Ships of the line

From the battle of Lepanto to the mid-19th century.
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Karl Heidenreich
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Postby Karl Heidenreich » Thu Apr 20, 2006 4:38 pm

That makes two of us. :(

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Postby ufo » Thu Apr 20, 2006 4:54 pm

The normal was the cast iron ball.
Besides you had all sorts of sophisticated cannon balls. Chain or bar shot, where two cannon balls were connected either by a solid bar or a chain – used to cut down the enemies rigging.
To cut down the enemy’s men either to prevent boarding or to clear the enemy’s decks for an own assault, you had grape shot. That was a bursting charge in a clay pot that had been rolled in lead balls before drying. The fuse lit, when the canon fired and when the charge burst the balls caused havoc on the enemy’s deck.

Fire was indeed the nightmare of wooden fighting ships. Often land batteries but sometimes also ships against each other used red-hot cannon balls. When they got stuck somewhere in the enemy ship they quickly set fire because they were neatly surrounded by the splintered wood from the blow that got them there.
Also misfires from guns were a bit of a fire hazard. And then there was the guy holding the fuse ready to fire the gun. Did he get cut down by a splinter, the fuse could land in the most awkward places.
So I think the answer is ‘yes’ – fires were quite common even without much explosive shot around. You just had to much powder widely distributed through a relatively unprotected ship.

At the Battle of the Nile fighting ceased for quite a while after the French Flagship blew up. Must have been an eerie sight.


When it came to sinking or not wooden ships had the advantage of their relative buoyancy. On the down side was their very poor subdivision by watertight bulkheads. So when pierced sufficiently often they just slowly settled. The last experiment regarding that was the sad demise of HMS Implacable. She proved rather resistant. Poor old beast! A sin that was! There:
http://hmsbd.free.fr/implacable/implacable.htm
she is; proudly flying the Union Jack and the Tricolore.

But if you look at a cross section of a 74; the hull is enormously thick. Only heavy guns on close quarters could actually pierce the underwatership.

For gunnery different Navies used slightly different techniques. The Spaniards tended to shoot on the downroll of their own ships to rather riddle the enemy’s hull, the English on the uproll to rather cut the enemy’s rigging.

Ciao,
Ufo

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Postby Bgile » Thu Apr 20, 2006 7:16 pm

I have to disagree with ufo here on one or two points.

The British fired into the hull of their enemy most of the time. I've heard the French were more likely to shoot at rigging. A ship would not normally (ever?) use heated shot it was awkward to handle, required a special furnace, and was dangerous to the firing ship. It was used a lot by fortifications firing at ships.

With respect to fires, what is "common"? Most naval battles I've read about didn't involve fires. I don't think one ship in a fleet that catches fire and blows up makes it common, but that depends on your definition.

Carronades were small, lightweight cannons. Their crews were smaller than those of long guns of the same throw weight, and they weighed much less but muzzle velocity was much less also. They were much less accurate. A warship would typically carry long guns low in the ship and carronades on the upper deck.

With respect to damage control, they had pumps, and they had plugs they would hammer into holes.

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marcelo_malara
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Postby marcelo_malara » Fri Apr 21, 2006 1:49 am

Can someone explain to me how this 42 pdr or 4 pdr, carronade or carron worked?

The pdr denomination obviously referred to the weight of the projectile.
The carronade was a gun that made use of the advances in metallurgy to reduce the gap between shot and bore and used a reduced charge. All this made for a thinner wall and a lighter gun, so they could be installed in upper decks for short range use. The name came for the Carron Foundry.
Did shells have a bursting charge inside or were just cast-iron balls?

The projectiles were solid until the invention of the spherical explosive shell by Paixhans in aprox. 1820.
How many ships were actually sunk by gunfire at Trafalgar?

You are right, ships were rarely sunk in the sail era. In Trafalgar only one ship was sunk, it caught fire and the magazines went off.
But if you look at a cross section of a 74; the hull is enormously thick.

The hulls were actually 24" thick. They were made up of 16" timber frames and 4" internal and 4" external planking. The frames were disposed continously, no gaps between them.

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Postby ufo » Fri Apr 21, 2006 9:33 am

@Bgile

I would agree that one ship that ever blew up in battle does not make it common. Did it sound like that? :oops:
I do agree that less than 50% of all ships of the line ever build anywhere in the world did blew up. It is uncommon then. I stand corrected. :D

Out of the top of my head I would throw in the Battle of Camperdown where if I am not much mistaken Dutch ships caught fire and at the Battle of the Downs the Spaniards lost ships to fire as well as flooding.
The Downs and Gravelines making good examples of how the thread of fire could even be used as a weapon using fire ships.
But I must admit that I thought of the fire hazard to wooden ships of the line more from the point of their own gunnery.
Little bits like the invention of the ventplug, make me think that fires must have been a serious thread. This was used to close the vent when sponging the gun to prevent smouldering debris flying out of the hole and finding powder. The extensive supply of buckets of water and wet wool also make me think they must have taken fire as a very serious thread.

