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Author Topic: HMS Impregnable (1786 - 1799)  (Read 5306 times)

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Re: HMS Impregnable (1786 - 1799)
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2013, 10:51:40 »
One of your best thank you. Wish I was still teaching......

Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Impregnable (1786 - 1799)
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2013, 01:13:58 »
HMS Impregnable was a London class 98 gun 2nd rate ship of the line, built at the Royal Dockyard, Deptford. She was one of two ships of the class to be built at Deptford, the other was HMS Windsor Castle. HMS Impregnable is important to naval history because what happened as a result of the end of her career. Built to a design by Sir Thomas Slade, the lead ship of the class, HMS London had been built at Chatham twenty years before and was originally rated as a 90 gun 2nd rate ship. The design of 2nd rate ships had moved on in the meantime, but because at the time HMS London was built, it was practice in the Royal Navy for 2nd rate ships to carry no guns on their quarterdecks, modifying the design to carry 98 guns was just a matter of adding gun ports to the quarterdeck. The ship was one of four Second-Rate ships ordered during the American War of Independence, of which three were copies of HMS London and all of which were to be built in Kent shipyards.

HMS Impregnable was ordered at the height of the American War of Independence, on Wednesday 13th September 1780. Because of the huge amount of timber required for her construction, the need to ensure it was seasoned properly and cut correctly, her keel wasn't laid until October the following year.

HMS Impregnable was finally launched into the River Thames on Sunday 15th April 1786, by which time the war for which she had been built was over. After her launch, she fitted out at Deptford. On completion, HMS Impregnable was an impressive ship. Only slightly smaller than a first rate ship and carrying her guns on three gundecks, HMS Impregnable had cost the sum of 54,531,8s,4d, or just a shade under 1M in todays money. On completion, she was a ship of 1,886 tons, she was 177'7" long on her upper gundeck and was 49'3" wide across the beam. She was armed with 28 32pdr long guns on her lower gundeck, 30 18pdr long guns on her middle gundeck, 30 12pdr long guns on her upper gundeck, 2 9pdr long guns on her forecastle and 8 6pdr long guns on her quarterdeck. She was manned by a crew of 750 officers, men, boys and marines.

London Class Plans.

Orlop Plan:

Lower Gundeck Plan:

Middle Gundeck Plan:

Upper Gundeck Plan:

Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plans:

Inboard Profile and Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

HMS Impregnable commissioned at Deptford under Captain Thomas Pringle in October 1787. In 1788, she became flagship of Vice-Admiral Thomas Graves and received a new commander, Captain Thomas Byard.

In 1789, the French Revolution occurred, an event which put the whole political establishment of Britain on their guard. In August 1790, HMS Impregnable became flagship to Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton. For several months in 1790, Britain was on the brink of war with Spain in what is now known as the Spanish Armaments Crisis. In may 1790, HMS Impregnable was refitted at Plymouth for service in the Channel fleet. The refit included replacing her forecastle and quarterdeck guns with larger 12pdr long guns. In 1791, Rear Admiral Phillips Cosby flew his command flag in HMS Impregnable. In September 1791 HMS Impregnable paid off.

Britain at the time was quite relaxed about the French Revolution, in fact the government of the day supported it. They hoped that it would lead to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy along the lines of our own. Their hopes were bolstered by the refusal of the Revolutionary Government in France to become involved in the Spanish Armaments Crisis. This forced Spain to negotiate a settlement to the dispute over the British establishing trading posts on the west coast of Canada in defiance of a Spanish territorial claim over the entire west coast of both American continents.

In January 1793, things changed when the French executed King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. The following month, France declared war on Britain and what is now known in Britain as the French Revolutionary War began.

In September 1793, HMS Impregnable recommissioned under Captain George Westcott. At the time, she became flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir Benjamin Caldwell. Caldwell was tasked with commanding a squadron of the Channel Fleet also comprising HMS Marlborough (74), HMS Defence (74) and HMS Tremendous (74). Caldwell's small squadron came under the overall command of Admiral the Lord Howe, flying his command flag in HMS Queen Charlotte (100). Amongst the men who joined HMS Impregnable when she recommissioned was a young officer, Lieutenant Robert Otway. He was aged 23 when he took up his appointment in HMS Impregnable and this marked the beginning of a spectacular career in the Royal Navy.

