Thursday 31 December 2020

JJ's Wargames Year End Review, 2020 & The Plan for the New Year Ahead, 2021

A Storm with an Anchored Warship in Distress off a Rocky Coast - Nicholas Pocock

When I sat down to start this annual review for the blog, I began by looking for a suitable header-picture to try and capture some of the thoughts I had about this year's wargaming activities and the plans I have looking forward for 2021; and, as with last year, the nautical theme captured my imagination, but instead of the focus on the plans very much front and centre in last year's post, this year feels a very different situation that I suspect many of us find ourselves in.

I then saw the evocative picture by Nicholas Pocock of a warship, practically dismasted, looking close to dragging her anchors on a rocky lee shore and with her ensign upside down signalling the distress of attempting to ride out the storm and immediately thought how the scene seemed to capture so much of how 2020 feels like after a year of lockdowns; with constant mortality reports, news of political unrest brought to the streets, a seemingly never ending Brexit negotiation and our hobby time impacted massively by the requirements of social distancing, but with the promise of better times ahead now several vaccines seem close to being made generally available, captured in the burst of sunshine in the break in the clouds.

My header from last year's annual review with so much to look forward to doing in the New Year
in a world so different to the one we have now.
JJ's Wargames - Year End Review 2019
I then thought of how this year has been very much a case of 'battening down the hatches' which has caused a lot of distress for many and less so perhaps for others but has naturally caused change to the daily routine and the wider adoption of technology to enable different forms of social interaction to continue and in my own case see me finally grasp the intent to use Vassal for boardgaming to its full extent with Steve and I now very comfortable using the platform to continue our regular boardgaming meet-ups whilst chatting over social media.

So with the caveat of what a year 2020 has been and the impact it has had I thought I would look at how much wargaming activity has been covered here on the blog and the changes to the content caused and what I hope to do in the New Year with another caveat that the future is still fairly uncertain.

This year started to look like most others and with my table back in action after a few months of house renovations had caused it to be covered up it was great to be able to welcome Jack, David and Bob around it to start to work up a set of rules, War by Sail, for my growing collection of 1:700th age of sail model ships, that culminated in us playing the action off Cape Ortegal fought after Trafalgar in November 1805.

Our 'War by Sail' game of the Action of Cape Ortegal 4th November 1805, played back in February in what turned out to be the last game fought on the table this year.

Only a few weeks prior to that game I attended the only wargames show I got to visit in 2019 when I drove down to Plymouth for PAW 2020 which now seems like a lifetime ago and, looking at the pictures from my report, like another world away from the one we now inhabit.

My picture of the main hall at PAW in early February this year in a the world we used to have with the babble of wargamers enjoying their hobby in social conviviality.

Then the following month I attended the last gathering of the Devon Wargames Group since the pandemic and reported on a great game that most of the club participated in whem club members Lee, Mel and Jamie brought along their amazing collection of Lord of the Rings figures and terrain to stage the Battle of Pelennor Field, so it was certainly a good game to bring a premature end to the year on.

We didn't know it at the time but this great LOTR game would be the last held at the Devon Wargames Group meeting in early March.

So effectively a normal year in the hobby came to an end in March 2020 with the government announcement of a national lockdown in the face of the Covid19 Pandemic that changed the world forever and changed the content of the blog.

My reaction to this situation was fairly philosophical based on my professional experience in the pharmaceutical industry and knowing 'that this to shall pass' whilst conscious that at times like this our responsibility to others is called upon and thus the pleasures of a simple hobby and pastime take second place to those other more important demands.

So, like for many others, the regular hobby habits had to be adjusted to the new situation and thus whilst some activities such as wargame shows, face to face gaming and visits to historical sights were reduced of stopped altogether, others, like reading, modelling and adventures into new activities such as remote boardgaming and video tutorials definitely gained from the change of focus and illustrates well why our hobby is one that fits in well with any life situation offering so many ways for us to express ourselves and enjoy all its many aspects.

So it was really interesting pulling this post together to see how the change had affected the content of the blog whilst noting that the output of posts was maintained and I start the review with the book reviews posted this year that is one area of my hobby that definitely gained from the change.

The opportunity to read more books has been amply rewarded with a lot of additional books read and reviewed here on JJ's.

