In the aftermath of Nymphe’s being taken by Flora, the Navy Board quickly became enamored of the carronade and the weapon’s effectiveness in combat had silenced naysayers. By January 1781, 604 carronades were mounted on 429 ships. This is probably a record for a new weapon being adopted.
The next step in the experiment was an all-carronade frigate. For this project the HMS Rainbow (44) under Captain Henry Trollope was chosen. Rainbow exchanged her 20 long 18-pounders and 22 long 12-pounders for 20 68-pounder, 22 42-pounder, and 6 32-pounder carronades. Then went out hunting.
On 2 September 1782 Ile de Bas she encountered the French frigate Hebe (40). The ships maneuvered for position and Captain Trollope engaged Hebe with the 32-pounders on his forecastle. One or more of the shots hit killing five Frenchmen. The captain of Hebe examined the fragments of the hollow carronade shot and concluded that if she was firing 32-pounders as chase pieces she was actually a ship of the line in disguise. He fired one broadside, “pour l’honneur de pavilion,” and struck his colors.
Rainbow lost only one man. The French lost five killed, including the second captain, and several wounded out of a crew of 360 men.
The Navy Board began introducing the carronade to the fleet in 1779. It is thought that the first engagement involving the carronade occurred on August 11, 1780 between the HMS Flora (36) and Nymphe (32).
The Nymphe was overmatched by the Flora carrying 26 long 12-pounders and 6 long 6-pounders against Flora’s 26 long 18-pounders, 10 long 9-pounders, and 6 18-pound carronades.
In January 1795, HMS Blanche, a 32-gun frigate, 12-pound main battery, under Captain Robert Faulknor was patrolling off Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadaloupe. Captain Faulknor arranged to look in on the harbor at Guadaloupe by arriving during the night, heaving-to about out four miles out to sea, and creeping in so he could look into the harbor at first light. Early on the morning of January 4, HMS Blanche found Picque, a 36-gun frigate, at anchor just outside the harbor. Picque was disinclined to fight and moved, along with a schooner she was employing as a tender, under the cover of the fort at Gosier.
Picque made several feints towards HMS Blanche as if intending to engage in combat but pulled back each time. About 1 pm, Blanche took as a prize an American schooner out of Bordeaux with a cargo of wine and brandy. Picque bore down on Blanche and fired four shots at her from beyond the range of shot, as Blanche turned to meet this challenge Picque retreated.
Success breeds complacency. Few things are more devastating to an effective military than a long period without significant challenge. The US Army discovered this brutal lesson in Korea. The British Navy discovered this in the War of 1812.
By 1812 England had been at war nearly constantly for nearly 40 years. While British arms on land weren’t always victorious, indeed they suffered more than their share of debacles, the Navy had establish an estimable record of success against all odds and had achieved not only tactical supremacy but psychological ascendancy over it’s European foes.
This invulnerability was shattered in July 1812 when the USS Constitution beat the HMS Guerriere to a shambles in a 35-minute engagement that left 21 British sailors dead and 57 wounded. This was followed by the loss of HMS Macedonian in October and of HMS Java in December. To a Navy and a public used to victories in single ship engagements, this was an earth shattering development.
The pattern continued until June 1, 1813 just outside Boston Harbor.
Sometimes in going through the literature concerning combat during the Age of Sail you run into things that just don’t sound right.
For instance, this quote from an otherwise excellent website:
By the War of 1812, the advantage of a much higher rate of fire came from the use by the United States of a new powder cartridge made of thin sheets of lead. The British used flannel bags of powder, and the gun crews had to swab out their guns after each use to extinguish any embers left in the gun.
In the fight between the HMS Macedonian and the USS United States, for example, the United States got off 66 shots per gun as compared to 36 of the Macedonian. United States began the action at 0920 by firing an inaccurate broadside at Macedonian. This was answered immediately by the British vessel, bringing down a small spar of United States. Decatur’s next broadside had better luck, as it destroyed Macedonian’s mizzen top mast, letting her driver gaff fall and so giving the advantage in maneuver to the American’s frigate. United States next took up position off Macedonian’s quarter and proceeded to riddle the hapless frigate methodically with shot.