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Author Topic: HMS Eagle (1774 - 1812) - The first ship to be attacked by a submarine.  (Read 7451 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Eagle (1774 - 1812) - The first ship to be attacked by a submarine.
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2012, 16:42:55 »
HMS Eagle was an Intrepid Class 64 gun 3rd rate ship of the line built under contract by John and William Wells at their Deptford shipyard.

The Intrepid Class was a group of 15 64-gun ships of which nine were built in Kent shipyards. At the time, the 64 gun ship was the smaller of two main types of third rate ship, the other being the larger, more numerous and more powerfully armed 74 gun ship. The 64 gun ship was faster and more nimble than the larger 74 gun ships but by the end of the 18th century, they were regarded as being too small and too weak to stand in the line of battle against larger and more heavily armed French and Spanish ships. By the end of the French wars in 1815, most of them had been reduced to harbour duties, converted to hulks or broken up with three of them being converted into 24pdr-armed Heavy Razee Frigates.

The contract for the construction of HMS Eagle was signed on 14th January 1771. Her keel was laid down in April and the ship was launched into the Thames on 12th May 1774. After her launch, she was taken to the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich for fitting out. By the time the ship was commissioned under Captain Henry Duncan on 30th July 1776, she had cost 27,835, 13s. On completion, HMS Eagle was 159' 8" long on the upper gundeck and was 44' 4" wide across the beam. Fully loaded, she was a ship of 1,372 tons. She was armed with 26 24pdr long guns on the lower gundeck, 26 18pdr long guns on the upper gundeck, 10 9pdr long guns on her quarterdeck and a further two such guns on her forecastle.

Intrepid Class Plans

Orlop Plan

Lower Gundeck Plan

Upper Gundeck Plan

Quarterdeck and forecastle plan

Inboard profile and plan

Sheer plan and lines

HMS Diadem at the capture of the Cape of Good Hope by Thomas Whitcombe. Also an Intrepid class ship,  HMS Eagle would have been identical.

In 1775, the unrest in the American colonies had escalated into open war and the Americans declared their independence from the UK on 4th July 1776. Immediately that the ship was ready, she was sent to New York to join the growing war in America. On arrival, she became Flagship, Commander-in-Chief North America Station, Vice-Admiral Lord Howe.

In 1775, the American David Bushnell had built a small submersible called Turtle, intended to attach explosive charges to the undersides of enemy ships and blowing them up in their harbours. The idea was presented to George Washington, who, despite doubts, approved funds for it's development. By September 1776, the machine was ready and was deployed to the waters of New York Harbour with the intention of attacking HMS Eagle. The ship was chosen because she was Lord Howe's flagship. Sergeant Ezra Lee volunteered to operate the vessel and slowly made his way to HMS Eagle, which was moored off Governors Island, off the southern tip of Manhattan Island.

The Turtle

After he submerged the vessel, Lee attempted to bore into the hull of HMS Eagle to attach the bomb, but found his drill was unable to penetrate, probably due to the fact that he was trying to drill into one of the iron plates holding the rudder on. Eventually, he gave up and released his bomb, to drift harmlessly down the East River before it exploded.

A British spy had passed information about what was going on, but the British thought the attack was going to be in Boston. After that, every floating barrel was considered suspect and led to what was satirically called 'The Battle of the Barrels'.

By 1778, the French had intervened in the war, according to them, to assist the Americans in gaining their independence from Britain, but they also used it as an excuse to try to regain possessions in the Caribbean and Mediterranean lost in the Seven Years War. At the time, the British Empire in India was rapidly expanding and the French were also trying to gain influence on the sub-continent as well as push the British out. The British sent forces to India to fight the French there and also sent Naval forces to support this and to protect existing possessions in India from French sea-borne attacks.

On 25th September 1778, HMS Eagle left America for Portsmouth, where she was refitted between December 1778 and February 1779. After a year with the Channel Fleet commanded by Captain Roger Curtis, she was sent to India on 7th March 1780 with a new commander, Captain Ambrose Redall.

Once there, she joined the British fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Edward Hughes and became involved in a series of battles with a French fleet under the Baillie de Suffren. Suffren had been sent by France to provide military assistance to French colonies in India. Suffren first sailed to Madras, hoping to attack the British there, but on arriving off there, he found Hughes and his fleet already there. He turned south, intending to land troops who would march north, recapturing French and Dutch possessions lost to the British on the way. Having spotted Suffren's force, the British gave chase and caught the French on 17th February 1782. The Battle of Sadras which followed, ended indecisively with the British flagship HMS Superb (74) and HMS Exeter (64) being badly damaged before nightfall forced an end to the fight. Suffren landed the troops while the British sailed towards Trincomalee, intending to make repairs.

The Battle of Sadras by Dominic Serres

Tracks of the fleets at the Battle of Sadras

Suffren had other ideas and intended to destroy the British force. After making repairs at Pondicherry, the French force gave chase, departing on 23rd February. On 8th April, the French spotted Hughes' fleet, but were unable to bring them to battle for three days because of adverse winds. On 12th April, the British force including HMS Eagle had to change tack to continue on their way to Trincomalee, the French seized their chance, formed a line of battle and attacked. Hughes ordered his ships to form a line of battle and at about 12:30, the two forces engaged each other. The British flagship HMS Superb received another battering and HMS Monmouth (64) was dismasted in the action, known as the Battle of Providien. HMS Eagle escaped relatively unscathed and the action again ended indecisively due to worsening weather and the coming of nightfall.

The Battle of Providien by Dominic Serres

After the battle, HMS Eagle and the other ships sailed on to Trincomalee, while Suffren and his force made for Batticaloa. Whilst there, Suffren received orders to go to Ile de France (modern day Mauritius) and escort a troop convoy back to India. He refused to do so, considering that it was too dangerous to leave Hughes and his force loose in the area.