On 14th June 1793, the ship sailed from the anchorage off St Helens, Isle of Wight with the rest of the Channel Fleet, in order to search for the French Fleet, thought to be at sea intending to disrupt transatlantic convoys. By the 18th, the fleet was west of the Isles of Scilly conducting manoeuvres. On 31st July, the French were spotted, but the British were unable to close and the French escaped. On 10th August, Howe gave up the search and took his fleet into Torbay. Two weeks later, the fleet left Torbay to escort home-bound convoys from Newfoundland and the Caribbean. This pattern continued into the autumn of that year. On 18th November 1793, the fleet spotted a strange squadron. This turned out to be a French squadron of 6 ships of the line, two frigates, a brig and a schooner. The French, possibly looking to disrupt British convoys, appear to have mistaken Lord Howe's fleet for a convoy and had closed to intercept. The French squadron, unaware that the 'convoy' was actually the Royal Navy's Channel Fleet, bore down until their hulls were clearly visible from the decks of the British ships. On realising their mistake, they turned and fled. Lord Howe ordered the leading ships in his fleet, HMS Russell (74), HMS Bellerophon (74), HMS Audacious (74), HMS Defence (74) and HMS Ganges (74) to set all possible sail, give chase and engage the French. In the heavy weather, HMS Defence lost her main and fore topmasts and HMS Russell sprang her fore topmast. Howe ordered the rest of the ships to abandon the chase and instead ordered his frigates to keep the enemy in sight. The French returned to their bases, while the British continued cruising the English Channel, Western Approaches and Bay of Biscay before returning to the anchorage at Spithead by mid-December

By the spring of 1794, France was in trouble. The harvest the previous year had failed and the country was facing widespread famine. The fact that France was at war with all her neighbours precluded overland shipments, so the Revolutionary Government had looked to their colonies and to the United States for assistance. By March, they had arranged for a huge shipment of grain from the Americans. In order to minimise the risk of interception of this vital cargo by the British, it was arranged between France and the USA that it should be shipped across the Atlantic in one go. A massive convoy of 117 merchant ships assembled in Hampton Roads in Chesapeake Bay. This contained enough food to feed the whole of France for a year. From the French point of view, failure was not an option. The convoy was expected to take up to two months to cross the Atlantic and departed American waters on 2nd April 1794.

The British were aware of the convoy and it's importance to France and had made preparations for it's interception and destruction. It was hoped that if Lord Howe and his Channel Fleet could succeed in destroying the convoy, this would bring the war to an early end.

HMS Impregnable remained at Spithead with the Channel Fleet until 2nd May 1794, when in company with the rest of the fleet, she departed to begin the search for the French convoy. A series of skirmishes controlled by Lord Howe from HMS Queen Charlotte occurred in the latter half of May 1794, the most significant of which occurred on 29th in which several ships of both fleets were damaged. The ship herself was not actively engaged in these skirmishes. On 1st June 1794, what was to become the Battle of the Glorious First of June began when Lord Howe began to execute his battle plan. This was to bring his entire fleet alongside that of the French, then turn towards them with each British ship passing between two of the French and raking them through bows and sterns on each side before coming alongside and engaging them at point blank range, ship to ship. If the plan had worked properly, the French Atlantic Fleet would have been annihilated. Unfortunately, many of Howe's captains either misunderstood or disobeyed his signals and either failed to break through the French line before engaging or merely fired into the resulting melee at long range.

Starting disposition of the fleets at the Battle of the Glorious First of June 1794.

HMS Impregnable was one of those ships which failed to break through the French line. That wasn't because of any incompentence on the part of either Admiral Caldwell or Captain Westcott, rather it was because she had been badly damaged aloft. Lieutenant Otway led a team of seamen aloft personally led them in making repairs to the ships fore-topsail yard. This enabled Captain Westcott to bring HMS Impregnable alongside the French line and use her devastating firepower to good effect.

By 5pm, the French began to manoeuvre away and the battle effectively ended. In the battle, HMS Impregnable suffered no hull damage, but did suffer damage aloft. She suffered casualties too, losing 7 men killed with 24 wounded.

Both sides regarded the battle as a victory, the British because they had engaged and defeated a superior enemy force and the French because the convoy got through. Psychologically though, the result of the battle was a huge boost to the British and a massive blow to the French. Despite all their revolutionary zeal, the French had been comprehensively defeated, the morale of the French navy never recovered and they didn't win a single set-piece naval battle in the entire war. The British had suffered 1,200 dead or wounded but had lost no ships. The French on the other hand suffered 4,000 dead or wounded with another 3,000 captured and had lost six ships of the line captured and one sunk. Total prize money for the captured ships came to 201,096 (or about 18M in todays money) and was divided equally amongst the ships which participated in the battle.

On 13th June 1794, the Channel Fleet arrived back at Spithead.

Because HMS Impregnable had failed to break through the French line, Rear-Admiral Caldwell was deliberately snubbed by Lord Howe, who made no mention of either his actions, or the actions of his flagship in the battle, despite HMS Impregnable being heavily engaged. Because of this, Caldwell's contribution to the victory was not celebrated back home in Britain and both he and Captain Westcott were denied the commemorative medals given to other captains involved in the battle.

Despite the outcry from other officers similarly snubbed by Lord Howe, the Admiralty believed Howe's version of events, an attitude which infuriated Caldwell, who felt personally insulted by Lord Howe.

