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Author Topic: HMS Cressy (1810 - 1832)  (Read 1367 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Cressy (1810 - 1832)
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2017, 22:43:31 »
HMS Cressy was a Middling Type, 74 gun, Third rate ship of the line of the Vengeur Class, built under contract for the Royal Navy by Thomas and Josiah Brindley at the Quarry House shipyard in Frindsbury.

The Quarry House shipyard stood on the west bank of the River Medway, approximately on the current site of the Riverside Tavern in what is now Strood Riverside. It was the largest commercial shipyard on the River Medway and the Brindleys were trusted contractors with a history of building ships for the Royal Navy going back to when they took the lease on the shipyard in the early 1790's. The shipyard had previously built smaller vessels, gun-brigs, a ship-sloop and a pair of large Leda Class 18pdr armed 38 gun frigates which included the famous HMS Shannon.

The Vengeur class was a group of 40 ships, of which 21 were built in Kent shipyards. They were designed jointly between the Surveyors of the Navy, Henry Peake and Sir William Rule. For that reason, they were also known as the 'Surveyors Class' and they were the most numerous class of ship of the line to be built for the Royal Navy in the age of the sailing wooden warship. Their design was based on that of the Courageux Class 74 gun ships, so-called because they themselves were based on the design of the ex-French 74 gun ship HMS  Courageux, formerly Le Courageux. That vessel had been captured from the French towards the end of the Seven Years War, in 1761, by the Chatham-built 74 gun ship HMS Bellona and her design was so advanced that it was still being used as the basis for the design of new British ships of the line over forty years later. The work of repairing Le Courageux and refitting her for British service wasn't completed until after the Seven Years War had ended, so the now-HMS Courageux wasn't tested in action by the British until the American War of Independence, which didn't break out until 1775. Once the Royal Navy had used the ship in battle, they were so impressed with her performance that the decision was made to copy the design and the Courageux Class ships were ordered. The reason why Le Courageux was so advanced was because she had a number of design features which made her a far superior ship to those being built at the time by the British. The main feature was her size. Le Courageux was 100 tons heavier than HMS Bellona, twelve feet longer, but only two feet wider, giving her a proportionately narrower hull with finer lines making her faster and more manoeuvrable. Another feature, which wasn't appreciated by the British until much later, was her round bow. In British-designed ships, the upper gundeck was terminated by a flat bulkhead whereas in French ships, the hull planking continued around the bow at the upper gundeck level and the forward end of the forecastle. This made for a stronger hull, particularly so when receiving fire from an enemy ship crossing the bow, but also when the ship was sailing into high seas. This wasn't really appreciated by the British until they began to cut surplus Second Rate ships with three gundecks down to 74 gun Third Rate ships with two, resulting in what had been the middle gundeck becoming a new upper gundeck with the foremost part of what had been the upper gundeck becoming a new forecastle, resulting in a rounded end to the new upper gundeck and forecastle. This was despite the fact that firsly, a considerable number of ex-French ships of the line were serving in the Royal Navy and secondly, both Britain and France had been building frigates with round bows for decades.

The Vengeur Class ships were ordered and built in such large numbers was because unlike during the Seven Years War (1756 - 1763) and the American War of Independence (1775 - 1784), there had been no large-scale programme of building ships of the line during the French Revolutionary War (1793 - 1802) and as a result, the British were faced with an ageing battlefleet comprised of ships which were becoming increasingly worn out and difficult and expensive to keep in a seaworthy and battleworthy condition. In addition to this, although the French and Spanish battlefleets had been put out of the war by the string of victories culminating with the Battle of Trafalgar in October of 1805, the French in particular were undertaking a large shipbuilding programme which meant that it seemed the time was going to come when the Royal Navy would be facing fresh dangers from the old enemy across the Channel, for which they needed to be ready. Additionally, in order to win the war, the Royal Navy effectively had had to blockade the whole of the European coastline, from Italy around to the Russian Baltic coast. Over the course of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the almost constant shifting of alliances had seen the Royal Navy pitted against the navies of not just France and Spain, but also Holland, Denmark, Russia and Turkey amongst others. At the time the ship was ordered by the Navy Board, tensions with the United States of America were on the increase and it seemed only a matter of time before the country would be at war with them too. The new designs were intended to fully exploit the advances in mass production technology and methods made possible by the Industrial Revolution; an example of this is that the frames of the ship, instead of being held together by a combination of mortise and tenon joints and wooden trenails, was assembled using iron plates and bolts.

