|The USS Monitor became a legend when she tangled with the seemingly unstoppable Confederate CSS Virginia during the American Civil War.|
Northern spies reported to the US War Department that the Merrimack was being rebuilt as an ironclad. Then Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, confessed his fears that the reborn Merrimack would break through the imposed blockade at Hampton Roads, Virginia, and then steam up the Potomac River to shell the White House itself. Secretary Welles, an accomplished politician, was able to acquire the funding for building Northern ironclads within days and then created the “Ironclad Board” to oversee construction. Secretary Welles charged the board to review ironclad plans and propose to the Navy Department the most promising of these designs. Three were chosen: a casemate design like the French Gloire, eventually to become the USS New Ironsides; a small armored gunboat to be named the USS Galena; and a turreted ironclad to become the USS Monitor, this design brought forth by one John Ericsson. Ericsson maintained a history with the Navy Department, feeling that he had been cheated out of payment for work completed in the past. He was known as a difficult man to deal with but he gained respect by being the recorded inventor of the screw propeller. The board members, themselves a collection of shipbuilders and engineers, were unsure about the radical design submitted by Ericsson for the blueprint represented no other ship built up to that point in history. One of the board members suggested to Ericsson that he add masts and sails as additional propulsion. Ericson refused because he understood that warship building was currently undergoing a revolution of sorts, doing away with masts and sails in favor of self-propulsion. Many of the shipbuilding firms of the time were still tied to wood construction and canvas rigging. Welles spoke to Ericsson in support of his all-iron design and was told "the sea would ride over her and she would live in it like a duck". Still, many other Navy professionals disapproved of the unconventional design. Sitting American President Abraham Lincoln, however, overruled them all and Welles funded the three designs with work to begin immediately.
To this point, there was nothing like the USS Monitor on the seas - the vessel alone contained some forty-seven patentable inventions. She was a small, flat, armored-hulled ship with a hat box-looking revolving gun turret. The turret was protected by eight layers of one-inch curved iron plate. The hull was constructed in two parts: the upper deck with .05-inch flat iron plate bolted to iron beams. This deck was fitted to the bottom hull like that of a raft. The freeboard, made to reduce waves washing over the deck, was only 18-inches high and proved ineffective to the point that sea duty could be a crew hazard. The deck armor provided minimal protection from overhead "plunging" fire but she was built as a response to the Confederate CSS Virginia - and not defensive, projectile-lobbing shore batteries. The hull sides fielded 5-inches of iron plate, bolted to 24-inches of oak timbers.
The USS Monitor showcased a shallow draft, allowing her to operate in less than 11 feet of water. Ericssson developed the Monitor's engine, calling it a “vibrating lever”, and outputted enough power for the vessel to make 6-knots. The 120-ton, 20-foot diameter turret was the most ingenious invention on the Monitor and was built to rotate a full 360-degrees in 24-seconds using a separate small "donkey" engine. The turret was supported on a central column, or spindle, and rode a few inches above the main deck. Ericsson designed the turret to support two 15-inch Dahlgren smoothbore cannons but, in the end, had to settle for 11-inch caliber Dahlgren types due to availability.
The New York Times called the Monitor “Ericsson’s Folly” but one hundred days later on January 30, 1862, thousands came to watch the launching (or sinking as some would have had it) of the iron ship at the Greenpoint Brooklyn NY yard. Ericsson’s Monitor was launched into Manhattan’s East River before her two rival designs were completed. The hull floated and she looked like a drifting shingle along the surface of the river. She was launched sans turret at this point for the turret was to be mounted sometime later. After the turret was put in place, and when her crew came aboard, her brown water maiden voyage officially began. She steamed to the New York side of the river and turned towards Brooklyn, then back and forth like a drunken man; her crew finding that she would not respond to her rudder control. Adjustments were made onboard and additional short trips from Greenpoint were made until Lieutenant John Worden, commander of the USS Monitor, was fully satisfied.
