Monday, March 11, 2013

Ships in the Late Kabinettskriege Period

Ships in the Late Kabinettskriege Period

The picture above depicts the Battle of Chesapeake Bay in 1781, where the French fleet prevented the British fleet from rescuing Cornwallis' army at Yorktown. This picture shows what a typical naval battle looked like in the late-Kabinettskriege period. Two lines of large ships, (Ships of the Line) firing cannons at one another. One side would eventually attempt to retreat, leaving behind a few crippled ships to be captured by the enemy.

When looking at the enemy fleet before a naval battle, commanders would attempt to place ships of a certain size next to an enemy ship of the same size. In order to formalize this process, the navies of the period developed ship ratings. The first four ratings (1st rate through 4th rate) were considered ships of the line; large warships designed for fleet combat. The final two ratings, (5th and 6th rate ships) were considered frigates; fairly large combat ships designed for independent cruises, attacking merchant ships, and similar work. Even smaller ships existed but were mostly used in coastal areas and the Great Lakes.

Ships of the Line

A model of the HMS Victory, a beautiful example of a first rate ship. 

First Rate

These ships could not maneuver very quickly, but had a massive amount of firepower, usually over one hundred cannons. These ships were hugely costly to maintain, and almost only used in huge naval battles. The HMS Victory is the only remain example of this type of ship. Most first rate ships had three gun decks, which is to say, they had three horizontal rows of cannons on each side of the ship. The heavier, more powerful cannons were on the lower decks.

Second Rate from 1665

Second Rate
The British navy employed second rate ships as flagships for its fleets in non-European waters. The ship was almost unique to the British navy. The ship design was not extremely successful, as the ship was as unmaneuverable as a first rate, but did not give the same boost in firepower. This helped develop the use of the terms "first-rate" as something of high quality, and "second-rate" as something of inferior quality. Second rate ships carried about 90 guns, depending on the ship.These ships usually had three gun decks.

An excellent model of a 74-gun Third Rate built in 1760.

Third Rate

Almost all European fleets in this period employed the third rate ship of the line. The third rates housed between 68 and 80 guns.  These ships saw service all across the globe. "The Seventy-Four," or a third rate with seventy 74 guns, was the most common ship of this type. The French designed the original "Seventy Four" and the other European navies quickly copied the design. The third rate combined good maneuverability with heavy firepower.These ships had two gun decks.

A 3D model of the HMS Leopard, a Fourth Rate built in 1790

Fourth Rate
Somewhere between a small ship of the battle line and a very large frigate, the fourth rate carried between 46 and 60 guns. These ships could stand in the battle line, but towards the end of the Kabinettskriege period, most were used as convoy escort ships. These ships had two gun decks.


USS Constitution, the most famous of the Heavy Frigates 

Heavy American Frigates

At the close of the 18th century, American shipbuilder Joshua Humphreys designed a class of six '"super" frigates, designed to fit somewhere between a ship of the line and a frigate. This class of ship had far superior maneuverability when compared with the available fourth rate ships. During the War of 1812, this ship class scored a number of notable victories. I will do an entire post on these ships in the near future. These ships had one full gun deck, sometimes another deck.

Model of a Fifth Rate Frigate

Fifth Rate

Carrying between 32 and 38 guns, fifth rates were the ship used by various nations of this period to raid shipping and hunt down privateers. These ships were incapable of standing in the line of battle with larger warships. These ships had a single gun deck, but also mounted guns on the upper decks

Model of a Sixth Rate

Sixth Rate

The smallest rated ship, a sixth rate carried between 26 and 32 guns, and was incredibly fast and maneuverable. These ships could operate in fairly shallow waters, making them useful for coastal missions. Usually assigned to younger officers, these ships would hunt for merchant vessels, and smaller privateers. These ships had a single gun deck.

US Brig Niagara

Unrated Vessels (Brigs, Sloops, and so on) 

After sixth rates, smaller warships existed, but were mainly used in coastal operations. Ships like the United States Brig Niagara (which you can see in Erie PA) were used in warfare on the Great Lakes. These ships could have any number of cannon. Extremely small ships might only have one or two cannons, but Brigs like the Niagara carried between 20 and 24 guns on a single gun deck.

I know this post got a little long, but it will be a good place to refer back to as I discuss naval warfare in the future!

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

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