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Author Topic: HMS/USS Epervier (1812 - 1815)  (Read 8855 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS/USS Epervier (1812 - 1815)
« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2017, 20:58:23 »
Updated with a re-written introduction, plans and restored pictures...
"I did not say that the French will not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Lord St Vincent

Offline Bilgerat

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HMS/USS Epervier (1812 - 1815)
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2012, 22:11:05 »
HMS Epervier was an 18 gun Cruizer Class brig-sloop built in Rochester at the shipyard of Mrs Mary Ross. This yard stood approximately where the Acorn Shipyard is now.

Designed by Sir William Rule, Co-Surveyor of the Navy, the Cruizer class was the most numerous class of warship built by the Royal Navy during the period of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with 106 vessels being built in eight batches between 1797 and 1815. They were also the second-most numerous class of sailing warship built by any navy at any time after the slightly smaller Cherokee Class brig-sloops, also built for the Royal Navy. The Cruizer class brig-sloops featured a narrower than normal (for the time) hull, which, combined with their fine, almost clipper-like bows, gave them a good turn of speed. They were very seaworthy vessels for their time and despite their small size, were true ocean-going warships. Their brig-rig (with two, rather than three masts) and carronade armament meant that they only required small crews, which was a god-send for the Royal Navy which at the time was desperately short of men despite the efforts of the Impressment Service. Their armament of carronades gave them a ferocious short-range broadside, which suited the Royal Navy's preferred tactic of engaging the enemy at close range. In fact, the weight of broadside they could fire was slightly heavier than that of the nominal armament of an 18 pdr armed 36 gun frigate. All that firepower was delivered on a hull half the size of the frigate and manned only a third of the crew. The downside to this was that their brig rig only having two masts, made them more vulnerable to being crippled by damage to masts, spars and rigging. In addition, the short range of their carronades made them vulnerable to being picked off at range by the long guns fitted to enemy frigates. The Cruizer Class Brig-Sloops were flush-decked, that is they carried their guns on the main deck, out in the open, rather than on an enclosed gun-deck. Their main deck was a continuous deck between the bow and the stern and the whole crew, including the officers and warrant-officers lived on the lower deck, below the main deck.

The term 'Brig-Sloop' was an abbreviation of 'Brig-rigged Sloop-of-War'. The term 'sloop-of-war' itself was used to classify an ocean-going warship which carried less than the 20 guns required for the vessel to be rated under the Royal Navy's rating system. The first batch of Cruizer class vessels was to have comprised of four vessels of which only one was to have been built in a Kent shipyard, by Thomas Pitcher at his Northfleet shipyard. The order for that vessel was cancelled before construction began. Of the intended four vessels, two were ship-rigged, with three masts and the other two, including the one to have been built in Northfleet, were to be brig-rigged with two masts. This was so that the Royal Navy could assess the performance of the two types. In the end, the two ship-rigged vessels became known as the Snake class, which apart from their different arrangement of masts, rigging and sails, were identical to their cousins of the Cruizer class.

Sloops-of-war like HMS Epervier tended to be commanded by an officer in the position of 'Master and Commander', abbreviated to 'Commander'. It combined the positions of Commanding Officer and Sailing Master. 'Commander' wasn't a formal rank as it is today and an officer in such a position held a substantive rank of Lieutenant. That stated, the Master and Commander would receive a substantially higher salary than a Lieutenant and would also receive the lions share of any prize and head money earned by his vessel and crew. If he was successful, he would be 'Posted', or promoted to Captain and would either remain in command of the sloop or would be appointed to a rated vessel. If a war ended and the vessel was paid off, unless he was lucky and well-connected enough to receive another command appointment, the commander would revert to his substantive rank of Lieutenant and receive half-pay accordingly. Sloops-of-war therefore were generally commanded by ambitious, well-connected young men anxious to prove themselves.

HMS Epervier was a part of the eighth and final batch and the contract for her construction was signed on 6th May 1812. She was the first of a pair of Cruizer Class vessels ordered from Mrs Ross, the other being HMS Confiance. Her first keel section was laid at Acorn Wharf in July 1812 and she was launched with all due ceremony into the River Medway on 2nd December. The vessel was then taken downsteam to the Royal Dockyard at Chatham, where she was fitted with her guns, masts and rigging. She commissioned with Mr Richard Wales as her Master and Commander.

On completion, HMS Epervier was a vessel of 389 tons, she was 100ft long at the gundeck and was 30ft wide across the beam. She was armed with 2 6pdr long guns in her bows and 16 32pdr carronades on her broadside.

Cruizer Class Plans

Lower and Main Deck Plans:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

A model of HMS Teazer. HMS Epervier would have been identical.

A Cruizer Class vessel. The figures under the driver boom at the stern of the vessel give an idea of her size:

By the time the vessel was commissioned, the 1812 War against the United States had broken out, so HMS Epervier was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia to enforce the blockade of American east coast ports.

On 20th August, HMS Epervier captured the schooner Lively. A month later, she captured the merchant vessel Active, en route from Gothenberg to Boston carrying a cargo of iron. On 23rd September 1813, HMS Epervier, in company with the 74 gun 3rd rate HMS Majestic and her sister-ship HMS Wasp captured the Resolution. On 5th October, HMS Epervier captured the American privateer Portsmouth Packet. This ship has previously been the successful Nova Scotian privateer Liverpool Packet and had been captured by Americans.

