Read to the Institution of Naval Architects, July 19th 1905
A complete analysis of the Naval resources with which this country carried on the long struggle that reached its climax at Trafalgar would be of the greatest interest, but would have demanded a much longer time for research than I have been able to devote to the preparation of this paper. I shall merely enumerate and classify the various types of ships forming the Royal Navy at the time of Trafalgar, and then describe briefly the design, construction, armament, etc., of some of the more important of the line-of-battle ships and frigates.
Table A gives the names of the ships in the Royal Navy in October, 1805, their date of building, the number of guns they carried, and the station on which they were serving.
Table B is an abstract of this list showing the number of ships of each class and rating and giving separately the ships in commission, those in service and those for harbour service, both in ordinary but available for sea in commission and in ordinary. It also gives the increase and decrease in the various classes in the year 1805 up to the date of Trafalgar.
It will be seen from these tables that there were 912 ships in of which 584 were in commission for sea service and 40 in ordinary but available for sea service. Of the remaining ships 56 were harbour ships in commission, 101 were harbour ships in Ordinary and 131 were building or ordered to be built. During the year 1805 up to the date of Trafalgar 150 vessels were added to the Navy including two ships of the line and a number of smaller vessels captured from the enemy. Against these we have to deduct 44 vessels broken up, wrecked, no large vessels being included among the latter. Of the 624 ships the or
captured, available for sea service, 135, including 16 line-of-battle ships and 40 frigates, were foreign-built and had
been captured from the enemy; and of the 157 ships on harbour service 66, including 23 line-of-battle ships, 4 two-deckers of 50 guns and 15 frigates, were foreign-built and had been captured from the enemy.
Only ships of 60 guns and upwards were included in the line of battle, and of those available for sea service 22 were three-deckers of from 98 to 120 guns, the largest (the Hibernia) being 2,500 tons burthen and about 4,600 tons displacement. The remaining ships of the line available for sea service consisted of 96 two-deckers, the average being 1,690 tons burthen* and about 3,000 tons displacement. Of these the most prevalent type was the 74 gun ship of which there were 69. The two-deckers of from 44 to 56 guns formed an intermediate class not recognised as line-of-battle ships but which were able to take their place in the line in an emergency. There were l4 of these ships available for sea service having an average displacement of about 1,800 tons. Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge has pointed out in the paper he has just read that this class was rapidly disappearing. The frigate class included all one-deckers of 28 guns and upwards, and, excluding harbour ships etc., numbered about 133 ships of an average burthen of 910 tons * and a and a displacement of 1,500 tons.
Table C gives a list of the principal ships building in October 1805 of 18 guns and above, with the number of guns carried by each and the yards at which they were being constructed.
These vessels were distributed as follows :-
Building in Building in Government Yards Private Yards 120-gun ships 2 - 100-gun ships 3 - 98-gun ships 1 - 74-gun ships 5 15 18 to 40-gun ships 13 39
In addition there were a number of ships ordered to be built which had not yet been laid down. The majority of the ships building were being built in the southern English counties, in the neighbourhood of the large oak forests and near the chief naval ports.
Of the Trafalgar ships 14 were built at the six Government Dockyards, by the various private firms on the Thames, one at Harwich and two at Beaulien. (The last-named place recalls a long-closed page of naval construction. From two or three old slips, now grass-grown, there were launched during the last half of the eighteenth century four line-of-battleships (including Nelson's Agamemnon thirteen of different classes from 50 gun ships to 28 gun frigates and many smaller vessels. Table D gives the distribution of British ships in October, 1805. It shows how at a very critical time our Navy was disposed, not only for the purposes of engaging the Allied Fleet and protecting our shores but also for protecting our large mercantile trade and extended overseas possessions.
Apart from the vessels engaged on the several mercantile routes and foreign stations, the majority of our ships were massed partly in or near home waters and partly near the entrance to the Mediterranean. There were thirty-three ships of the line in the neighbourhood of Trafalgar but of these twenty-seven only took part in the battle the other six having gone to Gibraltar to provision and water.
