Ville de Paris Maritime Topics On Stamps :

Ships of the Line!
sailing in keel line.......

The term 'line ships' or 'ships of the line' was subject to a lot of changes throughout history. Today general cargo ships and passenger liners, sailing on fixed routes according to fixed schedules, are called line ships. However at the end of the 19th, beginning of 20th century only the large armoured battle ships were known as line ships. In the 17th and 18th century the great battle ships, which were sailing in line formation into a battle, were called ships of the line. This Theme is about the latter.
In April 1653 two new significant orders for the British Fleet came into effect. The first one was a set of instructions for better command of the fleet on high seas. They consisted of sailing instructions and standards for communication. The second one referenced command during a battle. For the very first time a included the order to form a keel line, i.e. every ship had to follow the forward ship with a distance of one cable (185m). In addition several manoeuvres were listed to keep in the line. The line was divided into a front group, a center group containing the largest battle ships of the fleet and a rearguard. Admiral Blake
This fleet tactic stayed in use until the beginning of the 19th century. On the stamp you can see Admiral Blake, leader of the British Fleet in those days and the one who signed the new order documents.
The French fought with the same tactics. The 'Tactique Navale' of 1763 rejected short-distance fighting and the habit of entering enemy ships. The captains were ordered to hold their battle position in a straight line.

Battle Frigate Bay On these stamps of the battle off the coast of the Caribic island of St.Kitts you can see the ships in a line formation. In January 1782 the French Comte de Grasse arrrived with 24 ships of the line at the island of St. Kitts and disembarked 8,000 soldiers at Basseterre. The British Rear Admiral Hood was able to form a line with his 22 ships just in front of the harbour. When the French attacked, they sailed into the full broadsides of the British Ships. The French had to stop the attack, while Hood's fleet anchored. On the next day the French conducted a second attack, but were repulsed again.

On the ships of the line the guns were placed in two to four different battery decks. The ships were called twodecker, threedecker or fourdecker according to the count of battery decks. The heaviest guns were always placed on the lowest battery deck; there stood the 32- pound guns. The 24- and 12-pound guns were placed in the tween deck and the upper deck. All guns were muzzle-loaders and had to be operated by several persons. The small guns were handled by six men, the middled-sized by 10 and the large guns by 12 to 14 persons. After firing they needed 20 to 30 minutes for loading and shooting again. A ship of the line with 100 guns was able to fire half a ton of ammunition at an enemy ship with one broadside. The heaviest guns had a range of up to 1.5 km. guns

The ships of the Royal Navy were divided into six groups according to their figthing strength. The groups were called rate-1 to rate-6. Ships of the line had a rate of one to three, rate four to six consisted of smaller units.
Rate-1 ships carried a crew of 850 to 1,000 men, 100 or more guns on three or four decks and a displacement of 2,000 tons or higher.

Sovereign of the Seas
Santissima Trinidad
Here you can see two rate-1 ships. To the left the 'Sovereign of the Seas'. She was built in 1637 and the largest, most expensive, most decorated and most heavily armed ship of those days. She was the first threedecker and her speed was 7kn. Her specs: 167ft x 48ft x 29ft, 100 guns. In 1649 she was renamed to 'Sovereign'. In 1660 a redesign converted her into a twodecker. This increased her battle strength and she was renamed to 'Royal Sovereign'. Throught the years this ship fought in seven battles. In 1669 she was lost to fire. A lit candle fell into the cargo room and inflamed the ship.
To the right you can see the Spanish 'Santissima Trinidad'. She was build in 1769, her measurement were 164ft x 53ft x 23ft and she was equipped with 130 guns. The 'Santissima Trinidad' was the one and only fourdecker ever built and had a crew of 1,000 men, although she was slow and difficult to sail. In 1805 she was attacked and finally captured by the Britons during the battle of Trafalgar. The following storm sank the heavily damaged ship.

