Saturday 28 November 2020

All at Sea - Conversion Work Part One, Gunboats and Brigs

It was back in September that I published a couple of posts looking at some conversion work I was starting, prior to looking at the Third Rates of Renown series, which looked to remedy some of the gaps and issues in the range of models offered by the Warlord Games 1:700th collection of ships

The fundamental gaps being a lack of a ship-rigged sloop/corvette of 20 to 22 guns, a large and small third rate in the range of 80 to 64 guns, and how to make best use of the left over hulls from the sloop conversions and what to do about the clunky sea bases that the gunboat flotillas are modelled on.

Encouraged by how relatively straight forward it is to convert these models having built the sloops, I moved swiftly on to the other types and demonstrated my ideas for putting together the required adaptations to get the models I wanted and can now show you how they look, painted and rigged.

So in part one of this series looking at my conversions I thought I would start with the mosquito fleets that characterised the war of the small ships and boats close to shore and on the great lakes as 1:700th scale lends itself perfectly to these small boat actions and as well as putting together a collection to allow fleet scale battles I'm quite keen to have models to allow me to game this other side to the war at sea in the age of sail.

First up are the gunboats, shed of that rather clunky sea textured base and rigged up with standing and running rigging to allow for those classic gunboat encounters at the First Battle of Algeciras, off the Danish coast or on the great lakes.

With a bit of careful drilling into the hull it is really straight forward to rig these little models and eventually I will add some of the offerings from Hagen Miniatures to add some variety to my flotilla, which you will see I have deliberately kept generic, so that I can use these models for whatever nation I choose in a particular scenario.

Having them based individually also allows me greater flexibility in small action games where a player handling multiples of these small boats can approach from different angles, particularly when a larger warship is caught fairly immobile due to light winds or if grounded. 

The next problem was what to do with the left over hull sections from the brigs used to produce my sloops as I am always loath to throw bits of model away.

I did consider mounting a single mast to the shorter hulls my sloop conversions left me with, but the rather wide gundeck with fourteen guns seemed a bit too broad for a sleek cutter and now Warlord have come out with a purpose built cutter model, I decided to turn these into small brigs; with an idea that these will be ideal for either maritime of lake actions and with that in mind produced an American small brig to go with my two British options with a box of schooners awaiting work to add them to these together with my sloops and frigates which will also easily lend themselves for lake actions.

My baby-brigs, two British and, seeing as it was Thanksgiving this week, an American option to wish all my friends across the pond a happy holiday.

Ok so if you are a bit of a purist like me you could argue that those yards on the mizzen are too wide to swing around to allow a backing of sail, but I can persuade myself that there's just enough room and frankly on the table with the other models the eye is readily deceived and the variation of having a small and large brig alongside the sloop is very appealing and these smaller options could even double up as a converted merchant snow.

A Snow from a slightly earlier period was often used as a small merchantman and could be converted brig style for naval use as with the American Snow/Brigs Lawrence and Niagara.

So to give you an idea about what I mean, you can see a possible great lakes line up of British ships with the small and large brig alongside the sloop and I am imagining a few schooners added in and Lake Ontario here we come!

Left to right, small brig, large brig and the sloop

Finally the full line up of small ships for size comparison from the frigate to the lowly gunboat.

Same line up as above but with the gunboat and frigate to complete the options

So in part two I will take a look at the third rate conversions that has added another twelve ships to the collection and further variety, starting with the 64-gun ship of the line.

In addition Steve and I had a sand swirling set to in the desert the other night as we got reacquainted with Rommel in the Desert on Vassal playing the closely matched Crusader scenario.

Wednesday 25 November 2020

The Battle of Copenhagen 1801 - Ole Feldbaek


I visited Copenhagen a couple of times as a child, one of the benefits of having a father working for a Danish company that allowed me to get an early acquaintance with the country and an affection for it with very happy memories of childhood visits to Legoland and a memory of a beautiful capital city  close to the sea and with its fascinating waterfront and harbour area, with as I remember lots of tall ships near the quay.

With my reading focussed on my current Napoleonic ship project, I have been keen to look at subjects across the broad period of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and the Battle of Copenhagen was very much on the curriculum of schoolboy history studies in my era and a campaign I was much interested in looking at again.

The life and times of Horatio Nelson were very much required learning and the legends associated with his meteoric rise to fame with one of those immortal legends recounting his 'turning a blind eye' when choosing to ignore the signal from his superior to break off the action at Copenhagen by putting the telescope to his blind eye and announcing to his quarterdeck that he could see no signal, thus maintaining his own 'Engage More Closely' and giving his authority to his captains to carry on and win the battle.   

This legendary act of insubordination has created the term 'to turn a blind eye' into 'British-English' parlance, and believe me that seems a strange phrase to use for a native speaker of the Queen's English, to describe a wilful act of ignoring the rules when circumstances would seem to dictate that option as the most appropriate course of action.