Fearing the CSS Virginia would attack the Northern blockade, it was decided her blue water shakedown cruise would have to be made on the way to Hampton Roads. Her brave volunteer crew of 49 officers and enlisted men would have to drill and steam along the way at sea. As John Ericsson did not claim his design to be built for ocean going, a plan developed to maneuver her into shallow coastal waters like those found at Hampton Roads. On Thursday March 6th at 11AM, she was towed by the screw tug USS Seth Low out of New York Harbor between Staten Island and Long Island, accompanied by the two wood screw gunboats - the USS Sachem and the USS Currituck - as armed escorts. By 4PM, the flotilla rounded Sandy Hook and entered unprotected waters, steaming south down the New Jersey coast line for the 400-mile journey to Hampton Roads, Virginia.
The Monitor and her escort continued through the night in relatively calm waters. The waves came over the deck due to the low 18-inch freeboard and limited the crew from going out on deck with any degree of safety. By 6AM on Friday March 7th gale wings from the east hammered the Monitor as she was approaching Cape May at the southern end of New Jersey. Lt. Worden wrote in the ship's log “very heavy sea, and ship making heavy weather”. The ship started leaking at the base of the turret and water flowed into the engine room. As water spilled into her design like a waterfall, the ventilator system failed and the ship filled with dangerous carbon dioxide fumes, some of the men beginning to faint. Worden was concerned the ship might flounder so the tug USS Seth Low towed Monitor back towards shore and into calmer waters. When Monitor got inside of protected waters, Chief Engineer Isaac Newton was able to vent the engine room of the carbon fumes and restart the engines and pumps, in effect saving the grand ship.
Monitor resumed her southward trip at 8pm Friday night with the gale having passed. The seas were reported as moderate with clear skies and she steamed on at 5 knots. However, by midnight off the Maryland coast, the weather worsened yet again and the seas were breaking over the air vents and smoke stack. As the sea pounded Monitor, the tiller ropes came loose and the Monitor turned broadside into the sea. Worden feared a rogue wave would capsize the ship but the tiller was repaired in time and she was able to steer once again. By dawn on Saturday March 8th, the sea had calmed and Worden had the tug tow her into shallow water so the crew could eat breakfast. Engineer Newton took advantage of the time to pump the Monitor out again and make repairs the best the crew could - the Monitor and her crew would need every ounce of perfection and luck when going into harm’s way and facing off against the most powerful ship in the Confederate Navy.
At noon on Saturday, Worden sighted Chesapeake Bay in the distance and, by 3PM, he could see shell fire exploding in the air - he ordered his crew to prepare the Monitor for action. The crew had ample solid shot and powder stock piled in the turret for the two 11-inch smoothbore cannons. A pilot boat came out to meet the Monitor and Worden received the worse news possible - that he was too late and the Ironclad CSS Virginia was already shelling the blockading Union Naval Squadron. At 9PM, Worden brought Monitor alongside the squadron’s flagship, the USS Roanoke. Lt. Worden learned of the day’s carnage by the Virginia - still called the Merrimack for the North - the USS Cumberland had been sunk and the USS Congress was burning. Worden, along with all present, saw Congress blow up around midnight. As if this was not enough, the USS Minnesota and the USS St. Lawrence had run aground in the fighting. Monitor released her tug and escort and was ordered to protect the grounded USS Minnesota that was sure to be attacked by the Virginia the following morning. Worden maneuvered Monitor alongside the Minnesota - Captain Van Brunt of the 4,833-ton frigate looked at the 987-ton Monitor like a pigmy next to a giant. Lt. Worden was welcomed aboard the Minnesota and met with Captain Van Brunt; the meeting was short, both men having had a hard day. Van Brunt came to the point, “If I cannot lighten my ship off of the bottom I will destroy her”. Worden replied “I will stand by you to the last if I can help you”. Bravely spoken words from a captain with the untested Monitor in his command. By 1862, Ironclads represented the most powerful warships in the world, officially ending the reign of the wooden tall ships that owned the oceans for hundreds of years, depending on the winds and range of firepower to be truly effective. Ironclads could propel and steer under their own power and afford their crew greater protection while also serving as highly-capable battering rams in the way of the old Ancient ships.