Table E and Table F give particulars of the British and Allied Fleets at Trafalgar. It will be seen that there was a close similarity in the composition of the two fleets, which included the following ships :-
ON THE BRITISH SIDE 0N THE ALLIED SIDE 8 large ships of from 80-100 guns 10 large ships of from 80-100 guns 16 74-gun ships 22 74-gun ships 3 64-gun ships 1 64-gun ships and of attendant ships taking no direct part in the action 4 frigates of 36 guns 5 frigates of 40 guns 2 small vessels 2 small vessels
These tables show how on both sides ships had changed hands. The Tonnant, Belle Isle, and Spartiate were originally French ships, the Berwick and Swiftsure were English-built ships fighting on the French side.
Table G gives the dimensions and weights of the principal types of ships of period namely, the 120 gun three-decker, the 74 gun two-decker and the 38 gun frigate. Plates LXIV. to LXYIII. give the sheer draughts of five typical Trafalgar ships - the Victory of 100 guns, the Neptune of 98 guns, the Bellerophon of 74 guns, the Africa of 64 guns and the Sirius of 36 guns; the Victory and Neptune being three deckers, the Bellerophon and Africa two-deckers, and the Sirius a frigate. Plate LXIX. gives the sail plans for typical vessels. The figures upon the sails give their areas in square feet.
I am able to exhibit the original sheer drawing of the Victory it was obtained from the Admiralty archives a year or so back at the request of Professor Biles, who was designing a training ship for boys to replace the old Exmouth, and wished to give the vessel the form of Victory. . The training ship has been built of steel, and is at present moored in the Thames.
She will possibly perpetuate the form of of the Victory, after this vessel has ceased to exist. At the present moment, however, the Victory is the Flagship of the Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, and is in good repair. A large quantity of the timber damaged in action and decayed has been removed from time to time but much of the old vessel yet remains. One occasionally meets with souvenirs of the old ship, as, for instance, easy chairs, constructed of her old timber, and I have in my possession a badge which is a pass to the Welcome Club of the Naval Shipping and Fisheries Exhibition, at present at Earl's Court which consists of a portion of Victory's old timbers held by a rim of copper made from the sheathing of the Foudroyant, also one of Nelson's old flagships. I believe that all members of the club are in possession of this souvenir.
The old drawing of the Victory, which is dated June 6, 1759, is somewhat dilapidated but the signature of Sir Thomas Slade, Surveyor to the Navy, can be clearly made out and so also can that of John Cleveland, Secretary of the Admiralty; and there is a note in the upper right hand corner which reads: "Named Victory, by order, November 1765." An exact copy of the old drawing has been made and is placed on a board next to it. The Victory was 40 years old at the date of Trafalgar but she had been reconstructed seven years before this date and an upper deck was then added which is not shown on the original sheer drawing but is shown dotted in Plate LXIV. A large scale sectional drawing in perspective (reproduced on Plate LXXIII showing the construction of the Victory is also exhibited, in which parts of the original structure, the upper deck added in 1798 and changes made on the occasion of a more recent reconstruction in 1820, can be seen.
The principal dimensions of ships of the line and frigates had been established in 1719 and approved by the King in council. They were revised in 1733, 1741 and 1745, and since this latter date there had been no very material changes in ship building or ordnance.
The line-of-battle ship was the sole instrument for obtaining the command of the seas, and on the whole the 74 gun ship was generally accepted as the best investment of naval expenditure, the tactics proper to such vessels having been worked out in many an action.