Lieutenant Otway's actions in the battle won him his admiral's admiration and Caldwell rewarded him by giving him patronage. When Caldwell was reassigned to the Caribbean under Sir John Jervis, he transferred his command flag to HMS Majestic (74). When he moved to HMS Majestic, along with Captain Westcott, he ordered that Lieutenant Otway be appointed the new flagship's First Lieutenant. Otway later went on to be a highly successful commander in his own right before rising to the rank of Admiral and receiving both a knighthood and Baronetcy on the way. Captain Westcott remained with HMS Majestic and was killed in action at the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

After the Battle of the Glorious First of June, HMS Impregnable remained with the Channel Fleet and spent the next five years escorting convoys, blockading the French Atlantic coast. The ship spent the rest of her career serving as a private ship and between October 1794 and June 1799 was commanded by Captain Sir Charles Cotton. In June 1799, Captain Cotton handed command of the ship to her final commander, Captain Jonathan Faulknor.

On 17th October 1799, HMS Impregnable, in company with HMS Excellent (74), passed Plymouth with a convoy of merchantment out of Lisbon and Oporto. HMS Excellent parted company in order to chase off a strange sail, leaving HMS Impregnable to escort the convoy the rest of the way to Portsmouth alone. Once off St Catherines Point, Isle of Wight, Captain Faulknor signalled the convoy to close with the shore while he began his run into Portsmouth Harbour. In a rising wind, Captain Faulknor handed command of the ship to the Sailing Master, Mr Michael Jenkings. Jenkings allowed the ship to continue running with all sail and by 6pm on Friday 18th, as darkness was falling, the ship was zipping along at 10 knots. Jenkings ordered leadsmen into the fore chains and more quartermasters to the ships wheel. He knew that the Princessa Shoal lay ahead and needed to keep an eye on the depth of water. HMS Impregnable was after all a big ship and drew some 17 feet of water. Later in the evening, Captain Faulknor came on deck and warned that the ship was going too fast. Mr Jenkings replied that he was confident of the ship's position and was unconcerned at her speed. Faulknor told the Sailing Master he thought the ship should stand out to sea and enter harbour when the weather had calmed and in daylight. As darkness finally fell, Mr Jenkings finally decided that it was unsafe to continue and that the ship should be anchored. He ordered that the sails be taken in. The helmsmen then steered the ship into the eye of the wind and the anchor was released. It had barely touched bottom when the ship ran aground on the Princessa Shoal, off Chichester. Jenkings had refused to believe the depths being called aft by the leadsmen. By now, the weather was too rough to launch the ships boats and run a kedge anchor out to drag the ship off the shoal. The ships rudder was smashed off by the seas. In order to try to lighten the ship, her masts were cut away, but to no avail. The ship was being driven further onto the shoal. Captain Faulknor ordered that they began to fire a distress gun to try to summon help. Due to the weather, none came until the following day. By Saturday morning, they realised just how bad their situation was. The ship was hard aground and was taking on water. On Sunday, ships came out from the dockyard at Portsmouth and began to remove her guns and stores. By Monday, she was taking on water so fast that the pumps could not keep up. It was decided that the ship was a total loss and that her crew should be taken off. Shipwrights from the dockyard began the process of stripping the ship.

On 30th October 1799, a Court Martial was convened in Portsmouth Harbour aboard HMS Gladiator (44). Captain Faulknor and his officers were being tried for the loss of their ship. The Court Martial Board listened while the officers and several of her seamen were closely questioned about the sequence of events leading up to the ship running aground. On being questioned, the leadsmen reported that there was a difference between the depths they were measuring and those shown on the charts, although there were disagreements between them as to what the differences actually were. After retiring for an hour, the Court Martial Board returned to give their verdict. Captain Faulknor, his officers and seamen were all honourably acquitted. Mr Jenkings was not so fortunate. The Board concluded that the loss of HMS Impregnable occurred as a result of his negligence in allowing the ship to run too far and not anchoring the ship at a time when the leadsmen in the chains declared a difference in the soundings. Mr Jenkings was ordered to be dismissed from His Majesty's service.

On 6th November 1799, the wreck was sold to a Portsmouth merchant, Mr A Lindenegren who broke up the ship as far as possible.

As a postscript to this tale, the loss of HMS Impregnable had a consequence with is still with us today. HMS Impregnable was a very large and very powerful warship and her loss occurred at a time when the Royal Navy could least afford it. The Admiralty faced a problem where HMS Impregnable had to be replaced as a matter of urgency. The trouble was that even if there was spare capacity in any of the Royal Dockyards to build such a large ship, the new ship would not be delivered for at least another six years once construction had started and the Navy felt that they didn't have that long. The answer to the problem was found in the form of an old First Rate ship lying in the River Medway, awaiting conversion into a hulk. This old ship was over 30 years old and as far as the Navy was concerned, her fighting days were over because her hull was worn out and riddled with rot. They concluded that if the old ship were to be given a 'Great Repair', then a replacement for HMS Impregnable could be acquired in less than half the time and for half the cost. It was decided to go ahead with this plan.

The old first rate ship was HMS Victory and the rest is history.
"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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