Of the 40 Vengeur class ships, 31 were built under contract in private shipyards, including 14 in Kent. This was because the Royal Dockyards were running at full capacity with keeping increasingly aged ships of the line fit for front-line service and with building larger First and Second Rate ships, so there was little spare capacity for any more large scale construction projects. In order to achieve this, the Navy Board had been forced to be more accommodating on price. Up to 1803, the Navy Board had refused to pay more than 21 per ton for ships and was struggling to get private shipbuilders to bid for contracts to build new large ships. Established private shipyards had declined to tender for the construction of new 74 gun ships on a number of occasions and the Navy Board's invitations to tender for contracts to build the Vengeur Class was no exception. In order to get the new ships built, the Navy Board had had to accept a number of things. Firstly, they had to accept that the price of timber had risen and was likely to rise further once the programme got underway, particularly as the new ships were somewhat larger than the ships they were intended to replace. Secondly, they would have to accept tenders from shipbuilders who had little or no experience in building ships of this size. Brindley's had a very similar ship, HMS Aboukir, a Batch Two Courageux Class ship and which was the first such ship they had built, approaching completion at Frindsbury when they had tendered for the contract to build HMS Cressy.

The contract to build HMS Cressy was signed at the offices of the Navy Board in London on Wednesday 1st October 1806 and the first keel section was laid at the Quarry House shipyard during March of 1807. The ship was launched with all due ceremony into the River Medway in the presence of the Resident Commissioner of the Chatham Royal Dockyard on 7th March 1810 and was immediately taken downstream to the Royal Dockyard where, after a thorough inspection of her build quality and workmanship, she was fitted with her guns, masts, rigging and sails. The ship was commissioned under Captain Charles Dudley Pater on 9th May 1810.

On completion, HMS Cressy was 176ft 1in long on her upper gundeck and 47ft 9in wide across the beams. She was armed with 28 32pdr long guns on her lower gundeck, 28 18pdr long guns on her upper gundeck, 10 32pdr carronades and 4 12pdr long guns on her quarterdeck, with 2 32pdr carronades, 2 12pdr long guns on her forecastle and 6 18pdr carronades on her poop deck. This means that although rated as a 74 gun ship, she actually carried 80 main guns. Her quarterdeck and forecastle handrails and fighting tops were also fitted with about a dozen half-pounder swivel guns. The ship was manned by a crew of 590 officers, men, boys and Royal Marines. Construction at Frindsbury had cost 56,855 exactly and fitting the ship out at the Chatham Royal Dockyard added a further 9,893 to the bill.

Vengeur Class Plans

Orlop Plan:



Lower Gundeck Plan:



Upper Gundeck Plan:



Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plans:



Inboard Profile and Plan:



Sheer Plan and Lines:



Detail of Frame Fittings:



A model of HMS Cornwallis, a Vengeur Class ship built from teak in Bombay. Aside from being oak-built and therefore a little lighter, HMS Cressy was identical. HMS Cornwallis was to be the longest-lasting member of the Vengeur Class. After being converted into a floating jetty moored at Sheerness, HMS Cornwallis survived until 1957. Note the frigate-style, rounded forward end of the upper gundeck:



At the time that HMS Cressy was commissioned, Great Britain was at war with Denmark and as part of the effort to protect the vital timber trade in the Baltic, HMS Cressy was sent to the region. On the night of July 4th 1811, HMS Cressy was part of the escort for a convoy which had anchored for the night in the Great Belt, which lies between the major Danish islands of Zealand and Funen. In addition to the merchant ships, HMS Cressy was in company with another 74 gun, third rate ship of the line, HMS Defiance, the 64 gun third rate ship HMS Dictator and the 24pdr carronade-armed 16-gun ship sloop HMS Sheldrake. The ships of the line were moored at the southern end of the convoy, while HMS Sheldrake covered the northern end.  During the night, the convoy was attacked by a force of 17 Danish gunboats and ten small fireships and in the panic that followed, HMS Sheldrake cut her anchor cable and drifted towards the ships of the line, allowing the Danes to set several of the merchant ships on fire. A change of wind forced the Danes to abort their attack and allowed the British to counter-attack. Although a fog came down and covered the Danish withdrawal, the British counter-attack resulted in the capture of four of the Danish gunboats.

The 9th November 1811 saw HMS Cressy as part of the escort for another, much larger convoy. She was one of three ships of the line making up the escort; the others being the 98 gun second rate ship HMS St. George, flagship of Rear-Admiral Robert Reynolds and the 74 gun ship HMS Defence along with other warships and about 120 merchantmen. The convoy set sail from Hano SOund on the 9th, bound for the UK. The convoy was forced to anchor off Zealand due to adverse winds and on the 15th November, was struck by a hurricane-force storm which saw 30 of the merchant vessels lost and HMS St. George was dismasted, lost her rudder and was driven ashore. After the big three-decker was refloated and taken in tow, the convoy proceeded to Wingo Sound, where HMS St. George's crew erected a jury rig and fitted their ship with a temporary rudder. On the 17th, the fleet departed from Wingo Sound, with HMS Cressy and HMS Defence standing by the flagship while the convoy and the remaining escorts went on ahead. After passing through the Kattegat into the North Sea, the three ships of the line were struck by an even more powerful storm on the 19th November. After battling shifting winds for five days, it became clear that they were going to be wrecked if the continued as they were. Captain Pater was faced with a terrible choice. Should he obey his Admirals orders and remain with the flagship or save his own ship and crew? He chose the latter course of action and tragically on 24th November, both HMS St. George and HMS Defence were wrecked on the western coast of Jutland with the losses of all but 6 of the crew of HMS St.George and all but 12 from HMS Defence. The same storm also claimed the 74 gun ship HMS Hero and all but 12 of her crew the following day. All told, the storms of late November 1811 cost the lives of over 2000 Royal Navy seamen and officers in the North Sea over the course of a week. On 30th November 1811 HMS Cressy arrived safely in the Downs anchorage off Deal and departed for Portsmouth the following day.

The ship and her crew spent the rest of the war operating out of Portsmouth engaged on patrols enforcing the blockade of France's channel ports and escorting convoys to and from the Baltic, the West Indies and South America.

After years of rising tensions, the United States of America declared war on Great Britain on the 18th June 1812. American merchant ships at sea became fair game and on 12th August 1812 HMS Cressy and her squadron captured a group of them comprised of the Cuba, Caliban, Cygnet, Edward, Galen and Halcyon, for which a significant amount of prize money was paid to the squadron's officers and men.

In August 1813, HMS Cressy paid off for a refit at Portsmouth Royal Dockyard and Captain Pater was appointed to command the Royal Yacht HMY William and Mary. His replacement in HMS Cressy was Captain Charles Dashwood. Captain Dashwood was a celebrity in the Royal Navy at the time. Born in 1765, he had joined the Royal Navy at the age of 14 in 1779. An experienced combat veteran, he had seen action at the Battle of the Saintes while serving as a Midshipman in the British flagship HMS Formidable (98). See here for the story of that ship:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=19026.msg167664#msg167664

He had been a Lieutenant in HMS Impregnable (98) at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794 and first held a command in the post of Master and Commander of the 32pdr carronade-armed 18-gun brig-sloop HMS Sylph. See here for the story of HMS Impregnable:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=16471.msg138835#msg138835

Promoted to Captain in 1801, he had successfully commanded a number of frigates before his appointment to HMS Cressy.

HMS Cressy recommissioned in November 1813 and on 11th April 1814, the Napoleonic War was ended by the Treaty of Fontainebleu. Captain Dashwood paid off HMS Cressy the following month and the ship entered the Portsmouth Ordinary. The war with the United States ended in early 1815 and for the first time in over 20 years, Great Britain entered a period of relative peace.

The prolonged period of peace showed the Royal Navy that although they didn't need such large numbers of ships of the line, what they did need was more large, Heavy Frigates. A number of HMS Cressy's sister-ships were converted into such ships and on 20th March 1827, the Admiralty ordered that HMS Cressy undergo such a conversion. The conversion would have entailed the complete removal of the poop deck, quarterdeck and forecastle. The former upper gundeck was to become a full length spar-deck mounting 42pdr carronades while the former lower gundeck was to be fitted with 24pdr long guns. The survey which was to precede the conversion found that the ship was badly decayed and the cost of the repairs could not be justified, so HMS Cressy's conversion to a 50-gun spar-decked heavy frigate was cancelled. In December 1832, HMS Cressy was taken into a dry dock at Portsmouth 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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