On Sunday morning, dawn broke over Hampton Roads and the CSS Virginia was at protected anchor below the battery of guns at Sewell Point. With Captain Buchanan injured, acting Captain Lt. Jones looked towards what he thought would be his first victim of the day, the frigate USS Minnesota. In the early light, looking through his spyglass, Jones saw a small cheese box-shaped object positioned on a flat shingle-type raft floating beside the frigate and immediately recognized it as the pride of the North - the USS Monitor. Lt. Jones told Lt. Davidson his intention to ram the Monitor and keep at her until the contest was assured. Lt Worden, with little sleep, was up early and had Monitor's crew sit down for their breakfast. From his vantage point, he could see the CSS Virginia and her flotilla at Sewell Point. At 6AM, the Virginia slipped her mooring but Jones kept her close due to heavy fog and needing the tide to still come in. Around 8AM, Virginia began to make steam, smoking towards the crippled Minnesota.
Two miles away on the Minnesota, Worden stood on deck observing the Virginia. At 8:30AM, just a mile away from the Minnesota, she opened fire, sending a shot over Worden's head and into the side of the Frigate. Minnesota was still aground with Lt. Worden on board Monitor - his intent was to confront Virginia as far away from the Minnesota as possible. As Minnesota opened fire with her aft guns, Worden moved Monitor towards the threat. Worden had one immediate problem, however, for the speaking tube between the pilot house and the turret had broken down. The only way around it was to use "runners", messengers sent from point to point to deliver messages, so between Paymaster Keeler and Clerk Toffey, orders were relayed in this fashion.
When the two Ironclads were within 100 yards of each other, the Monitor fired the first shot of the one-on-one engagement and hit the Virginia at the waterline. The Virginia turned starboard towards the east and was now broadside to the Monitor, who was now steaming west. The Virginia opened up on the Monitor with a full broadside of 3x8 inch smoothbores, 1x7 inch rifle, and 1x6.4 inch rifle. Executive Officer Lt. Green indicated “It was a rattling broadside… the turret and other parts of the ship were heavily struck but the shots did not penetrate, the tower was intact and continued to rotate”. Green further noted the surprise of his men in the turret, relieved that the shot from the CSS Virginia did not penetrate the iron plate of the Monitor or stop the turret from revolving. The underlining stress and fear of the Virginia’s guns by the Monitor’s crew was now being replaced with confidence that the Virginia could not sink the mighty Monitor. Some of the crew felt the Virginia was firing canister shot and not solid shot due to the sound against the iron plate. They were ultimately proved correct in their assumption.
The Monitor steamed slowly by the Virginia, firing solid shot against her casement. The revolving turret was able to concentrate fire towards one area, trying to penetrate the armor or, at least, dislodge the iron plates. Intense musket fire from the crew of both ships towards one another was noted. After two hours of firing, Jones felt his ship had met her match - he was impressed with the revolving turret that could fire with internal control. Jones could see her draft was shallower than the Virginia’s and the Monitor had greater mobility, allowing her to move around the Virginia at will. This mobility allowed the Monitor to find blind spots and fire on the Virginia without the Virginia being able to fire back at the Monitor.
The ships circled each other, firing through the smoke and limited visibility and colliding with each other at least five times. The officers on board the Monitor began to realize the Virginia was trying to maneuver closer to the Minnesota so she could rake her with cannon fire. Worden tried to ram the rudder and propeller of the Virginia to disable her so the Monitor could concentrate her fire on vital parts of the ship. Soon, the Monitor ran out of ammunition stored on the gun deck. This forced Worden to disengage from the Virginia and replenish the shot and powder from below decks. Worden knew this would give the Virginia time to move against the Minnesota. Virginia made a slow turn and moved towards the grounded wooden frigate but herself ran aground. The Monitor had finished rearming and was in pursuit. Worden came in so close to the Virginia that the Virginia's guns could not be lowered enough to hit the Monitor. The Monitor fired many shots into the Confederate vessel without a return volley.