The 'Victory' of admiral Nelson was a rate-1 ship, too. She was built as a threedecker and entered service in 1778. Her specs: 226ft x 52ft x 22ft, 102 guns, 850 crew members, 3,500 tons, 36 sails at three fir-wood-masts. In strong winds she was able to go 10 knots, but average sailing speed was around 6kn. Her hull was built with up to 2ft thick English oak planks. She was a floating fortress, armed with 35 tons gun powder and 120 tons ammunition. The 'Vicory' was the flag- ship of the admirals Kampenfelt, Howe, Hood, Jervis and Nelson. She fought succesfull in six sea battles. In the battle of Trafalgar she lost one mast and had to be towed to Gibraltar. In 1922 the 'Victory' was towed to Portsmouth and serves as a museum ship up to today.

Rang2 Barfleur
Rang2 Senora..
Rate-2 ships carried 750 to 850 crew members, 84 to 98 guns on three decks and a displacement of 1,650 to 1,950 tons. To the left you can see the 'Barfleur'. She was built in 1768, displacement 1,947 tons, 108 guns on three decks. Because of the large proportion of small guns she was classified only as a rate-2 ship. She took part in seven battles, including St. Kitts, the Chesapeake Bay and the Saints. In 1819 she was wrecked.
To the right you can see a stamp with the Portuguese 'Nossa Senhora de Conceicao'. She was built in 1716 with a crew of 700. Her greatest success happened during the battle at Cape Matapan, Greece. There the 'Senhora' single-handedly wrecked the flag-ship of the Turkish fleet und decided the battle.

Le Protecteur Rate-3 ships carried 520 to 750 crew members, 64 to 80 guns on three decks and a displacement of 1,200 to 1,600 tons. To the left you can see the French 'Le Protecteur'. She was built in 1761, her measurements were 184ft x 36ft x 19ft. The 'Le Protecteur' had 64 guns and 678 crew members aboard. Under the command of Admiral De Grasse she fought in the battle of Dominica.

Rang 4 tow-decker Rang5 oen-decker Rang 6 slup
The rate-4 to rate-6 ships didn't belong to the category 'ships of the line'. However for completeness reasons here are the specifications: The rate-4 ships had ca. 350 crew members, 50 to 56 guns on two decks and a length round about 148ft. The left stamp shows such a twodecker.
The rate-5 ships carried ca. 250 crew members, up to 50 guns and a length from 128ft to 148ft. They consisted mostly of frigates. The stamp in the middle shows the British 'Endymion'. She was built in 1779. With 44 guns she was a rate-5 ship.
The rate-6 ships had ca. 150 crew members, 20 to 28 guns on two decks and a length round about 115ft. They were rigged as schooners or sloops and used as escort or courier ships. The Portuguese schooner 'Santa Maria' is depicted here for size comparison.

Britannia Back to the ships of the line. When firing a large ship-based cannon between the lighting of the fuse and the explosion of the gun powder some seconds passed. In this time the ship could move upwards or downwards. The result were high shots or plain or lower shots. One say, the Britons preferred the plain shots into the hulls of their enemies. The Dutch had lighter artillery and tried to hit masts and rig to disable the enemy ships' manoeverability. At a distance of ca. 900ft a hit was just a lucky shot because of the heaving ships. So some admirals used to close in to increase the chance of hitting, i.e. reducing the distance to the enemy to 150ft or less.
On the stamp you can see the rate-1 ship 'Britannia'. Built in 1820, delivered in 1824, 120 guns on three decks, 2,616 tons, length 205ft, beam 55ft. The 'Britannia' was the flag-ship of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and took part in the firing of Sewastopol during the Krim war. Since 1859 she was a training ship for the cadets and midshipmen at Portsmouth. In 1869 she was wrecked.
Frenchmen and dutchmen built ships of the line, too. The stamp at the top of this page shows the French 'Ville de Paris'. She was delivered in 1764, carried 104 guns on three decks and was the flag-ship of the admirals De Guichen and De Grasse. She fought in the battles of Chesapeake Bay and the Saints. In 1782 she sank in a gale off the coast of New Foundland.

