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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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Thursday 14 September 2023

HMS Ambuscade

I will shortly start a new writing project about Royal Navy ships called HMS Ambuscade. I am a member of the Advisory Group for the Clyde Naval Heritage charity, planning to bring the latest vessel of that name, a Type 21 frigate, back to the Clyde where it was built. This HMS Ambuscade served in the Falklands War and was later sold to Pakistan. The Pakistan Navy has kindly agreed to donate the ship; we just have to get it home!

So, I am writing a history of the ship with all profits donated to the charity. The first HMS Ambuscade was a 40-gun fifth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy. She was formerly the French Embuscade, launched in 1745 at Le Havre and captured by HMS Defiance in April 1746. Sold off in 1762. The next HMS Ambuscade was a 32-gun fifth-rate  (Amazon Class) frigate of the Royal Navy, built at Deptford in 1773. It fought in the American Revolution and captured an American and a French brig and a French privateer. In the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, she captured a French privateer, a chasse maree and a merchant ship before being captured herself in 1798. Serving in the French Navy as Embuscade. She was recaptured by HMS Victory in 1803 and served in the Mediterranean. She was broken up in 1810.

There were two captured frigates briefly called Ambuscade during the Napoleonic Wars, and it almost became the name of the Royal Navy's first steam-powered frigate. During the First and Second World Wars, Ambuscade was given to destroyer classes, Acasta and W-Class. One fighting at Jutland and the other serving on Arctic convoys. More on this in later posts.

I have included naval warfare in all my books but wouldn't claim to be a maritime historian. Anyone playing me at Black Seas will know of my irritation with sailing ships, which just won't go where I want them to go! So, any advice is welcome. And I will apologise now if my reading and archival research has a nautical flavour for the next few months.  

Napoleonic frigate warfare was an essential part of the story in my book, The Frontier Sea, but I had yet to read Mark Lardas' Osprey book, British Frigate v French frigate 1793-1814. To command a sailing frigate was a glorious thing. Fast and well-armed, they acted as the eyes of the battle fleet and as commerce raiders. A function that made many frigate captains rich. It was eye-opening when I poured over the Malta court records to see how much cash was involved in prize money. 

French naval architects led the way in ship design, and the British caught up initially by copying them. Frigates got progressively larger as the war progressed, regarding sails and armament. While the British carronade, made in Falkirk, gave the British an advantage at short range, the French copied that with their designs. British frigates were by 1800 some of the finest sailing ships in the world, and coupled with experienced officers and crew, were rarely beaten. The reasons for this advantage are explained in the book, along with excellent graphics. 

Mark finishes with several examples of frigate combat. This helpfully, from my point of view,  includes Ambuscade v Baionnaise in December 1798. Sadly, for my story, this was one of the few French victories achieved by boarding. Baionnaise had extra soldiers on board returning from the West Indies. It was the only ship-to-ship action won by an inferior French warship during the Napoleonic wars. 

Apart from that unfortunate outcome, this is an excellent starting point for understanding frigate warfare during the Napoleonic Wars.

This is a painting of the action. One of many lovely paintings of naval warfare during the conflict.


  1. A great project to be involved in. There does not seem to be a link to make a donation anywhere though

    1. Not yet David. The project just got charitable status a couple of weeks ago. It is starting to make applications to the big funders. As you can imagine, moving a ship from Pakistan to Scotland does not come cheap!