The Virginia continued to burn coal, trying to get off the sand bank, and Jones knew he was in trouble by becoming lighter - the Virginia would rise higher in the water, exposing her wooden hull to enemy fire. By adding additional fuel into Virginia’s boilers she pulled herself off the bank. Jones had a decision to make: he knew he could not get close enough to the Minnesota due to the shallow water she was in and the Monitor maintained the Virginia's number. His ship had a deep draft so he decided to ram the Monitor even though the iron prow had been broken the day before. The Virginia had difficulty maneuvering and it took almost an hour to get into position. When she finally attacked the nimble Monitor, she was able to swerve, taking a glancing blow. The two ironclads were at point blank range and, as the Virginia passed by, Lt. Green on the Monitor fired both 11-inch guns, striking the casement of the Virginia about half way up from the water line. These did not penetrate but the concussion hammered the gun crew enough to cause their ears and noses to bleed. Shortly after noon, the Monitor was hit with a damaging shot on the pilot house at a range of 30 feet. Lt. Worden was looking out the eye slits and was temporally blinded in his right eye and permanently in his left. The powder burns on his face were serious and never fully healed. The order was given to the helmsman to change course while the damage was checked. Worden told the crew “I cannot see, it’s up to you to save the Minnesota”. As the officers consulted, the Monitor was steaming in shallow water so low that the Virginia could not follow - the decision was to return to the fight.
Lt. Jones on the Virginia was keeping an eye on the Monitor and trying to position his ship to finish off the Minnesota. Time was not on his side with the tide going out against his ship's 22-foot draft. Jones checked the ship and found the bow was leaking from the hit on the Monitor and the ammunition supply was running very low. Feeling he had driven the Monitor from the field, he set course for the protection of Sewell Point. The officers reported Virginia’s new course away from the Minnesota to Worden who ordered several shots to be fired at the Confederate vessel. The four hour duel was over.
The Monitor returned to the Minnesota’s side with cheers from her crew - she had not sunk the Virginia but her mission to save the frigate was a complete success. The day’s battle was a disappointment to the crew of the Virginia, who failed to destroy the Minnesota or sink the Monitor, and the Northern blockade remained in place.
For the next two months, the Monitor protected the ships blockading Hampton Roads. The Virginia returned up the Elizabeth River to the Confederate Navy Yard at Gosport. Major repairs were needed and she returned to the fight on April 11th. The plan was to use the Virginia to lure the Monitor away from Fort Monroe where the Northern fleet controlled the bay. If the Monitor took the bait, a number of southern warships would attack and board her. Virginia played her part as the lure but could not bring Monitor out. After some exchange of fire the Virginia returned to base.
On May 3rd The Union Fleet started shelling the Confederate stronghold at Sewell Point with President Lincoln in attendance. All of a sudden the Virginia appeared and the entire fleet retreated along with the Monitor back to Fort Monroe. Lincoln was not impressed by the Northern response. By the 11th, the Confederates at Sewell Point withdrew and the Navy Yard at Gosport fell into Union hands leaving CSS Virginia without a home base. Virginia, having few options at this point, took a small flotilla up the James River, trying to reach Richmond, but she grounded out and had to be burned so as not to fall into enemy hands. The pride of the Southern fleet was gone.
Richmond seemed to be wide open for the taking so Monitor, and the armored gunship Galena, led a flotilla of seemingly unstoppable Union ships up the James River. At Drewry’s Bluff, a fort with heavy guns has been constructed just 15 miles below the Confederate Capital of Richmond. When Monitor and the flotilla arrived, their guns could not be raised enough to shell the fort, however, the plunging fire from the bluff struck the ships. After four hours, the Monitor and the northern flotilla limped back to Hampton Roads. Richmond was saved.
Monitor remained on the James River during the retreat of the Army of the Potomac. On December 12th the USS Monitor received orders to steam south to blockade Wilmington. She was towed by the USS Rhode Island and, as they reached Cape Hatteras, a storm hit. Monitor, not an inherently seaworthy vessel, took on water in the rough action and, at 12:30AM on December 31, 1862, she sank with 4 officers and 12 men on board in 220 feet of water.