HMS Epervier's success in running down blockade runners continued into November 1813 when she captured the small American cargo vessel Peggy, carrying a cargo of timber bound for Boston. Her next capture, in February the following year, proved to be her undoing. On 23rd February 1814, HMS Epervier in company with the ex-French brig HMS Fantome captured the American privateer Alfred which had been operating out of Salem. This was achieved without the Americans having fired a shot, probably because the 18pdr-armed ex-French 38 gun frigate HMS Junon was in sight at the time. HMS Junon was previously the French frigate Bellone. Whilst returning to Halifax with her prize, Commander Wales found out that members of his crew were plotting a mutiny and intended to take over the vessel and also possibly the prize and defect to the American side. This was probably stirred up by the American prisoners. It is likely that by this time after having had to send away prize crews, that some of her crew were ex-American seamen pressed or volunteered into service. This is conjecture, but whatever the reason, it is clear that HMS Epervier's crew were becoming disaffected with their lot.

The planned mutiny didn't occur and HMS Epervier and the Alfred entered Halifax without further incident, other than enduring a gale on the way. The whispers of mutiny had unnerved Commander Wales enough for him to speak to his uncle, Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren who happened to be the Commanding Officer of the Halifax Station at the time. He informed his uncle that the bond of trust between commander and crew had broken down and requested that the crew be replaced. The Admiral dismissed his nephews fears and ordered that HMS Epervier sail to escort a convoy to Bermuda. HMS Epervier had her 6pdr bow guns replaced with 18pdr carronades and sailed on 3rd March 1814 in company with the schooner HMS Shelburne. That ship was previously the Racer, a privateer based out of Baltimore, captured by the Royal Navy in April 1813 and renamed. The two vessels parted company in Bermuda and HMS Epervier continued on with the convoy to Port Royal, Jamaica. On 14th April 1814, HMS Epervier departed Port Royal bound for Havana. While there, she picked up $118,000 in coins and departed Havana bound for Halifax on 25th April, escorting a small convoy.

Early in the morning of 28th April 1814, HMS Epervier and her convoy were sighted by the USS Peacock. The USS Peacock, although brig-rigged like HMS Epervier, was significantly bigger and was more powerfully armed. USS Peacock was half as large again as HMS Epervier and mounted a total of 22 guns as opposed to the 18 on the British vessel and 20 of those guns were 32pdr carronades. At 10:20 in the morning, both vessels opened fire, aiming high in attempts to bring down the others rigging. The American ship received only slight damage, but HMS Epervier lost her main topmast. After that, the American ship shifted her aim and began firing into HMS Epervier's hull. This had the desired effect and HMS Epervier's fire fell away. After 40 minutes, HMS Epervier's hull was peppered with 45 shot-holes and she had taken on 5 feet of water in her hold. As the vessels drew towards each other, Commander Wales ordered boarding parties to muster, intending to board the American and fight it out at close range, hand-to-hand. At that point, his fears were horribly realised as his crew refused to fight, laid down their arms and struck their colours, surrendering to the enemy.

HMS Epervier vs USS Peacock

The Americans put a prize crew into HMS Epervier and they had the ship ready to go again within an hour. After a brief encounter with a pair of British frigates which they successfully evaded, both vessels arrived in Savannah, Georgia a few days later. The vessel was repaired there and was commissioned into the US Navy as the USS Epervier.

Commander Wales was repatriated after the cessation of hostilities and on 20th January 1815 faced the customary Court Martial for the loss of his command. He stated in his evidence that he had previously reported unrest and disaffection amongst his crew and that several of his carronades had been dismounted by fire from the enemy vessel or had fallen off their slides in the opening broadside of the engagement. Because of the unrest amongst the crew, Commander Wales had been unable to carry out gunnery practice which would have revealed faults in the gun-mounts. The Court Martial also revealed that the replacements the ship had received at Port Royal had mostly been composed of invalids from the hospital there and that the vessel had the worst crew of any vessel on the Halifax Station. Not surprising then that they had failed in their duty to fight to their utmost. During the engagement, HMS Epervier suffered 8 dead and 15 wounded and had suffered extensive damage.

Once taken into American service, USS Epervier was sent to join the American squadron under Commodore Stephen Decatur which was in the Mediterranean attempting to prevent harrassment of American shipping by the Dey of Algiers. On 17th June 1815 in company with the heavy frigates USS Guerriere, USS Constellation and the sloop-of-war USS Ontario, USS Epervier captured the 44 gun frigate Mashuda in the Battle of Cape Gata. In that action, USS Epervier fired 9 full broadsides into the Algerian ship after the USS Guerriere had dismasted it. On 19th June, she captured the Algerian brig Estedio of 22 guns in the Battle of Cape Palos.

These defeats forced the Dey to sue for peace with the Americans. Commodore Decatur chose the USS Epervier to carry the news, a copy of the peace treaty and spoils of war back to the United States. On 14th July 1815, USS Epervier was reported passing through the Straits of Gibraltar and was never seen or heard from again. It is thought that she foundered in a hurricane reported in the Atlantic during August of 1815. Whatever the case, no survivors were found from the 134 people aboard when she departed.
"I did not say that the French will not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Lord St Vincent


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