This preference for the two-decker 74 gun ship had been come to by a long process of trial and error. It had been proved to be the best type of sailing line-of- battle ship for general purposes. It was not that the authorities failed to recognise the advantage of concentrating a heavier armament in a single ship, this had been shown repeatedly. The Santisima Trinidad of 140 guns had been afloat since 1769 and some of the largest British ships a few years longer and there had been ample opportunity of testing their powers. The 74 gun ship Bellerophon had been totally dismasted and put out of action by the French 120 gun flagship L'Orient at the Nile, and it was generally recognised as necessary in fleet actions so to modify the order of line of battle that a 74 gun ship should not be crushed by a superior antagonist.
Owing however to the limitations imposed on shipbuilding, wood was the only available material for their construction, the length of the ships could not be largely increased without reducing to a dangerous extent their longitudinal strength, and the only practicable means of largely increasing the number of guns was to increase the number of decks for carrying them. Three-deckers were however worse sailers and were less handy in manoeuvring than two-deckers. Owing to their high exposed sides they made more leeway, and to obtain the necessary stability under sail they carried more ballast to counterbalance the increased top weights. Apart from the advantage of concentration of fire on one part of the enemy's line there was no advantage corresponding to that obtained in modern ships by an increase in dimensions, such as more economical propulsion, better protection, and more guns per ton of displacement. Again, since one could get roughly four 74 gun ships for three 100 gun ships there was, with the greater number of smaller ships, a correspondingly greater chance of retaining sufficient spars in action to assure adequate manoeuvring power. It is true that considerable numbers of larger ships were in existence but they were mostly older ships; and of the ships of the line building in 1805, 75 per cent. were of the 74 gun type.
There was one advantage generally conceded to the 100 gun ship. When a fleet in column of line ahead attacked the centre of an opposing fleet in line, there was great danger that the head of the column would be completely disabled before the following ships could come to her aid. But the 100 gun ship when leading the attacking line, was able to pour in such a heavy fire on the enemy's vessels within range as to check considerably his return fire and thus reduce the risk of being completely disabled before reinforcements arrived. The Victory and Royal Sovereign were used in this way at Trafalgar.
From Table G it will be seen that all the ships carried ballast. The metacentric height was about 12 ft.; this large amount being not so much necessary for safety as to ensure a moderate angle of heel under sail and thus enable the lower lee guns to be fought as long as possible.
The records as to the rate of sailing are of necessity very indefinite, the speed depending on so many varying circumstances, such as weather, course, draught of ship and the amount of sail set. The speeds attained, however, were slow when judged by the speed of large modern sailing vessels. Nelson's cruise to the West Indies and back was made at an average rate of about 4 knots. He went into action at Trafalgar at less than 3 knots; the first shot of the lee line was fired at 12.10 and the rear ship of the same line got into action at 4.30 p.m. The maximum speed claimed for frigates at the time under consideration is 10 knots running free and 8 to 8.5 knots when close hauled.
Plates LXX. and LXXI. show the building drawings of the 100 gun ship Royal Sovereign, which, together with the sheer drawing and midship section, constituted the whole of the building drawings which were sent to Plymouth in 1775 to enable the vessel to be built. The under-water form of the Royal Sovereign may be taken as similar to that of the Victory (Plate LXIV.) and for the speeds contemplated it is a good form. Indeed, I think it may be said, even in the light of our more exact knowledge of the present day, that the forms of nearly all of the line-of-battle ships and frigates built in this country towards the close of the 18th century were very good when all the circumstances were taken into consideration. Besides the poop and forecastle and the quarter-deck the Royal Sovereign had four decks named successively the upper deck, the middle deck, the gun deck, and the orlop deck. On the middle and gun decks were large clear open spaces very little interfered with by fittings in which there was ample accommodation for her crew of 850 men. There were a few officers' cabins on those decks but most of the officers' accommodation was provided under the poop and quarter-decks. On the orlop deck and in the hold were the magazines, store-rooms, etc. Machinery for working the vessel was very scarce and was of the simplest character, hand power being preferred wherever possible as less likely to be destroyed in action. The use of machinery was restricted to the steering gear and the anchor gear. The steering gear, which was placed under the front of the poop consisted of a revolving barrel actuated by two spoked wheels on its ends and around which two hide ropes were led reverse ways from the tiller. In the event of the steering wheel being injured in action the tiller could be worked by tackles manned by the crew. The hempen cables were brought in through hawse pipes on the gun deck and led to the capstan which was worked on the gun and middle decks.
