Saturday, 25 June 2016

Ship Characteristics; War of 1812

I have been reading a lot about construction methods and cannon types for Napoleonic ships. I have also been reading through various sets of rules trying to find the right fit. I have several rule sets in the running so far.

Admirals Ability
-Within the war of 1812 the fleets would be small. Still the ability for an a commander to have a plan and then adjust the plan if necessary and then communicate new orders to the fleet if necessary was crucial. At Plattsburgh McDonough's ship placement was brilliant and would have been hard to beat. On Lake Erie, both sides were well lead in my opinion, but the Americans had a lot more cannons, ships and crew. On Lake Ontario, both sides seemed to have at least average commanders. The Americans were impressed at how well individual ships were handled as part of a fleet on Ontario. 

Ship Size and Hull Strength
-The larger the ship, the thicker the hull. This means larger ships are harder to penetrate. Better wood also helps, the British used English Oak on ocean vessels, the Americans used Live Oak for the frames  on their ocean frigates. As ships aged the wood became softer. 
-On Lake Ontario both sides used shortcuts to make vessels more quickly. The Americans used more shortcuts than the British (according to Osprey's "Great Lakes Warships") including using whatever wood was close by instead of oak. Still the American ships were larger on average which probably means they had thicker hulls, perhaps negating those shortcuts
-the Great Lakes vessels did not need copper plating which made them easier to penetrate below the water line. They were made with green / unseasoned wood, which had no effect on hardness but lasted half as long as seasoned wood.

-On the great lakes both sides had access to white oak and red oak. The Americans used a variety of wood, and the British used white oak. 

The USS Constution was the size of a British second rate ship fighting against ships half its size.
USS Constution; 207 feet long, 43.5 feet wide, 1576 tons berthen, 44 Guns
British 2nd Rate; HMS Invincible; 169 feet long, 47 feet wide, 1673 tons berthen, 74 Guns
HMS Java (the largest ship Constution fought); 152 feet long, 39 feet wide, 1073 tons berthen, 40 Guns
*The Java was 2/3 the size of the Constitution. The Constitution was three times the size of most ships it fought. It was the size of a British second rate ship but with fewer guns. The "live oak" wood was important, but more importantly bigger ships pretty much always beat smaller ships. Bigger ships have thicker heavier hulls, more crew, and generally heavier and more guns. Overall the American heavy frigates were a brilliant innovative design and they were handled exceptionally well. They changed the way wooden ships were constructed. 

Cannons vs. Carronades
-A naval long gun was much larger and heavier than a carronade but shot further and more accurately. A carronade needed less crew, but only was effective at 500 yards and under. A cannon was effective up to 1000 yards, and even up to 2000 yards. 
-ships of the era usually had a mix of both gun types. A 32 pound cannon would shoot a ball much harder, further and more accurately than a 32 pound carronade but needed more crew, powder and was much heavier. 
-a 32 pound carronade was around the same weight as a 12 pound cannon. It had a big advantage in smashing through a hull at close range over a 12 pound ball because the ball was so much bigger and heavier. A 32 pound cannon would still be superior to a 32 pound carronade at close range as well. 
-the British had found that anything past 32 pounds became very slow to load. So a 42 pound cannon would hit harder but would be slower to reload. The Americans seemed to have had more of these larger but slower loading cannons and carronades. The first broadside often determined a battle, so maybe bigger was better. 
-ships often had a long range cannon on a pivot and "chasers" for shooting ships to the front. The small number of different caliber of cannons listed as part of the ships armament were usually this kind of cannon.

Wood Hardness Scales
Janka Hardness Test

Ocean Vessels
American; Southern Live Oak; 2680 lbf (on the US Super Frigates only)
British; English Oak; 1120 lbf

British Lake Ships
White Oak; 1360 lbf
Red Oak; 1290 lbf (I don't know if they used red oak at all)
Average Hardness Perhaps; 1330 lbf (possibly 1360)
*Osprey's "Great Lakes Warships" states that the British used "more traditional wood" than the Americans. Traditionally the British used English /European Oak. The only archaeological information I have read stated that 3 wood samples from the HMS Princess Charlotte were White Oak. It's possible they were made with entirely white oak, or perhaps a combination of both red and white oak, both of which are harder than traditional woods by about 10 and 20%.

American Lake Ships
Maple; 1450 lbf *maple rots very quickly in the water
White Oak; 1360 lbf 
Ash; 1320 lbf
Red Oak; 1290 lbf
Soft Maple; 950 lbf
Elm; 830 lbf
Chestnut; 540 lbf
Pine; 420 lbf
Average Hardness Perhaps; 1000 lbf
*The Americans used a variety of wood in their ship building, though would still have used that hardest wood for framing. Overall, they would have produced softer hulls. They did have larger vessels however, which would suggsst they had thicker hulls than a British ship of the same number of guns. They would have doubtlessly used the harder wood for the framing of their ships, and the softer for the planking.

-the more crew the better. A ship with more crew can absorb more punishment and reload and maneuver more quickly. It also makes them better in boarding situations. On Lake Erie, one of the big disadvantages the British had was being under crewed. 
-experience also matters. A veteran crew will shoot more accurately and be more effective in combat. Captains that practiced more, or even shot live rounds, had better and more accurate crews
-the American crews were volunteers and the British crews were often forced to be there through impressment. Still the harsh treatment of the British of their crews seemed to get them results in the Napoleonic Wars. 

-ships had infantry on board to shoot at the crew of other ships and to prevent boarding. Presumably they would help man cannons, and do other roles as needed as well. The French had a lot more infantry on their ships at Trafalgar, but the British seemed to have killed them with grapeshot and canister before they could do much (though one shot Nelson). A musket was only effective at around 100 yards or less. I'm not sure how much of a difference ship infantry made compared to cannons. 

Below is an excerpt discussing the shortcuts taken in Lake Ontario ships.