Historical wargaming as opposed to simply gaming demands and rather presupposes an underlying interest in the history that underpins the gaming activity and a regular reading habit supports that base of knowledge that informs the games we play.

Reading for me is such a pleasure and a natural turn to in between modelling and painting and certainly at bedtime with a book setting up my pre-sleep routine perfectly, and I always have the next book lined up ready to replace that one being currently read.

I very rarely give my books a new home, hence I now have a rather extensive collection covering the periods and themes of military history that interests me; and with the current theme very much focussed on age of sail it has been a real pleasure picking out old books from my collection and rereading some of them alongside the newer titles I have picked this year, not to mention the odd excursion into other themes to broaden the diet.

At this rate I'm going to need to get some more book shelves!

It was really pleasing to see that the book reviews, which included a review from Mr Steve, were dramatically up on the year with just six looked at last year and nineteen this year which certainly reflects my own reading habits, as not every book I read gets reviewed on the blog.

Unfortunately face to face gaming alongside show attendance were the most changed aspects in my hobby year, with a good start on the gaming front with the Target for Tonight Battle for Berlin Bomber Campaign reaching a climax with just two games left to complete the eight game series when pandemic stopped play, and very much at the top of my play list once we can resume normal activity.

The Target for Tonight Battle of Berlin was proving an interesting campaign of eight games when we were forced to call a halt after six games played.

Likewise the age of sail gaming was just getting started with our two meetings to play 'War by Sail' which holds much promise as a turn to set of rules but unfortunately that development was also brought to a premature postponement.
War by Sail getting an early play test before the pandemic

Thus with face to face gaming on hold for the foreseeable I turned to other ways to get my gaming fix which resulted in me digging out the Vassal collection of boardgame modules to help fill the time, first with a solo game module of Tonnage Wars recreating the U-boat war against Atlantic convoys and then setting up a regular Tuesday night meet up with Steve M to see how practical the online platform was to use for some remote play.

Band of Heroes, Break out Normandy, Tonnage War and Mr Madison's War, part of the collection of games played this year on Vassal and reported about here on the blog.

Well since getting to grips with Columbia's War of 1812 back in March our adventures with this platform have really gathered pace since, with the following favourites played and reported here on the blog, captured in the collage of screen shots taken from our games this year.

Screen shots taken from our Vassal games of Rommel in the Desert, Mr Madison's War, War of 1812, Unhappy King Charles and Washington's War

With a change in the weather and the warm summer sun, infections rates dropped dramatically and movement restrictions relaxed allowing some of the usual outdoor activities normally covered here on the blog to resume.

I have been really keen to explore some of the many Neolithic-Iron-Age historical monuments on Dartmoor and to get more familiar with using my ViewRanger walking app carried on my phone and it was great fun exploring the moor this summer.

The summer weather and the subsequent drop in infections together with a relaxation of movement restrictions allowed for some expeditions on to Dartmoor exploring ancient iron-age settlements and monuments

Alongside the Dartmoor expeditions I managed to get some historic sites walked this year that saw a visit to the Froward Point WWII gun battery that guarded the approach to the naval base at Dartmouth during the war.

A few historical sites were explored this year including this one, the former WWII Coastal Gun Battery at Froward Point on Devon's South Coast.

Also Mr Steve and I were able to meet up to take advantage of the summer sun with visits to Lansdown Hill and Tewkesbury together with several other interesting sites close by.

Mr Steve and I also squeezed in some relaxed lockdown expeditions first to Lansdown Hill and to Tewkesbury featured below.

The expedition to Tewkesbury was the last this year before infection rates started to rise and movement was again restricted.

Another area to gain from the forced confinement was the amount of figure painting time that saw a few 28mm additions completed alongside the bulk of work that concentrated on the All at Sea project to produce a rather large collection of Age of Sail 1:700th ships.

As well as reading time, painting and modelling time benefited from the confinement to quarters with some figure modelling squeezed into the ship building program.

Building, painting and rigging these models has been great fun and a very enjoyable way to spend my time and these imposing models really reward the effort put into them with the way thay can look that really captures the elegance of these classic ships.

Of course this year has been very much focused on building up the 1:700th collection of Age of Sail model ships

The core of the collection is now complete and leaves just a relatively small number of models to be added for this first part to be done as outlined in my New Year plans below and like anything the more you do the quicker and more effective you become and I am keen to press on with some additional collections as outlined below, later this year.