The wreck of the Monitor was discovered in 1973 and, on January 30, 1975, the site became a National Marine Sanctuary - this approximately 16.1 miles off Cape Hatteras.
|France jumped ahead of the naval show-of-force game being played out with Britain, introducing their revolutionary Napoleon I screw-driven, steam-powered battleship.|
The screw propeller was first used on a military vessel in 1852 by the French with the introduction of the Napoleon a 90-gun ship-of-the-line as part of the French Navy - becoming the very first screw-driven steam battleship in the world. Before the adoption of screw propulsion in warships during the 1850s, the technology of choice was steam used to drive a paddle wheel attached to the side of the warship. This arrangement formulated several distinct disadvantages. Firstly, the size of the wheel reduced the number of guns that could be mounted for a broadside along that particular side of the ship. Secondly, enemy cannon shot could easily render the wheel out of commission making it a vulnerable target in any attack. New technology was needed to place the driving force of a military warship out of harm’s way. It was the invention of screw propulsion that finally made steam-powered warships practical. Cannon fire would not be obstructed and the underwater propeller would be well-protected from both shot and shell. The screw propeller was a radical leap forward and started one of the major arms races in naval history.
France and England were the two major sea powers of the day and were always trying to evolve a major naval technological advantage in an effort to gain sea-going superiority over the one another. Over the next decade, at least 100 wooden steam battleships were built in France and Britain alone. Launched in 1850, the Napoleon was the lead ship of a class of 9 battleships built over a 10 year period under the watchful eyes of naval designer Dupuy de Lôme. She was 239ft (73m) in length and 55ft (17m) in breadth while displacing 5,120 tons. She was fitted with two gun decks and featured a 45-gun-strong broadside. The height of the battery above the waterline was 6ft 4in. Under full steam and sail, she could make 13 knots ( 8.089mph) across short distances with a sail area of 3,411 square yards. Napoleon's success made the fleets of the world turn completely to a steam screw, such was her revolutionary inception. She was launched in 1850 and, during the Crimean War in 1852, her design execution attracted world attention with the introduction of steam power and a large coal supply giving her longer range than her contemporaries. Her engine gearing created maintenance problems (common to most early geared-screw machinery) and new direct-drive engines were ultimately fitted. She was the only French ship-of-the-line with two funnels.
Warships made of wood and powered by steam engines were the dominate ship of the world's navies by the early 19th century. In the 1820s and 1830s, steam engines were first tried in tugs, gunboats and sloops. Larger engines were built by the 1840s, making them usable in medium-sized ships like frigates. In the 1850s, steam-powered wooden battleships combined their steam engines with a sailing rig, just in case the coal ran out. Many nations did not have worldwide coaling stations.
In the late 1830s the screw propeller attracted naval interest not only in Britain and France but also in American where experimentation was underway. The American USS Princeton was being built at the same time as the British HMS Rattler, both ships were sloops and their respective navy departments felt they performed their mission rather well. France jumped ahead in 1845 with the first screw steam-powered frigate - the Pomone. By the end of the decade, both Britain and France were building steam-powered versions of the ship-of-the-line, leaving America was somewhat behind.
In 1850, the British Admiralty decided that no more sailing warships would be built and the government committed 100,000 pounds for machinery for its new steam battle fleet. Most of the world’s navies were essentially forced to follow suit. Britain converted 41 sail-only ships-of-the-line to steam and built 18 new ones. France fell behind by converting only 28 ships to steam and built an additional 10. Russia learned the hard way, losing her sailing fleet during the Crimean War and built just 9 steam-powered ship-of-the-line battle ships.
|The HMS Victory began her service in 1765 and continues as the oldest commissioned warship in the world today, this as a museum.|
As fate would have it in 1758, the same year of Lord Nelson's birth the Board of Admiralty ordered twelve new ships of the line, among them a 'first-rate' ship with 100 guns, to be named Victory. HMS Victory is a first-rate warship with four masts built to be a floating gun platform with 100 cannon of different calibers arranged on three decks. She took seven years to build at a cost is today’s money of 50 million English pounds, designed by Thomas Slade of the Royal Navy and laid down in Chatham Dockyard, England. Sir John Lindsay, Victory's first Captain, took command In March 1778. On May 8, 1778, she set sail for sea duty for the first time exactly 13 years and a day, 4,746 days from the time of her launching. Her active service life began on Friday June 13 when she sailed from Spithead as the Flagship of the Channel Fleet and first cleared her decks for action on the July 23, 1778.