The two books on my reading list, considering the struggle with Denmark in the early 19th century, were this one and Gareth Glover's more recent offering that considers the 1801 and the 1807 battles, with the appearance of a certain Sir Arthur Wellesley involved in operations ashore that demolished the Danish fleet, pushing Denmark further into the camp of Napoleon's allies and seeing the asymmetrical gunboat war that followed, and given I have now read Professor Feldbaek's account, Gareth Glover's is my next on the list.

I reviewed a presentation given by Gareth Glover at Crusade 2018 about his then, yet to be published tome, and so am looking forward to finally getting around to reading it.

Of course I am only too aware that my knowledge of the Battle of Copenhagen and the history associated with it is very much from a predominantly British perspective and I am always keen to get a view from the other side of the hill to better understand why things happened the way they did.

Thus this account by a Danish historian accessing not only Danish sources and archives, but also British, French, Russian, Swedish and Prussian ones as well, made this my first choice giving as it does a fascinating insight into the that perspective, their plans and preparations and hope for support from the allies that encouraged them into the front row of the Revolutionary war between Britain and France, published as it was originally in Danish but appearing in English specifically for the bicentennial commemoration of the battle in 2001.

The circumstances that caused Britain to send a fleet of eighteen ships of the line including two first rates, five frigates, seven bomb ships and two fireships to Copenhagen to enforce their diplomatic exchanges can be summarised as all part of what happens when a smaller nation occupying access to strategically vital supplies of war materials finds itself caught up in the affairs of much larger nations and alliances in an age when gunboat diplomacy and the leverage of the big battalions underpinned European politics.

Danish convoys were under strict orders not to stop and allow searches, a policy adopted under Crown Prince Frederick's assumption of Danish foreign policy in 1797, leading to several clashes on the routes into the Mediterranean with British cruizers. This came to a head on 25th July 1800 when Danish Commander Krabbe of the 40-gun, 18-pounder frigate Freya clashed with British frigates in the Channel when he refused to stop his convoy and opened fire when a boarding boat was lowered, leading to Krabbe striking after a half hour exchange of fire with British frigates, Nemesis 38-guns, Terpsichore 32-guns and Arrow 30-guns.

The vital access to strategic war materials in the case of Copenhagen was its controlling position in The Sound separating Denmark from Sweden and access to the Baltic Sea, which from a Royal Navy and British perspective meant access to its principle source of supplies of fir trees for masts and yards together with pitch and tar that were vital raw materials for keeping a fleet the size of Britain's at sea and in fighting shape, something a premier naval power could not allow any interruption to in the existential war it was fighting against Revolutionary and later Napoleonic France.

British determination to maintain access to its key trading ports and the materials it needed whilst restricting access to those of its enemies often caused it to put other maritime nations needs behind that of its own and thus the merchant traders from the Baltic states including Denmark, Sweden, Russia and to a lesser extent Prussia found their merchantmen challenged on the high seas when suspected of running materials through to Britain's enemies, often with the prospect of making huge dividends given the risks they ran of having ship and cargo confiscated by British naval authorities. 

This was not a new situation and had caused much tension and struggle during the latter stages of the American War of Independence when British interests looked threatened by the prospect of a Baltic League of Armed Neutrality, led by Russia under Catherine the Great, seemingly keen to resist British naval policing of its merchants, suspected by the British of aiding French, Spanish and American forces with their activities, whilst also threatening British access to its key naval materials of war.

The Danes during this former conflict and the early stages of the next developed their diplomatic stance of 'Defensive Neutrality' which saw them adopt a policy of convoys escorted by Danish warships demonstrating their resolve to sail the seas and to challenge any British attempts to search at gunpoint for fear of driving the Danes into an alliance with France and Spain.

Andreas Peter Bernstorff, 1739 -1797, the Danish Foreign Minister
and principle architect of Denmark's 'Defensive Neutrality' policy.

The Danish policy worked well in the American War as the Royal Navy was already too overstretched to go looking for yet another enemy naval force, but with the outbreak of war with France in 1793, it seemed unlikely that Britain would allow similar arrangements to continue particularly as the tempo of the war gathered pace, forcing neutrals to emphasise their position to stay neutral and seeing Denmark sign a Convention of Neutrality with Sweden in 1794 to restate both countries common will to remain that way.

However with the Danish government issuing ships papers which it knew would be used to camouflage foreign ships and cargoes and to appoint unknown skippers as lieutenants to the Danish navy and allowing them to continue their passage under a Danish flag of convenience, only ramped up the tension with Britain as the war at sea reached a crucial turning point in 1797, a year that saw the British victories over the Spanish and the Dutch at Cape St Vincent and Camperdown but also the death of the Danish foreign minister, Andreas Peter Bernstorff, who had created and managed the Danish defensive neutrality policy up to that point, well aware of the unsustainability of it and the growing threat of either France of Britain imposing its will militarily.

King Frederick VI - Christoph Wilhelm Wohlien
Seen here in 1809 as King of Denmark. It was as Crown Prince and Regent that Frederick
took command of political events and foreign policy with the death of A.P. Bernstorff in 1797

As so often in these critical moments of political instability, with the steady hand of a political master gone, on to the stage steps one of lesser ability though sadly unaware of his limitations, which I think neatly sums up the power shift that occurred in Denmark as leadership settled on Crown Prince Frederick effectively Regent up until the death of mad King Christian VII in Denmark's absolute monarchy.