The collection was featured in August as part of my effort to support promoting International Naval Wargames Day this year, and will continue to feature as part of my plans for the collection going into the New Year

In addition to completing my own projects which feature here on the blog, I really am keen to share the love and the skills necessary to help others replicate the way I like to build and paint my models.

I have produced PDF tutorials before, that are available here in my links bar on the right column, in my downloads section, but I was conscious that with something like rigging these model ships, actually seeing the process and hopefully how relatively straight forward it really is to do would encourage more folks to have a go.

This idea prompted me into developing a new skill, that of simple video production and editing, that could help me develop video tutorials as an added feature of the JJ's Wargames YouTube channel and I hope to add other useful and interesting content going forward, time permitting.

Another new venture this year was to get into video and video editing to make better use of JJ's Wargames YouTube Channel with the roll out of three video tutorials looking at rigging 1:700th model ships.

So 2020 has seen lots of models built and painted, lots of reading and book reviews, a few places visited and explored and lots of boardgames revisited with gaming activity enhanced using Vassal and video to add to the content, but I have really missed the social side of the hobby and the games played here at JJ's, at my monthly gatherings with the chaps at the DWG and the wargame shows that have made such an important part of the annual calendar.

This is not the annual review I would have expected to be writing when I sat down to compose the review for 2019 and I note with a smile that alongside my collection plans, I was anticipating being away on holiday to the other side of the world which of course has been postponed.

Likewise the plan for 2021 seems much less certain than plans I have sat down to write in the previous years, knowing as we do that 'any plan changes on first contact with the enemy' with the past enemies being distractions and lost time now further complicated with the addition of Covid 19.

So with the prospect of circumstances changing, one way or another, the status quo is likely to remain until opportunity presents other options with the routine of the last few weeks continuing into the first quarter of 2021 as vaccine roll out takes effect and warmer weather sees the seasonal decline of the virus to allow increased social activity.

My little pile of work planned for the foreseeable few months of 2021 as things look set to change yet again.

Thus my plans for 2021 sees work continuing primarily with the 1:700th model ships, with my stack of unbuilt kits topped up by family members over the Xmas break and giving me impetus to crack on once the holidays are over.

Black Seas being premiered at Salute 2019

So what is all this activity directed towards? I know I am not alone among age of sail wargamers to delight in the idea of at sometime playing the Battle of Trafalgar and when I first saw the Warlord range of models being premiered at Salute in 2019, I thought them perfect for staging such a game with all the table-top impact that 28mm gives to figure gaming.

Battle of Trafalgar - Thomas Serres
The kind of scene I hope to evoke with a game recreating the battle in 1:700th scale

Of course playing such a game will require a bit of pre-planning to create the space and time to play it but the first hurdle has to be the creation of the collection of models and at this stage the following need to be constructed:

French - 8 x 3rd Rate, Spanish 1 x 3rd Rate and 2 x 1st Rate, British 2 x 3rd Rate, 4 x 1st Rate and a cutter and Schooner.

Once these models are added to the collection I will do some roll out pictures of the British, French and Spanish squadrons that made up the British and Allied Combined Fleets.

Then planning will hopefully proceed on to testing the rules out with some smaller scenario type games once we can start to get back around the table top which will allow for any necessary adaptations to allow for a much bigger game.

Of course, I would very much like to play the game on or as close to October 21st and the intention would be to create a Trafalgar Night gathering to remember and certainly something to look forward to once this pandemic has been brought under control.

Battle of Cuddalore 1783 - Auguste Jugelet

My interest in the Age of Sail has in the past been primarily engaged with the earlier period and particularly the American War of Independence when the superiority of the Royal Navy was not at the peak it reached in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

That interest led me to build a collection of 1:1200th ships for the Suffren-Hughes campaign fought in the Indian Ocean and I am keen to replace that collection with a similar one in 1:700th and have already started to assemble reference materials and some of the models in preparation for that next project.

I am really looking forward to the challenge of creating the models to capture the look of the British and French fleets that fought off the Coromandel Coast in the late 1780's.