And we might look at slightly different periods in time. When Admiral Nelson fought his battles as far as I know most navies used guns with firing locks, just like muskets had. This did away with the burning fuse used to fire old-fashioned guns.

I do think that Admiral Drake used heated shot in the attack on Cadiz. But – yes – for obvious reasons it was not common.


On the roll issue – I am indeed quite sure that an actual order was given during the engagements with the Armada to fire on the uproll as the English guns did not a very good job in piercing the hulls of the galleons over medium to long range while the Spaniards were indeed trying to flood the English vessels to force them to withdraw; thus firing rather low.

But for later days – I might be mistaken. The English having a liking for the weather gauge in their battles against the Franco Spanish lines would have had a tendency to point low anyhow the Allies in turn heeling and exposing more of their underwater ship – The English might well have cultivated that.
And guns had become much more powerful by then.
For that era I simply do not know.


Now having outed yourself as the right one to be holed with questions about this period: :wink:
Was the bore of the gun defined by a lead ball or a cast iron ball? (i.e. did a 20 Pounder have a bore for a 20 pound ball of lead or iron?)
Thanks!

Ciao,
Ufo

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marcelo_malara
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Postby marcelo_malara » Fri Apr 21, 2006 2:21 pm

Was the bore of the gun defined by a lead ball or a cast iron ball?


Cast iron.

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Postby Bgile » Fri Apr 21, 2006 4:35 pm

If you have the weather gauge it means you are upwind of your enemy, so it is easier to shoot at the rigging, not the hull. The guns did have elevation adjustments, but they were crude and not very precise.

I didn’t mean to imply that fire wasn’t a real danger – just that the extreme measures taken to reduce that danger worked most of the time. Fire ships were definitely a viable strategy, but your enemy had to be in a position where he couldn’t avoid them – usually that meant he was at anchorage. Obviously by their very nature their use is limited.

I think marcelo knows much more about this era than I do. J

I don’t think frames were continuous though … I’m fairly certain I’ve seen pictures of these ships being built, and I’m not positive but I’ve visited some and I’m pretty sure I saw the frames and they were conventionally spaced. Also, I consider Patric O’Brien to be authoritative and I believe he describes some ships as having closer spacing than others and of course that makes them more expensive.

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marcelo_malara
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Postby marcelo_malara » Fri Apr 21, 2006 5:01 pm

I think marcelo knows much more about this era than I do.

Thank you!! As I posted in another thread, I started studying the period after watching Master and Commander. But as far as now, I have only technical info about shipbuilding, rigging and shiphandling, no tactics yet.

I don’t think frames were continuous though …

Yes, they were continuous. I have three books on shipbuilding of the era: Construction and fitting (Peter Goodwin), Building the wooden fighting ship (Dodds and Moore) and The American-built Clipper ship (Crothers). The space between frames was allowed just for ventilation of timbers and planking and was in fact very small in the lower futtocks (futtocks were the individual timbers that made up the entire frame). The higher futtocks had progresively lower scantlings, so the space between frames increased as you reach the upper deck, but never reaches a frame-size.

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Postby ufo » Fri Apr 21, 2006 7:40 pm

Many thanks for the prompt one on the cannon ball!

Bgile wrote:If you have the weather gauge it means you are upwind of your enemy, so it is easier to shoot at the rigging, not the hull. The guns did have elevation adjustments, but they were crude and not very precise.

...


I am puzzled about the weather gauge. I yachting terms I would understand the ship being upwind of its opponent to be holding the weather gauge, hence the opponent stands to leeward. This gives the vessel holding the weather gauge free choice of course for the attack while the vessel to leeward has to beat upwind to close the range.

So the ship upwind would heel towards the enemy; the guns would point downward towards the leeward ship, would they not? And the opponent – or in fighting terms enemy would heel mast away from it, thus showing the underbelly of his vessel.

I either have a twist in my thought, which may well be, or the ship holding the weather gauge would indeed aim low. :think:

Ufo

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Postby Bgile » Fri Apr 21, 2006 10:20 pm

ufo wrote:Many thanks for the prompt one on the cannon ball!

Bgile wrote:If you have the weather gauge it means you are upwind of your enemy, so it is easier to shoot at the rigging, not the hull. The guns did have elevation adjustments, but they were crude and not very precise.

