December 29, 2006

Gratuitous Royal Navy Geekery Posting


On December 29, 1812, the U.S.S. Constitution captured H.M.S. Java off the coast of Brazil. Here are the reports of the respective commanders (or, in the British case, the surviving senior officer). Here is an excerpt from Teddy Roosevelt's description of the battle:

In this action both ships displayed equal gallantry and seamanship. "The Java," says Commodore Bainbridge, "was exceedingly well handled and bravely fought. Poor Captain Lambert was a distinguished and gallant officer, and a most worthy man, whose death I sincerely regret." The manoeuvring on both sides was excellent; Captain Lambert used the advantage which his ship possessed in her superior speed most skillfully, always endeavoring to run across his adversary's bows and rake him when he had forereached, and it was only owing to the equal skill which his antagonist displayed that he was foiled, the length of the combat being due to the number of evolutions.

As Roosevelt notes, it was ultimately the superiority of the American's gunnery that led to her victory.

Although this was only a single-ship action and had virtually no bearing whatever on the British naval hegemony of the time, it (along with several other such actions) nonetheless shocked and astounded both the Admiralty and the public, which had considered HM Navy to be virtually invincible, especially when up against the Yankees.

Patrick O'Brian fans will already know that a very good description of the battle, along with a detailed exploration of its psychological impact, may be found in The Fortune of War.

Posted by Robert at December 29, 2006 12:00 PM | TrackBack