Lake battles and the smaller actions would seem a perfect fit for using 1:700th models

Finally as far as model ships are concerned, the scratch building of some of the smaller ships has further interested my ideas to collect suitable models for the smaller actions fought between fifth rates or lower and a Great Lakes selection of models that would tie in with those ideas nicely, with 1:700th scale almost perfect for recreating these actions.

Once the ship model itch has been well and truly scratched I feel likely that the 28mm Ancient and AWI collections will resume centre stage with work needed to finish off my Romano-Dacian collection and my Mohawk Valley project, but I am not  going to make them a hostage to fortune until the current plans are nearer completion and the time ahead becomes somewhat more predictable.

With regard to the blog, I plan to maintain the shape of its content and regularity of posts going into the New Year with the content changing in reaction to circumstance.

The Christmas and New Year break from my normal painting and modelling activities has provided a bit of down time to turn my attention to gaming the Trafalgar project, starting with a re-write of the Black Seas Trafalgar Leeward Line Scenario for War by Sail.

I have all the models including the named ones to recreate this action recreating the attack by Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood's Leeward Column and his first group of ships and have made some changes to my record sheets following the playtests this year to produce the required orders of battle.

Part of the British order of battle for The Leeward Line Scenario

In addition to that I have been finishing off the first re-write of the War by Sail QRF which includes some of the alterations we made to the rules during our games which I will use for this warm up game.

My new look Ship record sheets, for play testing will hopefully form the basis of the look of the record ships for the complete Trafalgar game.

So to wet the appetite of the games to come and some of the work I intend to do as part of the warm up work I have attached pictures of the set up for the Leeward Line Scenario ready to work on over the next few days.

Collingwood aboard the Royal Sovereign 100-guns leads the British Lee Column into the attack.
'What would Nelson give to be here?'

With my recent boardgame activity I have been following the work of game designer Gilbert Collins on his YouTube channel where he looks at and talks about various games he plays in his collection.

Just recently he has been refighting the Battle of Minorca using Flying Colours and his walk through of the play and his re-write of the rules to produce his fast-play set has given me an idea to do something similar with this particular scenario.

The view of the British attack from the Franco-Spanish Combined Fleet perspective with Alava's flagship Santa Anna at the head

The two opposing lines about to make contact

So I will produce a report of how this plays out in time with my normal in game pictures but I might look at producing some video to illustrate the rules during the play-test.

Royal Sovereign (left) races the 74-gun Belleisle into the attack

The lead ships Santa Ana 112-guns, Le Fougueux 74-guns and Le Pluton 74-guns prepare to open fire with L'Indomptable 84-guns and Monarca 74-guns covering the gaps, and with the frigates Cornelie 40-guns and Le Themis 40-guns in the rear ready to give assistance to any crippled survivors.

Seagull's view over frigate Cornelie

L'Indomptable 84-guns covers the flagship

Le Pluton 74-guns leads L’Algeciras 74-guns in the centre of the squadron

With the band of the Royal Marines playing and the signal 'Engage More Closely' flying, Royal Sovereign prepares to break the enemy line.

Thank you to everyone who has joined the fun here on JJ's in an interesting year with the comments you have left and particularly to long-suffering friends who have contributed to the posts on various activities throughout the year, that make the blog content what it is.

May I take this opportunity to wish all my readers every success with their own plans for 2021 and to have a happy time pursuing them in the New Year.

As ever, onward and upward.


Thursday 24 December 2020

Happy Christmas 2020 - What an Interesting Year!

As regular followers of the blog will know, I like to theme my Happy Christmas greeting on the eve of celebrating with a suitable picture that captures the current theme of the blog and, with 2020 being rather nautical here on JJ's, I thought a view of the officers table, suitably adorned for the upcoming festivities and feasting seemed appropriate.

Of course this Christmas is likely one that will be remembered for generations to come after the year that the world has had and my condolences go to all those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic and for whom Christmas will never be the same.

Wargaming has been affected a great deal as has pretty much all activities that thrive on social interaction and, with face to face gaming curtailed since March this year, sitting down to build, paint and rig model sailing ships, together with reading the latest additions to the age of sail book list, has been a fun time filler for my corner of the hobby.

With the festivities looming and filling my time with family, feasting and the normal Christmas activities, I was keen to complete my last bit of model building work before my painting desk shut down for the next week or so and that saw me working flat out in JJ's shipyard to finish off these six British generic 3rd rate 74s, seen below painted and varnished a week ago waiting for their sails and rigging.

Well in between picking up a turkey and other foods, decorating the house, wrapping the odd present, reading xmas cards and moving furniture to accommodate dinning space for our family gathering, I managed to get the job finished yesterday evening, hence the group photo on my table rather than under the lights in the photo-box.

My work pattern during modelling projects is to break the process down into mini-projects and getting these six ships finished has given me a great sense of satisfaction going into the holiday knowing that just twenty more models remain to finish off this collection and setting up nicely my project plans for 2021 which I will announce in my New Year Review.

I hope, all being well that this large collection of models that I have featured being built over this year and late last year will be one we can look forward to being played with around a rather large table when normal social gatherings can recommence and a way of celebrating our hobby and a looking forward to better days ahead.

In that spirit, I wish everyone a very Happy and Safe Christmas with the focus on the promise of better times ahead in 2021.

Cheers all


Tuesday 22 December 2020

In Pursuit of the Essex - Ben Hughes


I have to say that  I came to this book by Ben Hughes with little knowledge of American Captain David Porter and his cruise to the Pacific Ocean other than a top line understanding that his frigate, USS Essex, had severely damaged the British whaling industry in that region off of South America until his cruise was brought to an end by the arrival of HMS Phoebe and Cherub in the bay area off of Valparaiso in Chile on the 28th March 1814.

That together with the fictional account of the cruise by Patrick O'Brian in his account of Captain Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander, The Far Side of the World brought vividly to life in the 2003 film based on the book with Russell Crowe in the role of Jack Aubrey and with the American frigate restyled as an American built French privateer frigate Acheron.

Thus one of the primary reasons for me to get this book was to educate myself about this naval odyssey from the War of 1812 and understand how it was that the war ended up being fought in this part of the world in the first place, not to mention the characters involved in its fighting.

A gorgeous model of the nominally 36-gun USS Essex, with a 128-foot keel of the very tough native White Oak, Essex was heavily up-gunned to 46 guns and armed primarily with 40 x 32-pounder carronades, the other six being 12 pdr long guns mounted on the forecastle and quarterdeck, making the ship a formidable opponent at close range but less so at longer gun range.

The account given by Hughes only proves the point that fact is often more entertaining than fiction and the climax of the book with the battle between the American and British ships and the manoeuvring that led up to it reminded me of the story of another Royal Navy pursuit of another mercantile raider from WWII, namely the Pocket Battleship, Graf Spee that also featured a rather protracted nail biting build up to the final action as that raider was held at bay in another neutral port on the coast of South America looking to break out before other Royal Navy ships appeared over the horizon.

As the great American writer Mark Twain is reputed to have said 'history doesn't repeat itself but it often rhyme's'.

A contemporary model of HMS Phoebe, 36-gun frigate held by the Royal Museums Greenwich depicted in the black and white, rather than yellow ochre chequer board paint scheme that became popular from 1815. Phoebe was not the fastest Royal Navy frigate but carried a formidable armament of 26 x 18-pounder long guns on her main deck together with 12 x 32-pdr carronades on her quarterdeck, 4 x 9-pdrs and 2 x 32-pdr carronades on her forecastle and an 18-pdr and 12-pdr gun mounted on high angle carriages for aimed fire into an enemy's tops. In addition 4 x 2 and 3-pdr swivel-guns were mounted in her tops and two of her launches carried bow mounted carronades.

Ben Hughes has constructed his account of the cruises of both the Phoebe and Essex from a range of historical records, including primary and secondary sources along with the various ships logs and personal memoirs and journals from those involved and, by alternating his chapters to record the various stages of each sides journey from their home ports to their final meeting off Valparaiso, the book reads very much like an account from an O'Brian novel recording the adventures and dramas that occurred along their way and allowing the reader to gain insights to the similarities and distinct differences between the two navies and the way their men of war operated day to day.

Map from the book illustrating the pursuit of the USS Essex.

Towering over the accounts of both sides forces were the two dominant characters of Captain David Porter of the US Navy and James Hillyar RN and their individual characters along with the way they managed their ships and the missions they were charged with.

Captain David Porter USN - US Naval Academy

Porter comes across as a somewhat typical commander of the early US Navy, impulsive and keen to press his position for promotion by achievement and notoriety and quick to take offense at any challenge with a duel required to settle affairs, be that personal of in a military capacity by bringing his ship along to settle accounts with the enemy.

His management of his ship's company posed challenges in a navy of limited term twelve month volunteers with the motivational benefits associated with volunteer crews in having men serving who wanted to be on the ship eager to earn prize money as recompense for the risks involved, but also with the difficulties of dealing with men close to the end of their sign up period, eager to leave and spend some of that money, sometimes riled up to insolence by other crew members keen to assert their republican rights and not deterred from voicing criticism and complaint.

Captain James Hillyar in a miniature dated between 1808-12
Royal Museums Greenwich 

James Hillyar by comparison makes an interesting contrast, having very strong religious convictions that saw him conducting regular Sunday morning worship with his ships crew, forbidding swearing and bringing a determined discipline aboard ship with resort to the cat where required for occasional acts of drunkenness and insolence to ships officers.

Surrender of the Fort of Tamatave - Thomas Whitcombe

The crew of HMS Phoebe are portrayed for the veterans that they were, with a handful aboard who had been with the ship since 1797 when she had captured the French 36-gun frigate Neride off Brest, the ship having an enviable record of successful engagements which included Trafalgar at which twenty-nine of the crew had served, followed by further cruises to the Baltic and Caribbean with Hillyar taking command in 1809 and with all but a hundred of the crew seeing action against three French frigates on 20th May 1811 at the Battle of Tamatave off Madagascar and the subsequent capture of the island of Java.

After failing to make his planned rendezvous with Captain Bainbridge and the USS Constitution for a joint cruise in the South Atlantic against British commerce, Porter was able to use his discretion and indulge his long held aspirations to be the first American warship to enter the Pacific and a plan he had devised to disrupt British whaling activity and the likely lucrative prize money on offer for not only the captured shipping but also its valuable and highly prized cargo of whale oil.

The British Whaler Britannia leaving Sydney Cove 1798 - Thomas Whitcombe

His activities in an area unprotected by the Royal Navy soon drew the attention of British agents and representatives in the Spanish colonies of the South American mainland as Porter sought to arrange prisoner exchanges and monies for prizes via the Spanish authorities, themselves engaged in the chaotic breakdown of Spain's authority in the region following Napoleon's invasion and occupation of the country and the subsequent Peninsular War.

Alongside the accounts of the captures of the British whalers we are treated to accounts of the wild life encountered by the Essex, and this is definitely not a book for naturalists as the wanton destruction of Galapagos tortoises, seals and other creatures slaughtered by both sides for pleasure or for food makes difficult reading; as does Porter's activities on the Pacific island group known as the Marquesas, renamed in the name of the United States as the Madison Islands where he imposed his will on native islanders using the modern weapons carried by his ships crew to cow opposing tribal groups, whilst supporting others against them who had submitted to his demands.

Meanwhile on orders from the Admiralty to escort a force to evict American fur traders at Fort Astoria on the Pacific mouth of the Columbia River, Hillyar soon found himself under additional orders from the local British naval commander on the South Atlantic station to also use his ships to hunt down and destroy the Essex and the book makes interesting reading as he makes plans to accommodate both sets of orders detaching the 18-gun sloop HMS Racoon to Fort Astoria whilst taking the Phoebe and the Cherub in search of the Essex, culminating with their arrival at Valparaiso on the 8th February 1814.

Both sides seemed equally surprised by the arrival of the other with Porter hastily recalling his shore parties and Hillyar thinking to take the Essex by an immediate attack, ignoring Chilean neutrality, but on closing with the American frigate realising his error, seeing the American at quarters and noting her distinctive carronade armament as he passed close by, coolly hailing Porter with a speaking trumpet and enquiring after his health as the American returned the compliments and held his fire as his enemy turned away whilst presenting a close range bow raking opportunity.

What followed is a fascinating story, as from then until the final action both sides played a game of cat and mouse, setting up lookout positions ashore to watch each others movements, with the two British ships prowling up and down at the mouth of Valparaiso bay eager to be at sail should the Essex attempt to break out, only coming to anchor at nightfall.

