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Author Topic: HMS Thunder (1759 - 1774)  (Read 4763 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Thunder (1759 - 1774)
« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2018, 17:05:49 »
This one slipped through the net. Updated with restored plans and 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 Thunder (1759 - 1774)
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2015, 19:49:52 »
HMS Thunder was an Infernal Class Bomb Vessel, built under contract for the Royal Navy by John Henniker at his Chatham shipyard. John Henniker's Chatham shipyard stood on the banks of the River Medway about half a mile upstream from the great Royal Dockyard, roughly behind The Ship public house on Chatham High Street.

A Bomb Vessel was a small vessel designed to carry one or two large calibre mortars. Mortars have been around virtually since the invention of large calibre artillery and the first recorded use of a Bomb Vessel occurred as far back as 1347. The classic Bomb Vessel first appeared in the late 1600's and were designed for the French Navy by Bernard Renau d'Elicigaray. His designs were quickly copied for the Royal Navy and were refined by designs brought over by French Protestant or Huguenot refugees fleeing persecution in France. Until the advent of the Bomb Vessel, naval artillery was pretty much ineffective against fortified positions ashore. The mortars fired a large hollow iron sphere filled with gunpowder and detonated by a fuse, timed to explode on or shortly after impact.

Bomb Vessels were massively built, using timbers of a size usually found in a ship of the line. They were required to be hugely strong in order to absorb the enormous recoil forces of the mortars they carried. An unintended consequence of this strength was that in peacetime, bomb vessels proved to be perfect for polar exploration, being able to better resist the pressure of being trapped in ice. Early Bomb Vessels, including HMS Thunder, were ketch-rigged; that is they carried two masts, a main mast in front of a smaller mizzen mast, in order to give a clear field of fire forward for the mortars. Later Bomb Vessels, carrying mortars on traversing mounts, were ship-rigged as the ketch rig made them cumbersome and difficult to handle. Bomb Vessels tended to have dramatic sounding names associated with hellfire and destruction, names which reflected their role. Because of the limited scope for their use, purpose-built Bomb Vessels were very few and far between in the Royal Navy. When large numbers of them were needed in a hurry, the Royal Navy would convert sloops or gun-brigs into Bomb Vessels by fitting them with mortars and the reinforcement needed under the mortar-beds. Once finished with, a sloop or gun-brig would quickly be converted back to her original role as they were structurally unable to withstand prolonged use as a Bomb Vessel.

Because a bomb vessel was unrated, that is, she carried less than the 20 guns required to be rated, she was commanded by an officer with the substantive rank of Lieutenant who was appointed as her Master and Commander. This was abbreviated to Commander, although the formal rank of Commander did not yet exist as it does today.

The Infernal class was a group of seven Bomb Vessels designed by Sir Thomas Slade, of which only three were built in Kent Shipyards and HMS Thunder was the only one to be built on the River Medway. The other two Kent-built vessels of the class were HMS Mortar and HMS Basilisk, both built by William Wells at his Deptford shipyard. The most famous member of the class was HMS Carcass, in which a young Mr Midshipman Horatio Nelson served during a voyage of polar exploration. For this voyage, HMS Carcass would have had her mortars removed and would have been re-rigged with a ship rig ie. three masts. This conversion was done with all Bomb Vessels which were converted to the polar exploration role in peacetime.

HMS Thunder was ordered from John Henniker on Thursday 21st September 1758. At that time, what had started as a territorial dispute between British and French colonists in North America had escalated into the Seven Years War, the first real world war in the true sense of the phrase. The Government had decided on a strategy of taking the war to the French by attacking their overseas possessions in a series of amphibious assaults, in order to distract their attention away from European theatres and in order to divide their resources. After the arrival of the 1/48 scale draft (1 inch = 4 feet) by Admiralty Courier at John Hennikers offices, it was expanded into full size in chalk on a Mould Loft floor and moulds were then created from the full size drawings. Those moulds, made from cheap timber, were used as patterns for the shipwrights to prepare and mark out the full-sized timbers and for the sawyers to cut them. The first keel section was laid on Henniker's slipway on Monday 16th October 1758 and the completed hull was launched into the River Medway on Thursday 15th March 1759. After her launch, HMS Thunder was taken downstream to a mooring off the Royal Dockyard, where her masts would have been lifted into the hull by a sheer hulk and her guns, mortars and rigging were all installed. The vessel commissioned in June 1759 with Mr Archibald Millar appointed as her Master and Commander. Millar's previous appointment had been as Master and Commander in the small Storeship HMS London of 6 guns.

HMS Thunder's construction at Henniker's shipyard had cost 3,578.16s.2d and fitting her out at Chatham Royal Dockyard added 2,246.3s.8d to the bill. On completion, HMS Thunder was a vessel of 302 tons. She was 91ft 6in long on her gundeck and 74ft 2in long at her keel. She was 27ft 8in wide across her beams and her hold, the space between her lowest deck and her bottom was 12ft 1in deep. She was armed with one 13in mortar, one 10in mortar, 8 6pdr long guns and 14 half-pound swivel guns.

Infernal Class Plans

Deck Plans:

Inboard Profile and Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

A model of the centre section of a Bomb Vessel c. 1760. In view of the date, this is very likely to be an Infernal Class vessel. Notice the scale of the supports for the mortar bed. Notice also the swivel guns:

A model of the Bomb Vessel HMS Grenado. Launched in 1742, HMS Grenado was somewhat earlier than HMS Thunder, but was very similar. The model shows the mortar beds and her unusual and ungainly-looking ketch rig:

HMS Thunder commissioned into the Channel Fleet, then commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, flying his command flag in the first rate ship of the line HMS Royal George. She became part of the support squadron, which also comprised the 8 gun fireships HMS Proserpine and HMS Pluto and was commanded by Captain John Elliot in the 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Aeolus. The story of HMS Aeolus is told here:

By late 1759, the Channel Fleet under Hawke was maintaining a close blockade of the French coast around Brest.

In the first week of November 1759, Hawke's fleet was forced to run into Torbay to escape a fierce gale. The French, under the Marshal de Conflans took the opportunity to put to sea. The French force was under orders to rendezvous with and escort a fleet of troopships waiting in the Golfe de Morbihan to Scotland and mount an invasion there. On 14th November 1759, Conflans and his fleet left Brest and were spotted by the frigate HMS Actaeon that day. HMS Actaeon was unable to meet Hawke's fleet which by now was on it's way back to it's blockade stations. The following day, the French were sighted by the British victualling ship Love and Unity, which met with Hawke's returning fleet. Love and Unity's master reported that he had sighted the French 70 miles west of Belle Ile, heading towards Quiberon Bay. Hawke ordered his fleet to sail for Quiberon Bay as hard as they could into the teeth of a South-south-easterly gale.

On the night of the 19th November, Conflans ordered his fleet to reduce sail in order to arrive at Quiberon Bay the following morning, rather than in the middle of the night. Early the following morning, the French force spotted sails which turned out to be those of a small squadron of 4 50 gun ships and 4 frigates, commanded by Captain Robert Duff. These had stayed behind to watch the transport ships while Hawke and the main fleet had sought shelter in Torbay. Realising that the strange sails belonged to a small squadron rather than a full fleet, Conflans ordered his fleet to give chase. Duff split his force into two, north and south, pursued by the French vanguard and centre. The rear of the French fleet peeled off to investigate strange sails appearing to the West. These turned out to be the British Fleet with 24 ships of the line, led by Admiral Hawke, flying his command flag in the giant first rate ship HMS Royal George of 100 guns. The French broke off their pursuit of Duff's squadron (which incidentally had 50 gun ships called HMS Chatham and HMS Rochester).

It was HMS Magnanime (74) which spotted the French first, at 08:30 and on receiving signals to that effect, Hawke ordered his fleet to form a line abreast. Conflans on the other hand was forced to make a tough decision. Stand and fight where he was in the teeth of a violent gale or head into the Bay with it's shoals and rocks and try to entice Hawke to follow him. At 09:00, Hawke gave the signal for a general chase and for the seven ships closest to the French to form a line of battle and despite the dangers, make all sail and get stuck into the French. By 14:30, the British were beginning to overtake the French and what is now known as the Battle of Quiberon Bay began in earnest.

By sunset, it was all over. The power of the French Atlantic Fleet had been smashed. Hawke had scored an overwhelming victory against the French, who had lost six of their 21 ships of the line wrecked or sunk with another being captured by the British. In all, some 2,500 French sailors had perished. The British on the other hand, had lost two ships of the line wrecked on the shoals and rocks in the bay and had suffered 400 fatalities.

Tracks of the fleets in the lead up to the battle:

The Battle of Quiberon Bay by Nicholas Pocock, painted in 1812:

The aftermath of the battle, painted in 1760 by Richard Wright. The wrecked ship on her side in the foreground is HMS Resolution (74) and the ship in the background on fire is the French ship l'Heros, captured by the British and burned. Also on fire behind l'Heros is the French flagship, Le Soleil Royale (80), aground and burned by the French to avoid her falling into British hands:

The scale of the British victory had consequences for the rest of the war. The power of the French fleet was broken and did not recover until after the war. The French were unable to resupply their army in Canada and this in turn led to the eventual British victory there. In addition, the French Government suffered a credit crunch as financiers realised that the Royal Navy could now strike at French possessions at will and refused to lend the French Government any more money. The French Government was forced to default on it's debts in order to continue the war.

Smaller vessels such as HMS Thunder, the fireships and the frigates did not take an active part in the battle but were instead used to tow damaged ships of the line away from the fighting if required and also to rescue men in the water. It was usually safe for such vessels to enter areas where the great ships of the line were battering each other to smithereens due to the unwritten rule that ships of the line do not fire on smaller vessels unless first fired upon.