...


I am puzzled about the weather gauge. I yachting terms I would understand the ship being upwind of its opponent to be holding the weather gauge, hence the opponent stands to leeward. This gives the vessel holding the weather gauge free choice of course for the attack while the vessel to leeward has to beat upwind to close the range.

So the ship upwind would heel towards the enemy; the guns would point downward towards the leeward ship, would they not? And the opponent – or in fighting terms enemy would heel mast away from it, thus showing the underbelly of his vessel.

I either have a twist in my thought, which may well be, or the ship holding the weather gauge would indeed aim low. :think:

Ufo


You are quite correct. :) I have no idea how I managed to get so confused.

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Ulrich Rudofsky
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Postby Ulrich Rudofsky » Sat Apr 22, 2006 11:40 am

The weather gauge was crucial. It was the safe position as well as a position of great advantage and control. You, not the enemy, could choose the battle distance at will. If you are upwind of the enemy you can shadow him and drop down without tacking but he can't come up very easily unless his ship can point much higher than yours or he gets a lift from a change in wind direction. Generally, the enemy would have to tack several times and may loose distance, while you can at anytime run away or ease off and come closer without loosing ground or point up again if you decide to wait or retire. You are in control of the time and distance of the battle and you can intercept, but he can't do that to you.
Ulrich

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Postby Bgile » Sat Apr 22, 2006 4:41 pm

marcelo_malara wrote:Thank you!! As I posted in another thread, I started studying the period after watching Master and Commander. But as far as now, I have only technical info about shipbuilding, rigging and shiphandling, no tactics yet.

Yes, they were continuous. I have three books on shipbuilding of the era: Construction and fitting (Peter Goodwin), Building the wooden fighting ship (Dodds and Moore) and The American-built Clipper ship (Crothers). The space between frames was allowed just for ventilation of timbers and planking and was in fact very small in the lower futtocks (futtocks were the individual timbers that made up the entire frame). The higher futtocks had progresively lower scantlings, so the space between frames increased as you reach the upper deck, but never reaches a frame-size.


Wow, that's contrary to what I've always believed. Oh well. I really don't have anything to contradict what you are saying.

I've actually been interested in the period for many, many years - but I was impressed by your technical data. I even know what weather gage is, LOL! But I'm still able to make a fool of myself!

I'm currently on Book 16 by Patrick O'Brien. I read them for a while, and then stop for a while. The movie was a hodge podge of two of his books. In the relevant book, the frigate he was chasing was American, but Hollywood decided that wasn't a good idea when most of their money comes from US audiences.

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Ulrich Rudofsky
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Postby Ulrich Rudofsky » Sat Apr 22, 2006 7:50 pm

The hulls were actually 24" thick. They were made up of 16" timber frames and 4" internal and 4" external planking. The frames were disposed continously, no gaps between them.


The building of these ships was very intricate. I am building a 1:48 (1/4 inch to the foot) model of the little 16 gun USS ONEIDA. After 3 months I am near the decking with knees and beams. The 36 frames are 9 pieces each! (Warships had to have a lot more frames than merchants). I am using Pau Marfim frames, walnut gunwales, Swiss pear, beech, etc. I hope to finish her in a year or two. Here are what she looks like as of this afternoon. USS ONEIDA is a "kit", hahahahaha! :evil: , from the Lumberyard http://www.dlumberyard.com/. Great for testing the patience of a retired old sailor. (Calipers are openend to ca. 10 cm; after 50 years in America I am still metric :oops: )
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One trick about building models is to cover up your mistakes! ONEIDA has a new, much better transom :wink:
Ulrich

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Postby Bgile » Sun Apr 23, 2006 6:46 pm

Wow, very nice, Ulrich!

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Karl Heidenreich
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Postby Karl Heidenreich » Mon Apr 24, 2006 3:30 pm

Being interested in sailing warships since this thread came up to the forum, I began reading Anthony Preston´s "History of the Royal Navy" . In this book Mr. Preston states that before the English Civil War the concept of naval warfare was one of a "meleé" (Like the "Armada" in the XVI century), but since the officers in the Navy were royalists, and the Parliament happened to cut the King´s head, Mr. Cromwell appointed three "Generals of the Sea" (of his confidence) to command the English warships. These newcomers saw the brawl of the meleé as something undesired and, lacking proper naval training, decided to begin using the battleline, so they were able to control the combat as they usually did on land! By doing so they transformed forever naval warfare doctrine! I was astonished to learn that the battleline was the product of land generals appointed de facto to sea operations :!: :!: :!:


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