The midship section and side elevation of a 74 gun vessel (PlateLXXII indicates the disposition of the framing and planking, the methods of scarphing the various parts, etc. The timber - English oak - was procurable mainly in comparatively short thick pieces it was not possible to devise good end connections to these, nor side fastenings which could develop the full strength of the material while the small strength across the grain, together with the liability to shakes, were sources of inevitable weakness. Considerable care and ingenuity were required in obtaining the requisite strength, both longitudinal and transverse, especially in the larger classes of ship. Diagonal riders and iron beam knees, which greatly improved the strength, were not introduced till about the year 1810. The latter are shown in the perspective drawing of the Victory (Plate LXXIII.) as they were first fitted, attached to the wooden knees of the main and gun deck beams; but they were added at the reconstruction in 1820. The large tumble-home given to the ships was adopted mainly with the object of obtaining greater strength against transverse racking strains and facilitating the obtaining of suitable timber for the upper beam knees. In ships of the line the outside planking was 8 in. to 4 in. thick and the inside planking from 5 in. to 4 in. thick; so that a combined thickness of nearly 2 ft. of solid oak was available over the central portion of the vessel at the gun deck for resisting shot. In order to allow the frames, keel, etc., to thoroughly season it was considered the best practice to leave the ship in frame for at least a year; and the planking was sawn about one year before use and stacked with spaces between the planks to allow a free current of air to aid in the seasoning. The older ships of the Trafalgar period were iron fastened and sheathed with copper. Considerable trouble was, however, experienced by the corrosion of the iron fastenings, so much so that in some cases after three or four years, the ship was rendered unfit for foreign service. The intervention of substances such as felt, tarred paper, &c., between the copper and wood bottom failed to protect the iron entirely, and at one time the Board of Admiralty contemplated discontinuing the sheathing of ships lying in ordinary and fitting it to them immediately before going to sea. Copper fastenings were introduced in 1783, and as this entirely got over the difficulty of the corrosion they were generally adopted for naval ships after that date.
The longevity of the old wooden ships was remarkable, and the British vessels, possibly to some extent on account of the superior materials of which they were supposed to be built, were generally older than those of the French. At Trafalgar the average age of the British line-of-battle ships was seventeen years, but the Britannia was launched in 1762 and the Victory, as stated above, in 1765; four had been in Howe's fleet on the 1st of June, 1794; three were at St. Vincent; five had fought for us and one against us, at the Nile; and three were at Copenhagen. Six had made the journey from the Mediterranean to the West Indies and back in the preceding year. They were weather-beaten craft often in poor repair, but they did their work with extraordinary persistence. Some of the Spanish ships were probably as old the Santisima Trinidad had been launched at Havana in 1769. That the French ships in 1805 were mostly newer than ours was mainly due to the enormous losses which their Navy had suffered in the preceding half-century. Between 1789 and 1800 there were forty-eight French line-of-battle ships and fifty-three frigates lost by wreck and and capture.
As in the present day the cost of ships varied largely from time to time. The Royal William of 1,918 tons burthen, built in 1719, cost without armament about 30,800 pounds, which was 16 pounds per ton. * The Royal George of 2,046 tons, built in 1756, cost without armament 54,700 pounds or 26.7 pounds per ton.* In 1800, ships of the line cost 21 pounds per ton* whilst in 1805 the cost had risen to 35.4 pounds per ton. The time of building varied in the case of ships of the line from five to ten years, but it largely depended on what time was considered necessary in order to allow the frame to season before being planked.