Suffren had by now decided to capture the important port of Negatapam, held by the British and sailed to Cuddalore, arriving on 20th June to pick up the troops required for this. Whilst there, he learned that Hughes and his force had sailed past the port, apparently also on their way to Negatapam, so left to give chase. Suffrens force arrived off Negatampam on 3rd July, but found the British force already in the harbour. A squall then blew up and damaged one of the French vessels, the 64 gun ship Ajax. When the squall passed, the wind was in Hughes' favour, so the British force, including HMS Eagle left the harbour and anchored for the night in view of the French. At 09:30 the following morning, the two forces closed with each other. Ajax had still not made her repairs, so veered away from the action. The British force was unable to line up directly against the French, so the rear part of the lines could only engage each other at long range, while the ships at the front engaged in fierce combat until about 1pm, when the wind changed, throwing both forces into confusion. Unable to move back into combat positions, both fleets drew away from each other. Suffren sailed away back to Cuddalore while the British spent the next two weeks a sea before making for Madras for repairs. The Second Battle of Negatapam had ended as indecisively as the previous battles between the two forces.

The Second Battle of Negatapam by Dominic Serres.

While in Cuddalore, Suffren was reinforced by a French force comprised of two more ships of the line, a frigate and a transport ship carrying 800 troops and their supplies. The anchorage at Cuddalore was too exposed to the weather for Suffren's liking, so he resolved to take Trincomalee from the British and the force arrived off there on 21st August. The French landed 2,400 troops near Trincomalee on 25th August and following a fiercely fought seige, the British garrison surrendered five days later and on September 1st, the French took possession of the town and the harbour.

Hughes had not been idle in the intervening time either. Whilst making repairs at Madras, his fleet was reinforced with the addition of the 74 gun third rate ship HMS Sultan. On learning that the French were off Trincomalee, the British set off at once to give assistance, but didn't arrive until the day after the British garrison had surrendered.

On seeing that the British fleet had arrived, Suffren was aware that he outnumbered Hughes' force and that if the French plans for India were to come to fruition, the British fleet would have to be destroyed. For that reason, the French left Trincomalee to face the British once again. The two fleets met again at about 2:30pm on 3rd September 1782. The heaviest action was in the centre of the lines, where the British flagship HMS Superb (74) assisted by HMS Eagle, HMS Burford (68), HMS Sultan (74), HMS Hero (74) and HMS Monarca (68) engaged the French ships Heros (74), Ajax (64) and Illustre (74). Surrounded by the British, Suffren signalled for assistance and the French ship Brilliant (64) came to his aid. His flagship, Heros lost her mainmast and had run out of ammunition. Things were going better for the French on the ends of the line, where HMS Isis (50), HMS Worcester (64) and HMS Monmouth (64) were badly damaged and HMS Exeter (64) had been dismasted and had lost her captain who had been killed. At about 5:30pm, the wind changed, favouring the French. The main part of the action now shifted to the ends of the battle lines. HMS Hero lost her mizzen and main masts and HMS Worcester lost her main topmast. The battle ended with nightfall.

The Battle of Trincomalee by Dominic Serres

Once the action had been broken off, Hughes, who did not want to be in the exposed anchorage at Madras during the monsoon season which was imminent, made for Bombay, while Suffren withdrew back into Trincomalee to make repairs. The British force had been so badly damaged that the army commanders at Madras recalled their troops from the field in case the French decided to attack.

By this time, Rodney's victory at the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782 had ended French ambitions in the Caribbean and the Royal Navy was able to spare ships to assist in the defence of British possessions in India. Hughes' force was reinforced by the arrival of five more ships-of-the-line, bringing his total strength to 18 ships-of-the-line plus frigates. By June 1783, the British were laying siege to Cuddalore and Suffren was ordered to support the city with his 15 ships-of-the-line. Hughes' fleet was there when Suffren arrived on 13th June 1783. Hughes was not keen on facing the French again, so moved his force away. After five days of adverse winds, Suffren anchored his force off the city. After a conference with the commander of the defending force, it became apparent that the outcome of the siege was going to be dependant on a naval action. The two fleets then began manoeuvring for advantage from 18th June, but were both frustrated in their attempts by fickle winds. Finally, the winds settled down from a westerly direction and the two fleets engaged each other again on 20th June. The action was fought with long-range gunnery and neither fleet was able to significantly damage the other and both forces withdrew at nightfall.

The Battle of Cuddalore by Auguste Jugelet, painted in 1836.

On 22nd June, Hughes headed back to Madras. Many of his ships required repair, his force was short of water and a lack of fresh fruit had led to an outbreak of scurvy aboard his ships. The siege continued until 29th June when a British ship under a flag of truce brought news of the war's end.

In January 1786, HMS Eagle at last returned home to Chatham and was paid off into the Ordinary, where she remained with her guns, sails, running rigging, yards and stores all removed and manned by a skeleton crew, secured to a mooring buoy with her hatches and gunports sealed shut for the next seven years. With the outbreak of war again in February of 1793, HMS Eagle was found to be unfit for sea service and was converted into a Stores Hulk in March of 1794. This involved the removal of her masts and the fitting of a roof over her upper decks, with windows cut into her lower hull at the orlop level. In June 1796, she was converted again into a prison hulk, to be moored off Gillingham. On 15th August 1800, she was renamed to HMS Buckingham in order to free up her name for a new Repulse Class 74 gun ship ordered by the Navy Board to be built by Thomas Pitcher at his Northfleet shipyard. HMS Buckingham remained a prison hulk until she was taken into the Royal Dockyard at Chatham and was broken up.
"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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