In early 1760, the Royal Navy decided that it had no further use for HMS Thunder as a bomb vessel and that she should be converted into a ship-sloop. This work was undertaken at the Royal Dockyard at Plymouth and entailed the removal of her mortars, their beds and the supports underneath. She was fitted with a foremast in place of the 10 inch mortar forward and was fitted with a further three 6pdr long guns each side in place of the mortars. The work was completed in April 1760 at a cost of 275,1s.6d and she was reclassified as a ship-sloop of 14 guns.

As part of the strategy of attacking the enemy in their overseas possessions, plans had been laid to invade the French island of Martinique and also the jewel in the crown of Spanish possessions in the Caribbean, the city of Havana. Both targets were heavily fortified and would require bomb vessels to help overcome the defences. HMS Thunder was taken into the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard and was converted back into a bomb vessel. HMS Thunder paid off at Portsmouth on 16th June 1761 and immediately recommissioned with Mr Phillip Boteler appointed as her Master and Commander. HMS Thunder was his first command appointment. Commander Millar had been promoted to Captain and appointed to command the old 44 gun two-decker HMS Lynn. After paying off HMS Lynn at the end of the war in 1763, Captain Millar was laid off on half-pay. He died in 1766.

In October 1761, HMS Thunder was formally reclassified as an 8 gun bomb vessel and the work at Portsmouth was completed at a cost of 444.18s.9d. On Sunday 18th October 1761, the vessel sailed for the Leeward Islands. On arrival, she joined a vast fleet under the command of Rear-Admiral George Rodney, which also contained her sister-ketches HMS Infernal and HMS Basilisk, together with the older bomb-vessel, HMS Grenado.

By the end of 1760, Canada had fallen to the British and the following year, the British had successfully taken the island of Dominica. In the light of this, the French had correctly guessed that the enemy's next target would be Martinique and had made preparations accordingly. The French force defending Martinique consisted of 1,200 regular troops, plus 7,000 local militia and around 4,000 hired mercenaries. Ranged against them was a British army of about 8,000 men under the command of General Robert Monckton.

On 5th January 1762, the fleet left Barbados and headed towards Martinique, arriving two days later. A landing at Les Anses d'Arlet Bay proved unsuccessful because it was not possible to move heavy field guns along the road from there to Fort Royal, the capital. The entire force was re-embarked. On 16th January, the invasion began again. After a short campaign, Fort Royal fell to the British on 3rd February and by 12th, the whole island was in British hands. After the fall of Martinique, General Monckton sent detachments to the islands of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenada, all of which surrendered to his troops without a fight.

On 26th March 1762, Commander Boteler was promoted to Captain and appointed to command the 44 gun two-decker HMS Penzance. On 17th August 1779, during the American War of Independence , Captain Boteler was in command of the 64 gun third rate ship of the line HMS Ardent. The ship was engaged by the French frigates Junon, Chantile and the Spanish 70 gun ship of the line Princesa. Overwhelmed by weight of numbers, Captain Boteler surrendered his ship to the enemy. In the subsequent Court Martial, held the following year, the Board found that Captain Boteler was at fault for failing to adequately defend his ship and he was dismissed from the Service. Boteler had been replaced in command of HMS Thunder by Commander Robert Haswell. HMS Thunder was his first command appointment.

Following the capture of Martinique, General Monkton began to make preparations for the invasion of Tobago, but was overruled by the Government who ordered that his troops, numbering some 8,000, were required for an amphibious assault on the Spanish possession of Havana, Cuba. This operation had been in the planning since Spain had joined in the war on the French side in December 1761.

On 5th March 1762, a force of seven ships of the line, 54 transport ships and 4,300 men departed from the UK and arrived at Barbados on 20th April. On 25th April, they picked up General Monkton's force of 8,000 men from Fort Royal. By 23rd May, the invasion force comprised 24 ships of the line, 168 transport ships and nearly 13,000 soldiers. On 6th June, the British arrived at Havana and the following day, the army was landed. The Battle of Havana raged until 13th August, with both sides taking heavy losses. The British had lost 2,764 soldiers killed, wounded or dead from disease. Three ships of the line had been lost in the naval actions fought in support of the seige. Spain had lost 3,800 dead, 2000 wounded plus 5,000 captured. Too add to the losses, the British had captured 13 ships of the line and the Spanish had scuttled three more. The British had captured the jewel in the crown of Spanish possessions in the Americas and the Caribbean. It was a huge blow to Spanish prestige.

The war was ended by the Treaty of Paris, signed in February 1763. The strategy of attacking the enemy in their overseas possessions had been an outstanding success. The French and their Spanish allies had been defeated in campaigns fought on mainland North America and Canada, India, the Phillipines, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Although much of the territory which had been taken was returned under the Treaty, much of it, particularly Canada, was retained by the British. The war had bankrupted the French and had almost done the same to the British. It was those financial difficulties which were to lead to the next war, the American War of Independence, which started 12 years later.

In the meantime, with the end of the war, HMS Thunder was surplus to requirements, so on her return to the UK, she paid off into the Ordinary. Thus far, I've been unable to find out where. The vessel was surveyed on 30th July 1763 and again on 8th January 1770. She was sold on 2nd September 1774 for 400.
"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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