In Table H are given particulars of the ordnance of 1805. The armaments of British and foreign ships had scarcely altered more than the ships themselves during the half-century before Trafalgar. The ordinary armament of the 74 gun ship was :-
Most of the older ships of the line had been designed to carry 42-pounders on the gun-deck, but 32-pounders had been substituted for them a few years before Trafalgar owing to the greater handiness of the latter guns. The addition of 8 12-pounder carronades, as the short new type of gun introduced in 1779 was called, made the actual armament of the so-called 74 gun ship to number 82 guns; but at this time both in British and foreign ships carronades were not included in the nominal number of guns. The French did not adopt carronades till later than we did, but in 1793 they ordered 400 of these guns - 36-pounders.
The proportion of the heavier and lighter guns in a fleet may be illustrated by the guns carried in Lord Howe's fleet on June 1, 1794 They were approximately :-
700 -------------------- 32-pounders 180 -------------------- 23-pounders 660 -------------------- 18-pounders 240 -------------------- 12-pounders 320 -------------------- 9-pounders ----- total 2100 guns besides 60 carronades, mostly 18-pounders and 12-pounders.
Practically all the guns used were of cast iron and were mounted on wooden carriages the necessary elevation and training being given in a somewhat crude manner. Instead of adjusting sights to the required elevation due to the range, the guns were directed at a point above that which it was desired to hit, frequently a point in the rigging, and tables were out out showing for various ranges at what part of the rigging to aim so as to strike the hull at a desired spot. The powder charge was generally from one-third to one-quarter the weight of the shot. The guns had but small range. A 32 or 24 pounder had a range of from 2,000 to 2,500 yards with 80 deg. elevation and of about 1,500 yards with 40 deg. elevation, and at close quarters a 24 pounder was said to be able to penetrate nearly 5 ft. of solid oak, and an 18 pounder about half this amount. When at close quarters it was customary to double shot the guns. This naturally reduced the velocity and made the aim much less accurate, but at close quarters this was not considered to counterbalance the great advantage obtained by getting iii two shots instead of one, especially as the two shots separated almost at once. Instances have been recorded where 5 shots have been put in the gun, but this was probably a dangerous practice.
The lower deck port sills were about 5 to 7 ft. above water, and with a beam of 40 to 50 ft. a roll of about 120 brought the water to their edge. With such a small height out of water it was not always advantageous to be to windward of an enemy, since the lee ports nearest him might not be capable of being opened. The French 74's and even their 120 gun ships appear to have carried their guns no higher than our 74's, but there were sometimes complaints that British ships were unable to fight their lower deck guns in weather when the French could do so. This was probably due to the French ships having more metacentric height than the English ships - such was the contention. A small increase in draught in these vessels was serious. The Queen Charlotte, Lord Howe's flagship, on June 1 had her lower deck ports only 4 ft. 6 in. out of water when leaving Portsmouth, and during the action she got her lower deck full of water and had to keep the pumps constantly going. The French Thesee foundered outright at Quiberon Bay in 1759 through keeping her lower deck ports open too long, and the Torbay narrowly escaped a similar fate. The capability of the wooden ship to take punishment from the guns of her time was, under ordinary circumstances, much the same as that of the modern ironclad. A vessel might stand some hours' attack by an enemy of about equal strength before disablement of the guns and crew, unless the action was decided more quickly by the shooting away of the spars, rendering the vessel liable to attack by raking fire to which she could not reply. On the first of June, two British ships and nine French ships lost all lower masts. In almost every action, ships manoeuvred for the chance of raking the enemy, and the damage done was often decisive. The Victory raked the Bucentaure at Trafalgar, dismounting 20 guns and causing a very heavy loss of men by the single broadside, and similar incidents occurred in most big actions. It was probably as much on account of loss of spars as from damage to the hulls that so many prizes were lost at sea soon after many of the great actions. The losses after Trafalgar and after Rodney's action are conspicuous examples of this. There was so little change in naval materiel during the century before Trafalgar that both the designing and fighting of ships were less experimental in character than in modern times. There was no question of gun versus torpedo ; no doubts about rams, submarines, or mines ; no problems as to the relative value of speed as against coal endurance, or additional guns or protection; no speculations as to the best distribution of armour and the comparative risk of belt, deck, or thin side perforation. material. The sides being of oak no progressive improvement was possible, as is the case to-day, when processes for manufacturing improved armour are being continually discovered.