During the whole of his cruise Porter had been anxious to fight a British frigate and the opportunity to join the list of US captains that had been victorious in such a fight, issuing a challenge to Hillyar to send Cherub away and that they should meet, ship to ship, outside of neutral waters. 

Hillyar refused the offer to surrender his advantage, despite the protests of his first officer, knowing that with delay the situation would only deteriorate for the American as other Royal Navy ships would arrive in time to seal his fate.

Porter attempted to break out and then, when his attempt failed, set about burning one of the captured whalers to provoke an action, that was technically a breach of the port's neutrality, this followed by nights at anchor with opposing crews singing patriotic songs and calling out insults and political slogans to each other, providing great entertainment to the local townsfolk on shore. 

Eventually the pressure to act was overwhelming and whilst attempting to break out, Essex lost her main topmast and, rather than press on, turned back into the bay only to find Hillyar in no mood to stand off yet again but instead press the action to a resolution and seeing that action brought to a bloody conclusion after a two and a half hour long range bombardment from Phoebe and Cherub that forced the Essex to strike.

The near contemporary illustration of the Essex at bay off Valparaiso with Phoebe and Cherub used for the book cover of Ben Hughes' account.
Beverley Robinson Collection - United States Naval Academy.
The Essex is seen with her main topmast lost whilst trying to escape to open water, flying her banners inscribed ' Free Trade and Sailors' Rights' with HMS Phoebe, supported by the 18-gun ship-sloop Cherub, flying hers inscribed 'God & Country, British Best Rights, Traitors Offend Both'.

Hughes concludes the story with what happened to the personalities, the wounded and the ships after the action and the post war activities of officers and men, putting a full stop to a vivid account of action and adventure.   

I really enjoyed this book and have subsequently picked up an account of the exploits of HMS Racoon that went north to Fort Astoria, with all the implications that eventually had for the establishment of the American-Canadian border on the Pacific west coast.

If you are interested in the naval war of 1812 or warfare in the age of sail generally I think this book is for you and I certainly enjoyed the read.

In Pursuit of the Essex is 242 pages including a very comprehensive index and bibliography list together with four maps, two illustrations of ships of the period, sixteen pages of black and white photos and illustrations together with the following chapters:

Prologue: 'A Prodigious Slaughter'; USS Essex, Valparaiso Bay, 6.30pm, 28th March 1814
Introduction; A Tale of Two Navies

1. 'Yankee Warriors True': Captain David Porter and the Essex 1 September 1812 - 25 January 1813.
2. The South Atlantic: USS Essex, 27 November 1812 - 25 January 1813.
3. 'A finer set of fellows': Captain James Hillyar and the Right Reverend HMS Phoebe, 27 December 1812 - 11 April 1813.
4. Into the Pacific: USS Essex, 26 January 1813 - 11 April 1813.
5. From Tenerife to Rio: HMS Phoebe, 12 April 1813 - 9 July 1813.
6. The Galapagos Islands: USS Essex, 11 April 1813 - 9 July 1813.
7. In the Footsteps of Robinson Crusoe: HMS Phoebe, 10 July 1813 - 6 October 1813.
8. A Matter of Honour: USS Essex, 9 July 1813 - 2 October 1813.
9. Tragedy at Tumbez: HMS Phoebe, 3 October 1813 - 10 December 1813.
10. Death in Paradise: USS Essex, 4 October 1813 - 13 December 1813.
11. The Valley of the Unknown God: HMS Phoebe, 24 November 1813 - 8 February 1814.
12. The Standoff, 13 December 1813 - 28 March 1814.
13. The Battle, 27-28 March 1814.
14. The Aftermath, 29 March 1814 - 25 December 1814.
Epilogue: Loose Ends, 7 July 1814 - 14 August 1870.


In Pursuit of the Essex is hard cover and published by Pen & Sword at a list price of £25 but is available through Amazon for under £10, so might make a nice Xmas present for someone.

Well it's full speed ahead to Christmas and we are trying to make it as normal a festive season as possible given all the travel and mixing of household restrictions the UK is currently going through at the moment. 

Whatever the situation I will be looking to keep on blogging through this situation and will be reporting on games and plans for 2021 in the next few weeks of the holiday, not to mention work continues a pace in JJ's shipyard as six 74-gun third rates have rolled down the slipway to be fitted out for service in His Majesty's Royal Navy - more anon.