Here you can see the French 'Soleil Royal' firing a broadside. She was the 'show-piece' of King Louis XIV. The 'Soleil Royal' was built in 1689 as a threedecker, with 104 guns, length 250ft, beam 51ft and carried 1,100 men aboard during war times. She served as the flag-ship of admiral Tourville in the battle at La Hogue and was set on fire by the Britons. El Sol Real
Zeven Provincen Here you can see the dutch admiral de Ruyter with his 'De Zeven Provincien'. Some specs: 475 crew members, 80 guns, 163ft x 43ft x 17ft. The ship took part in many sea battles against the Britons, including the famous 'four days battle' in 1666 , which was won by the Dutch. In 1692 the 'De Zeven Provincien' was heavily damaged at La Hogue, and finally, in 1694, she was wrecked.
In 1666, during the four days battle, both opponents, the Dutch de Ruyter and the British Ruprecht and Albemarle tried to stick to the line formation, but without success. In the same year the St. Jacobs sea battle saw the same opponents, but this time the line tactics worked. This battle was won by the Britons because of the massive firepower of their broadsides, the higher rate of fire and the superior aiming of their gunners.

During the American War of Independence the French and Americans fought against the Britons. During this war, in 1781, the battle at Chesapeake Bay happened. The French commander De Grasse (to the left) anchored with 14 ships of the line, when the British admiral Graves (to the right) with his 19 ships of the line detected him. For the British it would have been an easy job to blockade the port entrance and destroy the French ships one by one. But the Britons stuck to their line tactics and formed a useless line at sea.
battle Chesapeak Bay
So all Frenchs ship were able to leave the port trap and formed their own line, which were going in a 'V' against the British line. So only the leading groups were in range to fire and the British numerical superiority was gone. The French won the battle.
battle of the saints
In the following year, 1782, the Britons under admiral Rodney with 36 ships of the line and the Frenchmen under Comte de Grasse with 33 ships of the line met again. The battle occured at the Saints, a small group of islands in the Caribic. The battle started according to the book with both opponents sailing in a line and firing with all they had. But then the wind direction changed and the French had problems to keep in line. Now a historical event happened: The Britons gave up their line and broke through the French line. They stroke their keel-line signal and left the signal for close combat. The result was a massive victory for the British fleet. Admiral de Grasse on his heavily damaged 'Ville de Paris' stroke the flag. On this stamp block you can see from left to right: Magnanime (F), Aimable (F), Duke (B), Glorieux (f), Agamemnon (B), Formidable (B);Ville de Paris (F), Namur (B), Canada (B), Albans (B), Hector (F).

battle at Nil
In 1798 Napoleon sailed his fleet to Egypt to conquer the country. While he attacked the Egyptians ashore the fleet sailed to Aboukir and anchored in a keel line just in front of a sandbank. The British fleet under Nelson succeeded to detect the French and immediately attacked. 13 British ships of the line fought 13 French ships of the line. An even match, but a change of the wind direction turned the French ships around their bow anchor, because they had no stern anchor. This opened a gap between their fleet and the sandbank.
Some British ships exploited the situation, sailed into this gap and thus were able to catch the French in a deadly crossfire. A whole night of bloody fighting took place: The French flag-ship 'Orient' exploded, four French ships ran ashore, another six gave up, two fled. The Britons didn't lose a ship, but they had no ship with all masts as well. The Battle at Aboukir is also called battle at the Nile. This stamp shows the beginning of the battle.

In 1805 a mixed Spanish-French fleet under admiral Villeneuve and the British fleet under admiral Nelson met at Trafalgar. It was the last great sea battle where a fleet utilized the line formation to attack. The Britons formed two groups, which hit and broke through the French line rectangular. The northern group was led by Nelson and his 'Victory', the southern by Collingwood with the 'Royal Sovereign'. 27 British ships of the line fought against 18 French and 15 Spanish ships. battle at Trafalgar
More than 1,000 guns were constantly firing, mainly at very close distance, as you can see on the stamp. Round about 3,000 people died, among them Nelson himself. The Britons sank or captured 22 ships of the line and lost only one. With the help of the fleet Great Britain became a world power.

© 1998 - 2003 Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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