It will be interesting to review for one moment the changes in the materiel of the Navy which have taken place since Trafalgar, and for the most part within the lifetime of many of us here present.
Within this period, steam propulsion in its varied forms, shell fire, iron and steel armour, steel hulls, breech-loading and rifled guns, torpedoes, mines, high explosives, electrical appliances, submarines, have all been introduced. These changes have often threatened but have still left intact, the supremacy of the big gun in the big ship as it existed at Trafalgar.
The displacement of the modern battleship is five times as great as that of the old line-of-battle ship and its speed is three times as great. cruiser is three times as great as that of the old frigate, while 30 knots and upwards can, under favourable circumstances, be obtained from vessels capable of performing scouting duties. The following table shows how the displacement of one of the old 74 gun ships was distributed, compared with the corresponding figures for a modern battleship:-
Weight as a percentage of the total displacement. 74-gun ship 1805 Battleship 1905 General Equipment 20 (ex masts) 4 Armament 10 19 Prop. Arrangements 3.5(masts, sails 10.5 and rig) Coal 0 3.5 Ballast 6.5 0 Armour 0 26 Hull 55 35 ------ ------ 100 100
Considering the enormous changes in the means of propulsion, the percentage of weight used for this purpose is little altered when ballast and coal are both taken into account. The weight of hull and armour of the modern ship exceeds the weight of hull of the wooden ship; but the greatest differences consist in the large reduction in general equipment and the increase in the weight of armament. The greater weight of equipment carried in the older ships was no doubt due to the much longer periods for which they had to keep the sea.
From Table H it will be seen that the heaviest gun of the period weighed only about 3.5 tons, whereas guns weighing as much as 111 tons have been fitted in modern times. The length has increased from 9 ft. 6 in. to over 46 ft. The muzzle velocity has increased from about 1,500 to 2,700 ft. per second, and naval actions are fought at from 5,000 to 10,000 yards, while the power of penetration of the guns has been so increased that the modern gun can nearly pierce as great a thickness of iron as the older gun could of oak.
The total expenditure on the British Navy in 1795 was about 6.25 millions; but in 1805 it had risen to about 15 millions. The total expenditure on the British Navy at the present time is about 35 millions. The cost of the Victory complete was about 105,000 pounds, while the cost of the King Edward complete was about 1,500,000 pounds, and we are at present building torpedo-boat destroyers which will cost more than any of the line-of-battle ships, with all armament complete, which fought at Trafalgar.
As regards the localities in which ships are now built, out of a total of 85 modern battleships and armoured cruisers now on the active list, 45 were built in the Royal Dockyards, 5 on the Thames, 19 on the Clyde, and 16 on the Tyne or Mersey, or at Barrow. From this it will be seen to what extent the shipbuilding industry has moved from the Southern Counties to the North.
In the old days, as now, there was sometimes a strong disposition to discover defects in British ships. Our vessels, it was said, sailed slower, carried smaller and poorer guns at a less height, and were of inferior form to those of the enemy ; they were designed with finer ends, so that they pitched more heavily, and even endangered their masts ; they were more foul than those of the enemy, for they were at sea more; they were older than those of the enemy, for we had not to build so many new ships to replace captured ones. Yet, in spite of it all, they generally brought the enemy to action, and they generally beat him. We may hope that should need unhappily arise this, too, may be repeated in our day.
* Builders' old measurement.
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