A story in itself is the construction of the Victory. The 18th century shipwrights had only simple gear and tools and the difficulty of moving enormous timbers from where they were felled to the dockyard in Chatham. This extensive skilled workforce of about 250 men were required to accomplish the work. The shipwrights needed a hundred acres of oak forest, about 6,000 selected mature oak trees found in the weald forest of Kent and Sussex in England. The balance of the timber needed was fir, elm, and pine and was cut and stored knowing the wood required seasoning or drying for many years.
First the keel on July 23, 1759 then the frame was constructed; shipwrights would normally cover the ship in canvas for several months for more seasoning of the wood. Luck would have it for Victory that the Seven Years' War ended so her construction was stalled. Peace meant that she was not needed so her frame remained covered for three years, this increased seasoning turned out to increase her strength and sturdiness. Certain sections of a ship framework had to be made from a single piece of oak, so mature oak trees of great size were sought after. The largest oak trees required were for the 30 feet high 'stern post' which took some of the greatest stresses placed on the ship. Other valued oak trees had “Y “shaped curved branches which enabled the knees and clamps to be made from one piece for increased strength. Perhaps the most difficult of the trees to locate were the timbers used for the wing transom needing a very wide forked mature oak tree. Light supple wood like fir and spruce was required for the decks, masts & yard arms. Seven mature elm trunks were used for the keel.
The Victory having 3 masts and a bow sprit is called a rigged ship vessel. Each of the masts supports yards horizontal spars were named after their respective masts. The lower yard, topsail yard and the topgallant yards were made from either fir or pine because of its light weight and being flexible. The masts required so much bulk it took 7 trees to make each one, each tree were combined and built-in as one with iron hoops and joined tightly with hundreds of yards of ropes. The masts used 27 miles of rigging and carried four acres of canvas for the sails. Two tons of iron and copper nails are needed for the deck. Iron bolts were passed through the timbers and joints with the ends clenched with washers holding the ship together. A ship the size of Victory required more than 26 miles (42 km) of flax and hemp rope with the largest rope for the anchors being 19 inches (47 cm) in circumference. As an historical note typically, hemp contains below 0.3% THC, while cannabis grown for marijuana can contain anywhere from 6 or 7 % to 20% or even more. The smoking lamp was not lit on board Victory.
Close to 4 acres of sails were needed comprising of 37 sails with a total sail area of 6,500 square yards (5, 428 square meters). Dundee weavers who manufactured the bolts of cloth for the Navy during this period and would have spent around 1,200 hours just to stitch the top sail together. Spare sails were needed so an additional 23 sails were carried on board. When in full sail HMS Victory carried thirty seven different sails. These canvas sails were mostly hung from horizontal yard arms mounted on her four masts, the bowsprit, the foremast, the mainmast and the mizenmast. Just the right combination of sail had to be rigged, to little sail and the ship did not move fast enough through the water. Too much sail in a strong wind and the mast might snap. At times little sail was necessary for leaving or entering ports. To trim or adjust a sail the crew had to climb the rope ladders to their assigned “yard” the horizontal bar that supported the sail. The orders were to “Make Sail” or unfurl the area of sail to catch more wind, or “Trim Sail” to reduce or furl the sail area by rolling up and tying down the sail. The crew of Victory was expected to hear the order, climb the rope rigging ladders to their assigned station and have full sail in six minutes. 120 plus men were needed to accomplish this task and it was not uncommon for inexperienced sailors to fall to their death from wet ropes and gusts of wind. HMS Victory's design allowed speeds up to 8 knots or 10 mph, and being a First Rate ship being maneuverable required her for active service between 1778 and 1805 and became one of the most sought after ships in the Navy.
