns.

On the Neptuno Captain Valdez recorded his account at around 16.00.
'the mizzen mast fell and in its fall I was wounded in the head and neck and lost consciousness and was carried below, where I had never thought to go, notwithstanding that I had already been wounded three times during the action ... finally a few minutes before sunset, having 30 dead and 47 wounded, totally dismasted and overwhelmed by the superior number of the enemy who surrounded my ship - which was the only one in these waters - we decided to strike ...'

Neptuno was the last Allied ship to surrender at Trafalgar and a boarding party of 48 men led by Marine Second Lieutenant Thomas Reeves went aboard from HMS Minotaur who secured the prisoners before taking a tow from the Minotaur at 03.30 the next day.

However the combination of storm conditions after the battle together with Allied surviving ships sallying from Cadiz to retake captured prizes that caused the British to abandon them as they prepared to defend themselves also saw the British prize crew on Neptuno overcome by the Spanish crew as the ship was taken under tow by the French frigate Hermione. 

Despite being taken back to Cadiz Bay the force of the storm caused the Neptuno to drag her anchors as she was pressed onto the shore where she was pounded to pieces with twenty men lost in the wreck.

At Trafalgar Neptuno was armed with 30 x 32 pdr long guns on her lower deck, 32 x 18 pdrs on her upper deck, 8 x 12 pdrs on her quarterdeck and 2 x 12 pdrs on her forecastle added to which were 18 x obusiers.

Her crew numbered 800 men (445 naval personnel, 285 infantry and 70 marine artillerymen).

Sources referred to in this post:
The Trafalgar Companion - Mark Adkin

Next up Walks on Ancient Dartmoor, Vassal adventures with Washington's War and the Spanish get some frigates 

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

All at Sea - British 20-gun Sloop

Enemy Coast?, HMS Hotspur 20-guns, reconnoitring Brest during the Peace of Amiens, 1803 - Geoff Hunt PPRSMA 

Regular followers of the blog will have noticed that I was dabbling with a bit of scratch building in between the more regular work of constructing the ship of the line offerings from Warlord Games.

One model not yet offered to the historical naval gamer with this collection of models is what was known in the Royal Navy as a Sloop, the US Navy as a Sloop-of-War or in the French Marine Nationale a Corvette.

All the various terminology describes a ship-rigged, that is with three masts, small vessel, of around twenty guns and the size of ship that drew the boundary between a vessel that was commanded by a Lieutenant, in the Royal Navy, given the courtesy rank of Master and Commander and called a Captain, junior to the next senior rank of Post Captain; a significant promotion that ensured the officer concerned, after a period of seniority, would join the list of officers available to command a rated ship and in time, good conduct and with the right connections make it to flag rank becoming an admiral.

It seems likely that it may take a while for Warlord Games to make this model available, especially whilst busy designing sea-monsters and other creatures of the deep to compliment their range for those collectors so inclined. In the meantime the rest of us will have to start to think of other ways to complete our range of ships that we can use on the table in games that don't require such creatures.

As mentioned, building the hull and additional mast for my sloop, using the hulls and masts from the brig model, required me getting a new modelling saw to make the cut required to the brig and to make a new mainmast together with suitable rigging points for the back stays and shrouds.

Once that was done and the paint job sorted out then I had to think about the sail sets and size up suitable ratlines for the new mainmast.

Needless to say, having listened to Christian Rodska read about the exploits of Horatio Hornblower and his twenty-gun sloop HMS Hotspur blockading Brest with the Channel Inshore Squadron in 1803, whilst rigging my Spanish squadron, I decided to produce a British sloop as my proof of concept model, with a French and Spanish version to follow, and here she is, ready for action with her commissioning pennant at the mainmast.

I was really pleased with the final look once she was painted and rigged with little evidence of her hull and mast job to show her original form.

The addition of a boat on the davit to the stern adds to the look of a vessel rather cramped for stowing boats amidships and lacking the spar deck of much larger types.

My sloop carries 22 guns, most likely nine-pounders as detailed for the fictitious HMS Hotspur, but she is not the traditional British type, which tended to have a quarterdeck and forecastle rather than the open gun deck seen of vessels such as the USS Wasp. Thus for the purist we might conclude that she has been acquired from a previous owner!

Either way a ship-rigged sloop provides some variety to any squadron of light ships over populated with brig-sloops and frigates, speaking of which, it might be nice to show you how my new addition looks alongside her fellow consorts.

So below we have my new sloop alongside the comparable British brig-sloop displaying her ship-rig lines alongside her less attractive sister.

The sloop proved in American hands to be a much better cruizer than the brig in that with three masts it was much more able to withstand damage to its masts and rig than the brig which, once a mast had come down, proved vulnerable due to its reduced mobility versus its three masted opponent.

The longer gun deck is very evident with often 22-20 guns versus the typical 16-18 guns carried by the brig.

The next pictures, above and below, shows the sloop alongside the 36-38-gun frigate illustrating the jump in ship size commanded by a newly promoted post-captain if he was lucky to get one of the newer frigates to command.

However the sloop was very manoeuvrable in comparison to the larger ship and her more shallow draught made her a very useful vessel to have on hand on the rocky coast of French Brittany looking to intercept inshore supply boats, Chasse Marie's and luggers whilst also looking into Brest or Rochefort to count masts of readied enemy ships.

Once my French and Spanish versions are finished I will show them in comparison, but before that I plan to display the rest of the Spanish squadron with the next of my Spanish third rates the 80-gun Neptuno.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

All at Sea - On the Stocks in JJ's Dockyard, Spanish Builds Part Four

The San Juan Nepomuceno flying the broad pennant of a Brigadier-Captain - Carlos Parilla Penagos

The Spanish 74-gun ship of the line San Juan Nepomuceno was named after the 14th century priest and martyr St John of Nepomuk the saint of Bohemia and, likely because of his being put to death by drowning, the protector from floods and a similar fate as his.

She was built and launched in the naval shipyard close to Santander on the north coast of Spain in the small town of Guarnizo in 1765 being the first in her class of six sister ships.

When Spain entered the American War of Independence against Britain the San Juan Nepomuceno left Spain in December 1778 bound for Havana, Cuba and service in the Caribbean supporting Spanish operations against British possessions in the area, together with the mundane work of escorting convoys and troop transports.

In July 1793 she and seven other ships of the line left Cartagena bound for the Gulf of Lyon in the Mediterranean to join Admiral Juan Laranga's Spanish fleet, entering Toulon the next month along with British ships under Vice Admiral Lord Samuel Hood invited in by French Royalists to support their holding of the key French naval base in the name of the King of France.

Destruction of the French fleet, well parts of it, in Toulon in December 1793

San Juan Nepomuceno would continue to serve with the Mediterranean fleet after Toulon, taking part in the siege of Rosas (Roses),  the Franco-Spanish War of the Pyrenees, during the wars of the First Coalition, when she assisted in the landing of troops to support the Spanish garrison under siege by French troops.

In August 1796 Spain became an ally of Republican France and consequently at war with her former ally Great Britain.

The next time the San Juan Nepomuceno was in action was as part of Vice-Admiral Don Jose de Cordova's fleet which left Cartagena in January 1797 escorting a mercury shipment for use in the treatment of its silver imports from the Americas, with the later intention of sailing north to join up with the French fleet in Brest for a joint operation to support a landing of French troops in Britain; only for the Spanish fleet to be intercepted as it entered the Atlantic by the British Mediterranean fleet under Admiral Sir John Jervis off of Cape St Vincent on the 14th February.

The Battle of Cape St Vincent 14th February 1797 - Robert Cleveley
The picture shows the close of the battle with the captured Spanish Salvador del Mundo 112-guns in the right foreground. Behind her are two Spanish ships and a British two-decker locked together , San Josef 112-guns and to her right the San Nicholas 80-guns under boarding attack from Commodore Nelson aboard HMS Captain 74-guns.

The San Juan Nepomucheno was under the command of Captain Antonio Boneo and together with seven other ships of the line was part of the Vanguard Squadron including the Purisima Concepcion 112-guns, the flagship commanded by Francisco Javier Morales de los Rios.

This rather nice model of the ship provided the inspiration for painting her stern galleries.

The Vanguard came off lightly in terms of casualties and with no ships lost, and the San Juan Nepomucheno being fortunate in suffering no losses herself in the action, that saw four Spanish ships lost, 800 men killed and 3000 wounded.

An 1847 map of the Battle of Cape St Vincent, 14th February 1797, with the inset map showing the position of the action in relation to the Portuguese coast and the port of Cadiz to which the Spanish were trying to return.

The San Juan Nepomucheno would return to Cadiz and would continue her operations with the Mediterranean fleet in the latter years of the century as France and Spain attempted to coordinate their actions in support of the retaking of Minorca from the British.

However with the Peace of Amiens and the start of the Napoleonic War in 1803 San Juan Nepomuceno was in ordinary in Ferrol, disarmed and careened, recommissioning in June 1805 in time to join the Combined Fleet in August prior to the climactic Battle of Trafalgar, 21st October 1805.

Commodore Don Cosme Damian Churrucca, Captain of the San Juan Nepomuceno and killed at Trafalgar.

It would be at Trafalgar that the San Juan Nepomuceno would display the courage and tenacity of her crew under the command of captain Commodore Don Cosme Damian Churruca deployed as the last ship in the Combined Fleet's line.

This presentation of the two fleets at Trafalgar shows the San Juan Nepomuceno in the rear group of ships as part of the Squadron of Observation, however at 11.45 when Admiral Villeneuve signalled his fleet to open fire, she was the last ship with the French Berwick 74-guns ahead on the port bow and Admiral Gravina's, Principe de Asturias 112-guns on the starboard bow.

The battle was to prove a bad day for the Spanish ship as her position at the rear of the line not only presented her as one of the target ships to those British ships in the rear of Admiral Collingwood's lee column, precisely Captain John Conn's Dreadnought 98-guns which came alongside her, but, following the battering received from the three-decker, her progress took her among the other ships in the British column, causing her to receive yet more fire from the Bellerophon 74-guns and Tonnant 80-guns.

A possibly fanciful depiction of San Juan Nepomuceno adorning the bows of the model, with most other representations showing her with a gilded lion.

It only took a ten minute battering from the Dreadnought's 46-gun broadside to reduce the San Juan Nepomuceno to a dismasted hulk, but not before the Spanish crew had fought back with all the effort they could muster and with Captain Churruca declaring to his young nephew, on board as a volunteer, that he would meet his death in the battle, but that he would sink the ship before surrender.

The Spanish account of his death records that after personally directing his gunners, he returned to the quarterdeck when;

' ..... a cannon ball hit his right leg with such violence as almost to take it off, tearing it across the thigh in the most frightful manner. He fell to the ground (deck), but the moment he made an effort to raise himself, supporting himself on one arm. His face was as white as death, but he said, in a voice that was scarcely weaker than his ordinary tone: 'It is nothing - go on firing!'

Captain Churruca was conscious to the end of his agonising death, not complaining of his sufferings and thanking his men for their courage, before he passed away.

When the San Juan Nepomuceno struck she had lost her fore and mizzen-mast, her rudder smashed and her decks strewn with 103 dead and 131 wounded.

At Trafalgar the San Juan Nepomuceno was armed with 28 x 32-pdr long guns on the lower deck, 30 x 18-pdrs on the upper deck, 12 x 8-pdrs on the quarterdeck and 4 x 8-pdrs on the forecastle. 

Her crew numbered 693 men (431 naval, 212 infantry and 50 marine artillery personnel), with her total casualties of 234 accounting for a 34% loss overall.

Sources referred to in this post:
The Trafalgar Companion - Mark Adkin

More Spanish builds to come, plus I've been having fun scratch building sloops or should that be corvettes?

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Washington's War on Vassal - Game Two plus an All at Sea Scratch Build Project.

So following my win in Game One  playing the British and with both Steve and I getting used to the changes from the original We the People, we swapped forces and I looked forward to leading the Colonies to liberty and freedom from the tyrant King and errant Parliament.

Perhaps my understanding of the strengths of the British in this new version of a familiar game didn't really help as I started to get to grips with the American approach to it which according to the play book is all about lots of commanders leading small armies to harass the British and any garrisons they might try to set up, whilst winning the war of hearts and minds by killing Tories and getting political control and fighting battles where the opportunities outweighed the risk, especially if it meant knocking out enough British regulars to impress the French and shorten the war.

Game Two, End of 1775 with a cagey start and both sides with poor hands content to focus on laying political control.

So with an idea of what I was trying to do with my American forces I decided that I would try to keep a presence in New England for as long as practicable to stop Steve doing a similar job as I had managed in game one, and thus with a combination of political control and Washington and Greene happy to sit among it, I found myself keeping Howe and Carleton confined in Quebec and Boston as Clinton took a trip down the great lakes to rescue the British garrison in Detroit from simply perishing through lack of winter quarters.

End of 1775 and as the Americans I was keen to keep a presence in the northern states, having successfully built a strong grip on them playing the British. This however was to prove my undoing!

Of course having a plan about how you want to fight your war is one thing, but as a famous British Prime minister once said, politics is all about 'events  dear boy, events' and in Washington's War that is so cleverly modelled by the hand of cards you get and what you choose to do with them, plus hopefully keeping a close eye on what the enemy are doing at the same time. As you will see I forgot that last bit!

The British with their navy and the ability to bring on their massive reinforcements in a major landing for the cost of just one activation card of any value enables them to shift the focus of the war very rapidly and a steady American policy of PC laying was rapidly undone by Clinton redeploying to New York and marching on Philadelphia as Arnold deployed south to ward of Cornwallis with another British force in the south. With Congress dispersed, American political activities would be put on hold.

Game Two, End 1776 and Clinton has taken Philadelphia, dispersing Congress, whilst Cornwallis has landed in North Carolina to threaten the south.

The Year of the Hangman, 1777 was to prove the turning point of our game as with a combination of a thoughtful set up by Steve to lay political control markers in New Hampshire and my inattention on not realising the threat Howe was to Washington, because Greene was taking my attention, only having a single army strength point left to him following winter attrition, I left the American leader stuck in Falmouth facing a battle he was unlikely to win and now unable to retreat.

The daft decision making on my part was that if Greene was taken he would be swapped a year later to return to the American order of battle, Washington would not and I would suffer loss of political control across the colonies with his capture. Washington was captured, political control markers were removed across the map in response undoing the two previous years work and the Americans faced an up hill battle from there forward.

At the end of 1776 it is obvious to me now that Washington and Greene had outstayed their welcome in New England and I should have been starting a redeployment back into New York state - ah the benefit of hindsight!!

Oh dear, how sad, never mind! as a certain Sergeant Major used to say. Could the Americans hope to come back from this kind of a setback, Washington was not coming back and so I turned to the wily General Green to keep Howe and Clinton occupied as I tried to stitch together a strategy.

Game 2, End 1777 Oh no, disaster for American arms as Washington finds himself cornered by Howe in Falmouth and with his retreat route blocked when I failed to notice British PC markers placed in New Hampshire with the American leader in the bag and the loss of PC following his capture.

Well as it turned out the war went the whole way into 1783 with Arnold turning traitor that year during a fairly important struggle to keep the British from controlling Virginia which as a consequence they did, giving Steve and the British the necessary six states including Canada to win the war.
Game Two, Wars End 1783. Well the Americans stayed in the fight but it was all uphill from 1777, with the French totally uninterested in getting involved following Washington's capture and the British having six states including Canada for victory, with large states such as New York and Virginia falling to the King showing the dominance of British arms.

I suppose I can take some comfort in keeping Steve's win to the six states, but it's little comfort when it includes two big ones such as New York and Virginia, so hats off to Steve and well played sir, but the challenge was out for a third and final decider, with me back donning a red coat.

Next up we're back in the dockyard for some key additions to my Spanish collection whilst work turns to the third rates of renown, plus a sneak preview below of some conversion projects I'm working on, more anon

My brig conversion to produce my new sloops here with one trying out the new mast arrangement with the main mast to have a furled course added before final fix and painting.

My new 22-gun flush-deck corvettes or sloops of war inspired by my listening to Christian Rodska's reading of Hornblower and his sloop HMS Hotspur, start to take physical shape after some thought into what I wanted them to look like and the kit I needed to create them.

The cutting of the hulls required me getting hold of a fancy modelling saw and the additional mast required new fixing points for ratlines and back stays, but I was pleased with the joined hulls and these should look the part when painted and rigged

Converted from the many 18-gun Brig-Sloops I have, these three-masted light vessels will make a useful addition to my orders of battle for some of the small ship encounters I have in mind.

Next up, the hard fighting San Juan Nepomuceno of 74 guns joins the Spanish squadron.