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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Sunday 21 August 2022

For want of frigates

'Frigates!' cried Nelson, 'Were I to die this moment, want of frigates would be found engraved on my heart!' The frigate was big enough to carry significant firepower but fast enough to evade larger enemies. The light cavalry of the seas, patrolling, scouting and above all, fighting. As Nelson put it, 'The eyes of the fleet'. They often operated alone, while the larger ships of the line typically operated in squadrons or fleets blockading enemy ports. 

I have been building more ships for Black Seas to go with my Adriatic project. I only do the basic build as my fingers and thumbs can't manage to rig, but these are perfectly adequate wargame models, not fine ship models.

The focus has been on frigates and brigs, as they were the typical warships fighting in the Adriatic during the Napoleonic wars. Having said that, the Russians brought a fleet of ships of the line into the Adriatic, which were very effective in bombarding French forts. So here we have a Russian 3rd rate, a frigate and a brig engaging an Ottoman squadron. There were still plenty of frigate actions, and I would recommend the memoirs of Vladimir Bronevskiy, who served on one.

Most frigate actions were the interception of cargo ships. These involved either a shot across the bow or using the ship's boats to board. These don't make great games unless they are in convoys with warship escorts. Late in the war, the French used warships to carry vital cargoes.

One such attack is known as the Action of 29 November 1811. The commander of the Lissa squadron was Captain Murray Maxwell on the frigate HMS Alceste (38) with HMS Active (38), HMS Unite (36), HMS Acorn (20) and HMS Kingfisher (18). He received a signal that a French convoy was heading north from Corfu carrying a cargo of some 200 cannon to Trieste and set sail, leaving Acorn and marines at Lissa. The French convoy was commanded by Commodore François-Gilles Montfort on the Pauline (40), with Pomone (40) and Persanne (26). 

The French convoy was sighted near the island of Lastovo, and Montfort ordered his ships to make full sail to avoid pursuit. The Persanne could not keep pace with her faster frigates and broke off being pursued by Unite. The French ship, primarily a store ship, was heavily outgunned and surrendered after a token broadside. The main action developed into separate duels between Active and Pomone and Alceste and Pauline. Pomone suffered heavy damage, as did Active, with its captain (James Gordon) having his leg blown off. When HMS Kingfisher appeared on the horizon, Montfort decided that he could no longer protect the battered Pomone and sailed away in the Pauline, with the British ships too damaged to pursue. Instead, they concentrated their fire on the Pomone who, after losing her masts, surrendered. This ending is captured in the wonderful painting by Pierre Julien Gilbert.

I have been building some additional French and British frigates and replayed this action with the same outcome. Although I refuse to damage the ship models!

I have also been reading some mostly older books on frigate actions. This 1897 history of the Royal Navy, The royal navy: a history from the earliest times to the present, can be read on the internet archive. There are many good books on frigate actions. My latest purchase has been James Henderson's The Frigates. 

Frigate actions are an excellent way to get into Black Seas. 

1 comment:

  1. Naval Wargaming isn’t really my thing, but a lot of it is down to terminology.
    For example - what exactly is a frigate and how is it different from, say, a cutter? What’s the difference between a cruiser and a destroyer? In what circumstances would you prefer a corvette to a frigate?
    I don’t especially find it easy to differentiate between the different classes of warship and the roles that need to be filled.
    If I do any naval gaming (very little indeed TBH) it’s very much a case of “that is what you have & this is what you need to achieve”. Still, your ships do look very nice 👍