The Victory carried 7 anchors of various sizes; the two main anchors were used for holding the ship in deep water. The larger and heaviest of the two weighing 4 tons was always rigged on the starboard or right hand side of the ship due to prevailing winds found in the northern hemisphere. It was the heaviest work on board to raise the anchor, and at the center of the ship were two capstans connected together vertically. All hands helped in this being the most difficult job on board for sailors and marines alike. The capstan was a big wench with 12 heavy wood bars made long enough for six men to stand side by side and walk around the capstan pushing against the bars to raise the anchor. Around 144 men were needed to raise the largest anchor, the huge anchor cable made of hemp was very heavy especially when wet. The anchor rope cable was carefully coiled to prevent the cable from rotting and the crew stored it on a special slatted floor allowing the water to drain off and air to circulate around the rope to dry. Below the water line additional protection was needed for the ships oak hull due to the teredo worm. The teredos are not worms at all, but rather saltwater clams notorious for boring into and destroying anything wooden immersed in sea water, like a wooden ship. The remedy for ships of the period was covering the hulls bottom with copper sheeting. Victory’s hull needed 3,923 copper sheets of 4ft by 1ft pieces (15,692 sqft) weighing a total of 17 tons.
Six boats carried aboard HMS Victory were comprised of a Launch, Barge, 3 Cutters and a Pinnace which is a light boat, propelled by sails or oars, formerly used as a tender for guiding merchant and war vessels. These boats were used for many purposes including conveying stores, personnel, mooring and anchoring the ship. They were also employed for towing when calm wind stalled the ship. The Launch was the largest of the boats on board being 34 feet (10.3m) long and used for carrying men and supplies, and at times anchor work. The boat was usually rowed by 16 oarsmen, and could also be sailed. Troops were ferried to shore in the boats and were the first assault craft to be used in war. The boats were not considered lifeboats, to lower a boat took too much time to save a sailor who fell overboard, life at sea was expendable. During battle removing wooden objects was necessary to reduce collateral damage of splintered wood flying across the deck. All wood items were sent below the main and gun decks, like mess tables, benches and furniture. The boats were towed behind to limit cannon hits creating flying splinters. When clearing the decks for action was called an experienced crew could clear the decks in a ship the size of Victory in ten minutes.
All cannon on the Victory were short ranged smooth bore muzzle loaders. Three main types of shot were used in the cannon, round solid shot, used to pummel an enemy ship’s hull. Next dismantling shot, used to hammer down the masts and rigging, third was anti-personnel shot or grape shot, which were small iron balls used to maim and kill enemy crew members. A broadside was when all the cannons fired on one side of the ship. To keep the ship from listing badly the guns were fired one by one from bow to stern in a wave effect. Each carriage and cannon weighted about 1,500 lbs. A trick of the era to extend the range was to skip the cannon shot off the water like one would do with a pebble on a pond. When the enemy was sighted, the Royal Marine drummer would, Beat to Quarters, a special drum roll which on modern ships has reverted to sounding a bugle for Action Stations. Both methods are calls for Battle Stations and the crew would clear the decks for action and man the guns. Each cannon had its own crew which was typically twelve men and a boy, who would run to the lower decks for the gunpowder filled cartridges from the magazines below decks. All Royal Navy gun crews like the ones on Victory would go through countless drills to prepare their guns for firing by constantly practicing to fire a broadside continuously every ninety seconds. Most naval battles would often begin with great lines of opposing warships sailing past each other firing broadsides with no assured outcome. Normally what was required was close-quarter hand-to-hand fighting between the crews of ships alongside each other. In these deadly battles pikes, cutlasses, pistols and downward musket fire from the rigging was used with great accuracy by the crews on both sides.