The description given of the role Frederick played in Danish politics from this point forward reminded me very much of Otto von Bismarck's careful management of Prussian diplomatic ties with Russia during the late 19th century, ensuring the rise of a united Germany under a Prussian king whilst dealing with opponents in the west; only to see his diplomacy replaced by that of Kaiser Wilhelm who managed to take that Germany to a two front war by breaking ties with Russia and the Anglo-French at the same time, completely undermining the careful approach of previous years.

The Danish change of leadership marked just as a dramatic change of direction in policy from one of a distinctly defensive neutrality approach to that of offensive neutrality and the return to convoys where Danish officers were, with force if necessary, to refuse any demand for stopping and search.

This stance was all very well while Britain was on the defence at sea and ejected from the Mediterranean, one of the primary trading areas for Danish merchants, and with French privateers prowling the main trade routes, but when that situation changed in August 1798 with Nelson's victory at the Nile, the time was fast approaching when Britain would seek to assert her new dominance at sea and seek to curb trade with her enemies with a strict stop and search policy; and a few months after the victory at Aboukir that's exactly what happened as a Swedish convoy was stopped on its way along the English Channel.

Other clashes with Danish warships escorting merchantmen followed in 1798 and 1799, culminating in an exchange of fire between the Danish frigate Freya and three British frigates in the Channel on the 25th July 1800 after the former had refused to stop and allow a search after being hailed.

Tsar Paul I of Russia

With a situation fast moving towards open conflict between Britain and Denmark, the situation became more inflamed with the Danish Envoy to the Court of St Petersburg confirming Denmark's intent to pursue it Offensive Neutrality policy by fitting out six ships of the line, two 80's two 74's and two 64's and inviting the Russian Tsar Paul I to assume the lead of the League of Armed Neutrality bringing together the combined forces of Russia, fifteen ships of the line and five frigates, Sweden, seven ships of the line and three frigates and Denmark, adding further ships to bring its contribution to eight ships of the line and two frigates, plus Prussia, cajoled by Russia to join and thus assuring support to one another should any of them become involved in conflict on land or sea. 

Of course the Russian Tsar, no friend of Britain, was very happy with the idea of having a forward line of defence offered to him with the navies of Sweden and Denmark as possible buffers to any attempted projection of power into the Baltic by the Royal Navy, and for Denmark, the Russians offered a guarantor of their independence from interference by both Britain and France together with an alliance with Sweden that would hopefully deter any moves by them on the Danish territory of Norway. However to the British government, this escalation of their dispute with Denmark now seemed to threaten their access to vital strategic supplies and without a stepping back from this stance seemed likely to provoke a pre-emptive strike by Britain before the threat of a Baltic Combined Fleet became a reality.

Thus Ole Feldbaek, neatly sets the scene in his book, charting this progressive ratcheting up of political tension with desperate diplomatic feelers being put out to, in some cases, avert a confrontation, and in others to assure support in the situation that conflict was inevitable; this together with a glorious depiction of the characters, great and minor, involved in the unfolding tragedy of the British attack on the defences of Copenhagen on 2nd April 1801. 

The Battle of Copenhagen, 2nd April 1801 - Nicholas Pocock
British bomb ships lob shells towards the Danish defences as Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson's squadron exchanges broadsides with a mix of Danish blockships and gun platforms, covering the approaches to Copenhagen's inner docks.

I mentioned at the start that I was keen to read this book primarily to get a better understanding of the Danish perspective to the battle and to the principle Danish characters involved in it and to my mind the author has done a grand job stitching together the historical account with portraits of those individuals.

I really came away with an impression of the near desperation in Danish circles to make a good show of defending their city from the very serious threat posed by the British fleet whilst constantly looking for and hoping to receive support from their new Baltic allies, until the realisation hits, as the author points out, that the Baltic League of Armed Neutrality was neither a league, armed or neutral in the face of a direct assault by a major naval power such as Britain; with all the participants former enemies or competitors to at least one or more of their new allies and with others not at all neutral in the struggle between France and Britain and none of them capable of contesting the naval might of Britain should it come to a full on naval war in the Baltic.

However the patriotic zeal displayed by the likes of Lieutenant Michael Bille on the Danish block ship Provestenen and the young seventeen year old Sub-Lieutenant Peter Willemoes promoted to command Fleet Battery No.1 seemed to show all that was wrong with a system of government when those who fought to defend their homes and families had no say in the running of their state that had caused them to find themselves in such a hopeless situation, forced to give of their best for their men and country.  

The description of the Danish defence and British naval preparations before and during the action was fast paced and an engrossing read as the Danish blockships and gun platforms made things very difficult for the veteran British naval crews operating in shallows that were unmarked and in need of careful sounding whilst under fire or the threat of it and sailing carefully to anchor in the right spot, as ordered, to give battle.

In the end, as the Danes expected, the quality and expertise of the British seamen overcame many of the problems they faced and Nelson's leadership shines through with his careful calculation on the number of ships he needed to take into the narrow King's Deep Channel to overcome the Danish defences in detail, and even changing his plan of attack during the approach to combat when it became obvious that some of his ships would not be in action due to their grounding on the shallows of the Middle Ground Shoal.

As well as running the battle, Nelson stands out equally for his management of his timid incompetent commander, Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, sixty-one years old and guilty of delaying the whole operation despite the need for speed to be able to deal with the Danes and Swedes if necessary before the Russian Baltic fleet would be free of the winter ice, by dallying in the Wrestler's Arms in Yarmouth with his new eighteen year old wife, the new Lady Parker, who was planning to hold a ball, only postponed after the First Sea Lord, Lord St Vincent got news of the delay and fired off a broadside message by overnight courier ordering the idle commander to weigh anchor at dawn the next day.

Vice Admiral of the Blue, Sir Hyde Parker, a political appointment
seen as a 'safe pair of hands', was probably past his best by the time of the 
mission to Copenhagen and fortunately Nelson more than made up for his
inadequacies in command and leadership, and at least Hyde Parker had the sense 
to back his subordinate.

Nelson not only had the foresight to recommend the approach to Copenhagen, the plan of attack, how long he expected to take to overcome the defences, but also when lost ships due to grounding and stiffer resistance than anticipated put the schedule behind, had the wit to ignore his commander to break off just as the battle was turning in his favour, but also to send a message to the Danes pointing out the futility of further resistance and the extra loss of life their men would suffer as he set fire to captured ships and platforms if they refused to come to terms.

With no hope of relief forthcoming from other members of the league and with their defences defeated opening up a potential bombardment of the naval yard and inner city area, the Danes conceded to Nelson's demands for them to cease further resistance, thus allowing the British to neutralise the naval force that threatened their access to the Baltic.

Nelson's Squadron sails into the King's Deep at Copenhagen - Nicholas Pocock et al (National Maritime Museum)
British losses amounted to 254 dead and 689 wounded compared to the Danes who suffered 367 killed and 635 wounded of whom another 100 would die in the days after the battle in addition to the 1,799 men taken prisoner aboard the captured platforms and block ships, 12 out of the 18 having surrendered and taken as prizes.

Several days of negotiations followed with an armistice that effectively forced the Danes to leave the league, which was only made more compelling with the assassination of Tsar Paul in a court coup on the 23rd March 1801 replaced by his twenty-three year old son Alexander who took a much more positive stance towards Britain and a much more anti-French one, negating any hopes of the Baltic League reasserting itself and changing the political realities in the region.

This book really adds to the British sources on the campaign with the emphasis it brings to the Danish perspective and their experiences of fighting the Royal Navy; equally the detail around the negotiations and diplomatic manoeuvres carried out before, around and after the fighting add to the picture of why this conflict occurred the way it did, with neither side willing or able to compromise on their demands forcing the decision to be taken militarily. 

The Battle of Copenhagen consists of 235 pages alongside the author's and translator's preface together with five maps, a list of references, bibliography and an index and has the following chapters;

1. One grey morning in March
2. Denmark and high politics
    The blessings of neutrality
    Offensive policy
    The Freya affair
3. Dress rehearsal for war
    The League of Armed Neutrality
    Britain strikes
    The iron grip of major politics
4. Britain attacks
    Strategy and tactics
    Operation Copenhagen
    Destination Denmark
    The Sound or the Belt?
    The cannon of Kronborg
5. Copenhagen's fortifications
    The calm before the storm
    The Defence Plan
    Race against time
    The plan and the despair
    The defence line forms up
6. Dramatis personae
    The manning of the defences
    In the Copenhagen Roads
    Denmark's allies
7. The Battle of Copenhagen - Prologue
    The last three days
    Nelson's plan
    Nelson's improvisation
8. The Battle of Copenhagen - Act I
    The first shots
    The collapse of the middle sector
9. The Battle of Copenhagen - Act II
    The northern flank
    The southern flank
The Battle of Copenhagen - Act III
    Nelson's emmisary
    The capitulation
    Winners and losers
The Battle of Copenhagen - Epilogue
    The threat of bombardment
    The diplomat and the admirals
    The armistice
    The lost war
    Curtain down 

In addition there are twenty-one black and white pictures of portraits and items associated with the battle.

My copy is a paperback edition from Pen and Sword with a recommended retail price of £14.99 but at the time of writing I see used hardback copies available for under £5 and paperback editions at just over £8 making this a very affordable and informative addition to any age of sail naval book collection.

Next up: I'm 'All at Sea' with conversions added to the collection with a look at 64's, 80's, gunboats and small brigs, plus Steve and I have been having fun in the desert playing Columbia's 'Rommel in the Desert' on Vassal.

Saturday 21 November 2020

All at Sea - Spanish Third Rates of Renown (Argonauta)

Finisterre - Carlos Parrilla Penagos
The 80-gun Argonauta, flying the pennant of Admiral Gravina at her mizzen, and leading the van of the Combined Fleet, exchanges broadsides with HMS Hero in the van of Vice Admiral Sir Robert Calder's squadron during the Battle of Cape Finisterre 22nd July 1805

The final ship to present in the series looking at the Third Rates of Renown is a great one to finish on and described in her time, along with her sister Neptuno, as one of the best ships in Europe, namely the Spanish 80-gun ship of the line, Argonauta designed by Julian Martin de Rematosa and built in El Ferrol, launching there on the 28th June 1798.

However the launch of the Argonauta also signalled a significant point in the trajectory of the Spanish navy and Spain's future role as a European power at that time, in that the years of war and decline had started to take effect and the ship would be the last Spanish warship to be launched until after Trafalgar with the previous rhythm of three to four warships built a year now no longer possible with King Charles IV treasury unable to fund that level of investment as well as maintaining the fleet as it was.

On the 28th April 1799 the Argonauta together with two frigates and a brig departed El Ferrol under her new commander Captain Juan Herrera Davila, bound for Roquefort to join a French squadron as part of a plan to join the French in an invasion of Ireland.

Captain Juan Herrera Davila, Argonauta's first commander,_Juan_Maria_de_Biografia

During their time there waiting for the French to complete their preparations, the port was attacked by a British naval squadron on the 2nd July under Rear Admiral Charles Morice Pole, supported by bomb ships, with the affair ending with the British ships being driven off by a combination of fire from a French mortar battery outranging the bombs and French gunboats that succeeded in driving them away.

Rear Admiral Sir Charles Morice Pole

The British maintained their blockade of Rochefort but in September the Spanish squadron managed to put to sea, attempting to join the Spanish and French ships under Admirals Bruix and Mazarredo in Brest, but on finding that port blockaded by forty British ships decided to abort their mission and return to El Ferrol.

Rear Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, seen here in a picture from 1799,
led the abortive raid on El Ferrol on the 25th-26th August 1800

With a Spanish squadron of six ships of the line, four frigates and two brigs in El Ferrol, the port also soon found itself under British blockade by a detachment from the British Channel fleet under Rear-Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren who initiated a landing on August 25th-26th 1800 with troops under the command of Lieutenant General Sir James Pultney who succeeded in silencing a nearby fort overlooking the bay in which they were landed and reaching the heights above the port, which it seems was completely open to attack, but with Pultney convinced that he was facing stiffer defences than anticipated, misled by reports from captured prisoners, he withdrew the force the next day, leaving Argonauta and her sister ships to fight another day.

On the 20th April 1801 in company with San Fernando 98-guns, Real Carlos 112-guns, San Hermenegildo 112-guns, San Augustin 74-guns the Argonauta left Ferrol bound for Cadiz to join the Spanish squadron under Admiral Don Jose de Mazzaredo.

On the 6th July French Rear-Admiral Charles Linois squadron of three ships and a frigate had been attacked on route to Cadiz by Rear-Admiral Sir James Saumarez at the First Battle of Algeciras, and with the British beaten off and withdrawing across the bay to Gibraltar to make repairs, Linois requested support from the Spanish in Cadiz to escort his equally battered ships to the Spanish port.

Thus on the 9th July the El Ferrol squadron now under Mazzeredo's command accompanied by the French 74-gun Saint Antoine, recently purchased by France from Spain and the frigates Santa Sabina and Perla each of 34-guns left Cadiz to join their beleaguered French allies, before escorting them back to Cadiz via the Gibraltar Straits on the 12th July, triggering the Second Battle of Algeciras as Saumarez set off in pursuit from Gibraltar with the evening sky darkening as both squadrons moved to the horizon.

The Second Battle of Algeciras - Thomas Whitcombe
The two Spanish 112-gun first rates, Real Carlos and San Hermenegildo blast each other into blazing wrecks as HMS Superb who caused the Spanish confusion has progressed to attack the French San Antoine, seen beyond the two Spanish men of war, as the following British ships make best speed to catch up in her wake.

The battle that followed was a confusing night action that allowed the fastest of the British ships HMS Superb to close with the Franco-Spanish rear and provoke the two confused Spanish first rates into firing into each other, resulting in their joint destruction as seen in Thomas Whitcombe's picture above.

Following that exchange of fire Superb would encounter the newly minted French 74-gun Saint Antoine, taking her in a short sharp thirty minute fight that left her captain wounded upon his own quarterdeck.

Some honour was restored by a creditable rearguard fought by the French Formidable under her new commander Captain Troude who beat off an attack by HMS Venerable, leaving the British 74 dismasted with 105 casualties and in need of assistance from her comrades as the Frenchman made his escape

However the final casualty bill tells its own tale with overall Allied casualties amounting to more than 2,000 men in killed, wounded and captured with the British force suffering 119 killed and wounded in return.

Argonauta, for her part avoided combat and arrived in Cadiz the next morning with no casualties or damage.

The Argonauta would continue to operate from Cadiz for the rest of the war escorting mercury and gold convoys between Vera Cruz and Havana and her home port before being laid up there in ordinary in 1803 following the Peace of Amiens,

With the recommencement of war Argonauta was recommissioned in December 1804 and with the evolving Napoleonic plan for the invasion of Britain the following year, newly coppered and careened in January 1805,  joined what would become the Trafalgar campaign in April of that year with the arrival of Villeneuve's French fleet from Toulon, having evaded the attentions of Vice-Admiral Nelson's Mediterranean squadron and prompting high praise from the normally pessimistic French Admiral, describing the Argonauta as 'excellent'.

Spanish Admiral Frederico Gravina

On the 9th of April, the Combined fleet set sail from Cadiz heading to the Caribbean with Admiral Frederico Gravina hoisting his pennant aboard the Argonauta under the command of Flag-Captain Rafael de Hore, arriving in Fort de France Bay, Martinique on the 14th May.

Following the taking of the British held Diamond Rock off Martinique, Villeneuve set in motion the next stage of his orders, to head back to Europe with his twenty ships of the line on the 11th June only to be intercepted by Vice Admiral Sir Robert Calder's Rochefort squadron directed to their station off Cape Finisterre by the insightful command of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Barham, guessing the intent of the Combined Fleet to get into the Bay of Biscay and raise the blockades on the French and Spanish ports along the coast.

Sir Robert Calder, pictured here in 1797 as a Rear Admiral - Lemuel Francis Abbott (National Maritime Museum)
History to my mind has been rather harsh on Sir Robert Calder who failed to gain the crushing victory the nation desired, that job left to Nelson, but who did prevent a very serious threat of invasion by forcing Admiral Villeneuve to abandon his orders to bring a forty plus ship fleet into the Channel

In what would turn out to be a controversial battle that would put paid to Napoleon's plan of mustering a large Franco-Spanish fleet in the Channel, Sir Robert Calder spotted the Combined Fleet in foggy conditions at about 12.00 p.m. on the 22nd July 1805 and brought on an action that succeeded in forcing Villeneuve to turn south eventually ending back in Cadiz, but failed to destroy a significant number of his ships to remove the the threat his fleet posed, once and for all.

Admiral Sir Robert Calder's Action off Cape Finisterre 23rd July 1805 - William Anderson,_23_July_1805_RMG_BHC0540.tiff
Calder's flagship Prince of Wales is depicted in the centre foreground with the misty conditions, made worse by clouds of gun smoke that characterised the battle making it extremely difficult for both sides to conduct accurate gunnery.

The two fleets manoeuvred themselves close enough to exchange broadsides through the murk at about 5.30 p.m. as Captain Alan Gardner of HMS Hero on his own initiative and responding to Calder's signal to 'Engage More Closely' turned to port (larboard) and led the British van on a parallel course with the lead ship in the Allied van, Argonauta; being raked by the Spanish flagship as she turned, but escaping serious damage, apparently because Argonauta was listing to port due to unbalanced stowage in her hold, preventing her lower gun deck from opening fire.

This antique plan of the Battle of Cape Finisterre, gives an idea of how the action unfolded in three movements from the preparation to turn and engage at about 4.30 p.m. to the close of the action at just after 9.00 p.m. leaving two Spanish third rates as prizes. I have added my summary of each movement and highlighted the respective flagships in red blue and yellow together with the position of the two captured ships in black.

Once the turn was completed Gardner opened return fire and the action became general as each opposing ship came up with the fleets swinging onto a south-westerly course.

The mass firing of multiple cannon only added to the foggy murk forcing opposing ships to concentrate the return fire on muzzle flashes in the growing gloom and with the scene becoming more chaotic, Calder signalled to call off the action at about 8.30 p.m.; but with most ships failing to see her signal, the action continued on to past 9 p.m. with the longer line of the Combined Fleet being led by the Spanish seeing them suffer the worst from the exchange of fire and two of their number, San Rafael 80-guns and Firme 74-guns left dismasted to be captured at the close.

Argonauta is reported to have suffered her mizzen and foremast knocked down together with six killed and five wounded after her battle with Hero who in turn had serious damage to her foremast and forespars together with the loss of one killed and four wounded. Overall, as well as losing the two ships, Villeneuve's fleet had lost 476 men killed and wounded and he reported another 800 men laid low from sickness, whilst Calder's squadron lost 39 killed and 159 wounded with most of the damage caused to the ships rigging, masts and spars.

Arogonauta sports her metal deck with two bow chasers mounted on the forecastle adding to the ferocity of her figurehead.

Of course both sides claimed a victory, with Calder going so far to describe it as 

'A very decisive action which lasted upward of four hours, when I found it necessary to bring up the squadron to cover the captured ships.'

However Villeneuve had a completely different impression of matters when he conveniently ignored his losses stating;

'The enemy then made off. He had several vessels crippled aloft and the field of battle remained ours. Cries of joy and victory were heard from all our ships.' (except, no doubt, from Firme and San Rafeal!)

Who said 'Fake News' was anything new? It takes me back to the good old days of the First Gulf War with Radio Baghdad telling everyone about how well they were all doing with bomb explosions going off in the background of their broadcasts!

San Rafael in the thick of the action at the Battle of Cape Finisterre 23rd July 1805, before finally striking, dismasted to Sir Robert Calder's squadron.

Either way, Napoleon's invasion was off and he made plans to march on Austria, as the Combined Fleet happily sailed into El Ferrol for repairs and recuperation before heading south to Cadiz in August, whilst Calder was apparently not fooling anyone and would look forward to a court-martial to clear his name and reputation, for actually doing a reasonable job at a strategic level in conditions that did not allow for a much better result probably.

The metal deck seen from her starboard stern quarter displays realigned signal lockers on her poop and a unique spar deck arrangement for her boat stowage.

When the Argonauta left Cadiz with the Combined Fleet on the 20th October she sailed as part of Admiral Gravina's Squadron of Observation, the largest formation in the Combined Fleet with twelve ships of the line and two frigates with Gravina, second in command, flying his pennant aboard the Principe Asturias 112-guns and with Argonauta under a new commander Captain Antonio Pareja y Serrano de Leon, who had previous combat experience of a fleet action having commanded the frigate Perla at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797.

Captain Antonio Pareja y Serrano de Leon - Naval Museum of Madrid

At just after midday when action commenced as HMS Royal Sovereign broke through the Allied line, the Argonauta was sailing slightly behind the lee quarter of her French namesake Argonaute 74-guns and to the lee of the San Ildefonso 74-guns, engaging ships in Admiral Collingwood's lee column as they closed.

The seventh British ship to penetrate the Allied line was the Achille 74-guns under Captain Richard King who passed astern of Montanes 74-guns at about 12.45 p.m. and raking her before luffing up on her rear starboard quarter and pouring in several pistol shot range broadsides that would cause the death of her commander Captain Don Jose Alcedo  and the wounding of his second in command together with 20 killed and 29 wounded.

My interpretation of the Montanes, the first Spanish ship engaged by HMS Achille

After this half hour exchange of fire, the Achille turned away to go to the aid of the hard pressed HMS Belleisle 74-guns but before he could make headway, the Argonauta appeared out of the smoke on the starboard side and Captain King ordered the Achille hove to on the Argonauta's larboard bow to commence an hour long exchange of broadsides, with Captain Pareja leaving a report of his experience of being on the receiving end of such a lengthy cannonade;

'At this hour my ship had all the guns on the quarter-deck and the poop dismounted, a great number of guns in the batteries were out of action, as much on account of the pieces (being damaged) as from want of crews, the result of the numerous dead and wounded among them. . . . 

The whole rigging was utterly destroyed. so there were no shrouds left to the masts - save one to the main-mast - and they were threatening to fall at any minute, being shot through. In this situation it was very evident that the ship could make but slight and feeble resistance. . . 

With these inexpressible feelings I was taken below to have my wounds dressed. . . my second having sent half an hour later to inform me that over and above the injuries we had already sustained, the ship was making much water . . . and had lost her rudder . . .

At this point Pareja gave his second-in-command authority to strike, with Argonauta shutting her lower gun decks and ceasing firing with the battered ship finally being boarded by 1st Lieutenant Owen Royal Marines from HMS Belleisle after the Achille having demolished Montanes and Argonauta found herself embroiled in yet another close range scrap with the French Berwick 74-guns taking another half hour exchange to demolish the French ship as well leaving her with 75 dead including her captain and 125 wounded.

Argonauta had suffered in a similar fashion with 100 killed and 203 men wounded, and it seems her damage below the waterline was severe as she foundered on the 26th October after being taken in tow by HMS Polyphemus.

At Trafalgar Argonauta would have been armed with 30 x 36 pounder long guns on her lower deck, 32 x 18-pdrs on her upper deck 16 x 8-pdrs on her quarterdeck and forecastle together with 12 x 30-pdr howitzers, some of which were mounted on the poop.

Her crew was over compliment with 798 men aboard composed of 458 naval personnel, 279 infantry and 61 marine artillery, 43 percent being soldiers.

Sources consulted for this post:
The Trafalgar Companion - Mark Adkins
The Battle of Trafalgar - Geoffrey Bennett

That concludes this series of posts looking at the Third Rates of Renown and next in the All at Sea project I will show the results of the recently completed work on the gunboats, 64-gun and 80-gun third rate conversions. In addition I have another book review and I plan to take a look at a recent Kickstarter I supported a few months ago, Terrain Essentials by Mel Bose, the Terrain Tutor and his book about making Wargames Terrain.

Wednesday 18 November 2020

Unhappy King Charles - Vassal


Steve and my adventures into the fun world of Vassal remote interactive boardgaming has continued following the fun we had with Mr Madison's War to take a look at another Card Driven Game (CDG) from GMT, this time focussing on the dramatic events of the English Civil War in the Charles Vasey designed game, Unhappy King Charles (UKC).

As in previous 'getting to grips with a new module process' we spent the first few turns of play working our way through setting up the game, made somewhat easier in Vassal, with the module allowing the card decks to be easily arranged at the click of a button and with units already in position on the map at start of play.

We have now got into a very well practiced modus operandi when starting to play a module which we are unfamiliar with, by doing a bit of warm up reading of the rules and various playbooks, sharing the knowledge on a pre-game chat online, with us then following the step by step of the sequence of play, very often trying things out just to see how to follow the rules, for example in this case, running a siege or playing a field battle, whilst feeling out what the game is offering in terms of victory conditions that drive the opposing strategies of play.

Usually as here, the end result is not really the objective, but rather both of us getting a feel for the way the game plays and trying out things recommended in the playbook guidance to gradually develop our own sense of the mechanics and work out our own strategies.

The UKC map as depicted on Vassal shows the position of our game at the end of 1642 as both sides have staked out their respective territory and the likely areas of battle in the midlands and north to secure political control and securing of vital national assets that will reward one side at the expense of the other.

Of course knowing the rules of play is one thing, but, as with all CDG's, the core of the action is very much determined with the cards one holds versus that of the enemy and very often the ability to play a poor hand just as well as when the poker face is driven to the extreme hiding an unbelievable one.

As with all CDG's the cards really create the historical flavour that underpins all the on map activity and the decision points to play for the event described or use the action points for movement and other such activity.

So for our playtest Steve took the role of the King, whilst I ran the clippers around the fringe to assume the role of a Godly Puritan Parliamentary Grandee.

Being very familiar with games like Washington's War, a close relative in many ways to UKC, Steve and I were well versed in the placing of political control markers and looking to strangle enemy areas by cutting them off with a PC marker at an important node or junction.

The map key illustrates the key features that keep the map equally functional and attractive to the eye

Equally the role of field armies to protect and police those areas was also very familiar, all be it with several differences that make the English Civil War quite different from the American War of Independence.

In UKC the players soon start to appreciate that their respective armies are a lot more unwieldy and problematic in keeping them in the field, so no marching between towns dropping off brigades enroute, a continual loss of manpower through desertion checks at the end of each turn and small armies of two to four brigades moving further than the larger gathering of troops, with battle casualties often limited to a brigade at most and two in the worst cases, making battles for less decisive than in other horse and musket eras, but with casualties suffered being taken off the order of battle permanently and thus irrevocably reducing the manpower available in an area for future recruitment.

Late 1643 and the war tilts slightly in favour of Parliament as the Navy increases their support and vital areas in the North and Midlands go blue as the the Earl of Essex takes Reading in the south after a siege and field battle, driving off a relief force from Oxford. 

As well as difficulties raising, maintaining and moving armies, the commanders on each side present different issues, with Field Army Commanders such as Rupert able to command and move without hindrance across the country, whilst local regional commanders, Waller and Hopton for example, tend to perform best when fighting in their home regions, and then another group of minor commanders donated as local notables who fortify their domain and are able to raid enemy areas and convert them rapidly to the cause as well as providing secure strongpoints to raise army's in.

The difference in the quality of the various commanders is captured with their command stats carried on the counter with better commanders adding to the combat effectiveness of their force and usually being able to activate for less activation cost. In addition the better commanders are more able at intercepting and avoiding the enemy, which proved very useful to the Fairfaxes in their battles with the King and Rupert in the north. 

Late 1643 and the Scots have arrived in the north, tying up Newcastle, whilst the Fairfaxes keep Rupert and the King busy as London keeps on turning out soldiers for Parliament as the south goes orange.

Steve and I played our game over two sessions to get to the Late 1643 position as illustrated, but decided to stop at that point, so why?

Well I have to say, for various reasons, that UKC didn't quite grab the love that the other CDG's we have played managed to do despite some very clever design ideas that really capture what the English Civil War was all about, namely a war of attrition with both sides desperate to knock the other over before they ran out of money and troops.

That model is very appealing from a history nerd perspective at it seems to really create a great feel for the war, but can leave players feeling just as worn down and battered as their historical counterparts by the grinding war of attrition created and facing yet another hand of cards where sixty percent of them are events for the opposing side, thus leaving the options for your side quite limited, something that seemed to happen quite regularly for both of us.

In addition I speak as someone who loves this period of history as opposed to Steve who probably at best can be described as one who has a passing interest.

Thus I would still be happy to play UKC again but I think it would have to be with another ECW aficionado who would appreciate the effort Charles Vasey has put into the game in terms of period feel as compensation for the effort to learn and develop the best play approaches needed to make this game come alive, something Steve and I didn't manage in our single unfinished game.

I am starting to appreciate more that there are some game periods that require the players to be really into the history and get the design to fully enjoy and for me UKC is in that category and one I will no doubt come back to.

So putting UKC to one side, Steve and I decided to shift period yet again and return to an old favourite, not played for quite a while, Rommel in the Desert, the block game by Columbia.

More anon.

Next up, the Spanish Third Rates of Renown end on a high point with a look at, as it was described at the time, one of the most perfect ships in Europe, Argonaute of 80-guns, plus I have another book review to do before moving on to look at some completed conversion work on the Warlord generic third rate ships.