On July 9, 1778 Victory put to sea along with a force of thirty ships of the line. A French fleet of twenty-nine ships was sighted 14 days later on July 23rd 100 miles (160 km) west of Ushant. The French had orders to avoid battle, and upon sighting the British fleet two of the French ships escaped into the port of Brest. Both fleets found themselves maneuvering during heavy winds in a squall. The battle began with the British more or less in a column and the French in a less effective position. In Battle weather can play a role, at the beginning the winds allowed the French to sail there First Ships of the Line against the British. At almost noon Victory opened fire on the Bretagne a 110 gun ship of the line which sailed in line with the Ville de Paris of 90 guns. The engagement was indecisive however Sir Hugh Palliser's British rear division suffered a great deal. Due to the loss of British ships Admiral Keppel was blamed and court marshaled however after review he was cleared for the actions during the first battle of Ushant.
At the second battle of Ushant in March 1780 Victory was commanded by Captain Henry Cromwell and flew the flag of Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt. Victory sailed with a total of 18 ships, eleven other ships of the line, a 50-gun fourth-rate, and five frigates, to overtake a French convoy that sailed from Brest. Kempenfelt was unaware that the convoy was protected by 21 ships of the line with Adrimal de Guichen in command. Kempenfelt ordered a chase when the French fleet was sighted on December 12th. When the British sighted the French greater compliment of ships, Kempenfelt was forced to withdraw with the 15 captured prize ships from the French convoy. As in the first battle the weather removed the possibility for a decisive battle with the French.
On May 11 1803 the war between Britain and France and Napoleon Bonaparte evolved with Spain becoming allied with France. Five days before, Vice-Admiral Nelson hoisted his flag in Victory 1803. Samuel Sutton was assigned as his flag captain of Victory as she sailed as Nelson’s flag ship of the Mediterranean fleet. The color was changed from red to the black and yellow scheme. Her gun ports were originally yellow to match the hull but later repainted black, giving a pattern called the Nelson’s checkerboard.
Victory was passing the island of Toro on 4 April, 1805, Nelson cruised towards Sicily expecting the French fleet would be sailing for Egypt, however Villeneuve was entering Cádiz to connect with the Spanish fleet. When French Admiral Villeneuve learned that he was to be removed from command he took his ships to sea on the morning of October 19, sailing north towards the Mediterranean and unknowingly towards the British fleet, launching the Battle of Trafalgar. The first casualty on Monday morning October 21, 1805 was the landsman Aaron Crocan a seaman with less than a year's experience at sea. At five thirty he fell overboard from HMS Conqueror into a heavy swell and was never seen again. As a boat was started to be lowered a shout from the masthead called “ship ahoy”, the combined fleet had been spotted and was about 11 miles away. From Victory Nelson issued a rapid series of signals to gather the fleet towards the enemy. The British ships began to form up behind Victory and the Royal Sovereign. The French and Spanish Grand Fleet sailed in line about two hundred yards apart. The Grand Fleet had 40 sail and the British had 32 ships, at about 8am most of the British crews had breakfast, soon Nelson's famous last signal was sent, "England expects that every man will do his duty".
The normal battle at sea of the day would have been both fleets sailing parallel against each other firing broadsides. Nelson inVictory decided to divide his fleet into two battle lines and sail through the enemy fleet at a 90 degree perpendicular angle. This initiative strategy became the “crossing the T” plan or being able to fire a broadside at your enemy while they could only fire forward or aft with minimum cannon towards the British ships. Victory lost 57 killed and 102 wounded, Admiral Nelson was shot and mortally wounded. The British fleet killed was 449 and had 1,246 wounded with no ships lost. The French lost 2,218 men and had 1,155 sailors wounded. The Spanish men killed were 1,025 and 1,383 wounded. 7,000 men were captured on 21 French and Spanish ships, along with one ship destroyed. The battle made Britain the master of the seas and Nelson the supreme hero in British history with Victory becoming the most principle warship of sail, even to this day.
Today HMS Victory remains in commission as the flagship of the Royal Navy's Home Command. She is the oldest commissioned warship in the world in her role as a museum ship supported on cradles in dry dock. The USS Constitution, launched 30 years later, is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat.