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Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare, Sam Willis


Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare, Sam Willis

Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare, Sam Willis

The author's aim in this book is to examine the practical elements of war at sea under sail, and how these practical limits influenced the naval warfare of the period. The most important of these is the limits imposed by sail power, which influenced everything else. Each ship in a fleet sailed differently, and took a different amount of time to perform different manoeuvres. This influenced the speed at which fleets or individual ships could respond to developing circumstances, and the ability of fleets to perform as a unit.

Next came the problems of communication, with limited options available for ship-to-ship or flagship-to-fleet signals. This is turn led to the development of a set of unwritten rules that guided the actions of individual ship's captains. This is inevitably a difficult area to examine, but Willis makes good use of the limited available evidence, much of which comes from court-martials, where the normally unwritten expectations were discussed.

Once these factors have been examined Willis moves on to look at fleet and fighting tactics, looking at how the limits and conventions discussed earlier in the book affected the reality of battle and the sometimes unexpected behaviour of senior naval officers.

The book actually covers a rather elongated Eighteenth Century that stretches from the start of the Nine Years War in 1688 to the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. This is the period of the developed line of battle and it makes sense to include the Napoleonic Wars, which saw the last major battles between large fleets of sailing ships.

This is a very valuable addition to the extensive literature on naval warfare in the age of sail, looking at a neglected topic. The events of individual battles have been extensively discussed, as have the technical aspects of ship construction, but this book fills the crucial gap between those two, and greatly expands our knowledge of the practicalities of naval warfare in this period.

Chapters
1 - Contact
2 - Chase and Escape I: Speed and Performance
3 - Chase and Escape II: The Tactics of Chasing
4 - Station Keeping
5 - Communication
6 - Unwritten Rules
7 - Command
8 - The Weather Gage
9 - Fleet Tactics
10 - Fighting Tactics
11 - Damage
Conclusion
Appendix: Fleet Battles

Author: Sam Willis
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Publisher: Boydell
Year: 2012



Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century

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Book description

Our understanding of warfare at sea in the eighteenth century has always been divorced from the practical realities of fighting at sea under sail our knowledge of tactics is largely based upon the ideas of contemporary theorists [rather than practitioners] who knew little of the realities of sailing warfare, and our knowledge of command is similarly flawed. In this book the author presents new evidence from contemporary sources that overturns many old assumptions and introduces a host of new ideas. In a series of thematic chapters, following the rough chronology of a sea fight from initial contact to damage repair, the author offers a dramatic interpretation of fighting at sea in the eighteenth century, and explains in greater depth than ever before how and why sea battles (including Trafalgar) were won and lost in the great Age of Sail. He explains in detail how two ships or fleets identified each other to be enemies how and why they manoeuvred for battle how a commander communicated his ideas, and how and why his subordinates acted in the way that they did. SAM WILLIS has lectured at Bristol University and at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. He is also the author of 'Fighting Ships, 1750-1850' (Quercus).

Reviews

A detailed historical study based on extensive research. When it comes to discussing shiphandling Willis is peerless. Not a page is wasted and virtually everything he writes is fascinating and provocative. This is indeed a wonderful book. Anyone interested in warships should have it on his or her bookshelf for frequent consultation.'

As a reference work for what these ships were like, how they handled at sea, and how naval officers sought to capitalize on these material constraints for both offensive and defensive purposes, Fighting at Sea is not likely to be surpassed any time soon.'

Source: Journal of British Studies

[A] superbly researched book [which] contains high-quality maps, many excellent illustrations, and an essential glossary, all of which give a better understanding of Willis's argument.'


Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare

Our understanding of warfare at sea in the eighteenth century has always been divorced from the practical realities of fighting at sea under sail our knowledge of tactics is largely based upon the ideas of contemporary theorists (rather than practitioners) who knew little of the realities of sailing warfare, and our knowledge of command is similarly flawed. In this book the author presents new evidence from contemporary sources that overturns many old assumptions and introduces a host of new ideas.

In a series of thematic chapters, following the rough chronology of a sea fight from initial contact to damage repair, the author offers a dramatic interpretation of fighting at sea in the eighteenth century, and explains in greater depth than ever before how and why sea battles (including Trafalgar) were won and lost in the great Age of Sail. He explains in detail how two ships or fleets identified each other to be enemies how and why they manoeuvred for battle how a commander communicated his ideas, and how and why his subordinates acted in the way that they did. Sam Willis has lectured at Bristol University and at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. He is also the author of Fighting Ships, 1750-1850.

Title: Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare


Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: the art of sailing warfare by WILLIS, Sam (maps by Jane Way) 254 pp., 22 b&w illustrations 9 maps Boydell Press, PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1P12 3DF, UK , 2010 , £30/$50 (hbk), ISBN 978-1843833673

The full text of this article hosted at iucr.org is unavailable due to technical difficulties.


Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare (Hardback)

Our understanding of warfare at sea in the eighteenth century has always been divorced from the practical realities of fighting at sea under sail our knowledge of tactics is largely based upon the ideas of contemporary theorists [rather than practitioners] who knew little of the realities of sailing warfare, and our knowledge of command is similarly flawed. In this book the author presents new evidence from contemporary sources that overturns many old assumptions and introduces a host of new ideas. In a series of thematic chapters, following the rough chronology of a sea fight from initial contact to damage repair, the author offers a dramatic interpretation of fighting at sea in the eighteenth century, and explains in greater depth than ever before how and why sea battles (including Trafalgar) were won and lost in the great Age of Sail. He explains in detail how two ships or fleets identified each other to be enemies how and why they manoeuvred for battle how a commander communicated his ideas, and how and why his subordinates acted in the way that they did.

SAM WILLIS has lectured at Bristol University and at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. He is also the author of Fighting Ships, 1750-1850(Quercus).

Publisher: Boydell & Brewer Ltd
ISBN: 9781843833673
Number of pages: 272
Weight: 624 g
Dimensions: 234 x 156 x 24 mm

Will become widely read by students and academics of the subject, in addition to those who are fascinated by the literary world of Hornblower or Aubrey. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF NAUTICAL ARCHAEOLOGY

A very valuable addition to the extensive literature on naval warfare in the age of sail, looking at a neglected topic. The events of individual battles have been extensively discussed, as have the technical aspects of ship construction, but this book fills the crucial gap between those two, and greatly expands our knowledge of the practicalities of naval warfare in this period. HISTORY OF WAR.ORG

Is sure to become the standard reference on naval tactics in the Napoleonic era [and] is enthusiastically recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in this aspect of naval history. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MARITIME HISTORY
As a reference work for what these ships were like, how they handled at sea, and how naval officers sought to capitalize on these material constraints for both offensive and defensive purposes, Fighting at Sea is not likely to be surpassed any time soon. JOURNAL OF BRITISH STUDIES
An excellent historical handbook with much to tell modern readers about military command. Highly recommended. CHOICE
[A] superbly researched book [which] contains high-quality maps, many excellent illustrations, and an essential glossary, all of which give a better understanding of Willis's argument. UNITED STATES NAVAL INSTITUTE
A detailed historical study based on extensive research.
When it comes to discussing shiphandling Willis is peerless. Not a page is wasted and virtually everything he writes is fascinating and provocative. This is indeed a wonderful book. Anyone interested in warships should have it on his or her bookshelf for frequent consultation. NORTHERN MARINER

A clear and well-documented account. SEA HISTORY

By emphasising the critical role of practical seamanship and unwritten rules, this book offers students of the subject a new angle on an old subject. MILITARY HISTORY

An insightful analysis of the practical realities of sailing warfare that probes deeply into the technical skills, written and unwritten rules, command and control necessary for the Royal Navy's century of unrivalled success in naval combat. NAUTICAL RESEARCH JOURNAL


Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century

Just wondering if anyone has read this book and whether it is worth getting.

Russian navy needs help not to sink from foreign mariners but the Tsar only wants the best


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Re: Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century

by Papa Clement Sun Oct 20, 2019 11:03 pm

The most useful and interesting book I have found on this topic is "Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail - The Evolution of Fighting Tactics 1650-1815" by Brian Tunstall ISBN 0-7858-1426-4, published in 1990.

It is very comprehensive and is really divided into 3 parts:
1. the development of tactics/signals and how tactics became a science (c.1650-1750).
2. the 7 Year's War through to American Independence where new systems were tested
3. Napoleonic warfare

The book you refer to was written in 2008 based on Willis' PhD thesis. The summary is "Our understanding of warfare at sea in the eighteenth century has always been divorced from the practical realities of fighting at sea under sail our knowledge of tactics is largely based upon the ideas of contemporary theorists [rather than practitioners] who knew little of the realities of sailing warfare, and our knowledge of command is similarly flawed. In this book the author presents new evidence from contemporary sources that overturns many old assumptions and introduces a host of new ideas. In a series of thematic chapters, following the rough chronology of a sea fight from initial contact to damage repair, the author offers a dramatic interpretation of fighting at sea in the eighteenth century, and explains in greater depth than ever before how and why sea battles (including Trafalgar) were won and lost in the great Age of Sail. He explains in detail how two ships or fleets identified each other to be enemies how and why they manoeuvred for battle how a commander communicated his ideas, and how and why his subordinates acted in the way that they did. SAM WILLIS has lectured at Bristol University and at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. He is also the author of Fighting Ships, 1750-1850(Quercus)."

It slightly concerns me that the first sentence of the summary seems to ignore Tunstall's book which is very practical and well researched! Willis' other books tend to concentrate more on the later (Napoleonic) period than the early development (which to me is more interesting and more relevant to LGDR), so it may not be quite so useful as Tunstall.

It might also depend on whether you like his style: Willis also makes historical TV series which aren't really to my taste. One which was on recently was Britain's Outlaws: Highwaymen, Pirates and Rogues which I found was a bit disappointing: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06qn3lr Of course allowance may have to be made for BBC editorial oversight, but I do sometimes wonder what a future historian would select from 2019 as representative of the time we live in - and how we might view their choice?


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Re: Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century

by Marshal Bombast Tue Oct 22, 2019 6:28 pm

Thanks Papa, much appreciated. Think I'll try Tunstall and go from there.

Part of me wonders which interpretation/s Richard uses for TGOK, whenever I read something. I was lucky enough to study ancient and medieval history at A level and uni and TGOK is the main way I encourage myself to read around 18th Century.

You and I have similar wonderings around how history will remember our contemporary history.


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Re: Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century

by Papa Clement Tue Oct 22, 2019 8:08 pm

Another, possibly cheaper, option could be The Line of Battle: The Sailing Warship 1650-1840 by Robert Gardiner ISBN 0-85177-954-9, issued as part of the Conway's History of the Ship series. Originally written in 1992, a cheaper paperback came out in 2004. For this reason it will probably be the cheaper and more easily found of the 3.

I use this with Tunstall because it approaches the same material in a slightly different way.

Gardiner uses smaller self-contained chapters and looks at the development of the main different types of ship in the period, before then moving on to more detailed analysis of component parts. His 'ship' chapters are:
1. The Ship of the Line
2. The Frigate
3. Sloop of War, Corvette and Brig
4. The Fore and Aft-rigged Warship
5. Fireships and Bomb Vessels
6. The Oared Warship
7. Support Craft

He then looks specifically at:
8. Design and Construction
9. Rigs and Rigging
10. Ship's Fittings
11. Guns and Gunnery
12. Ship Decoration
13. Seamanship
14. Naval Tactics

Interestingly in his bibliography he only cites Tunstall in the 'Naval Tactics' section which he describes as "A monumental survey (even edited to half its manuscript length) based almost entirely on study of primary sources - fighting instructions, signal books and logs. Regarded by Tunstall as the completion of Corbett's work, but an original and enlightening study in its own right."

As you will have probably picked up elsewhere, I am very interested in ship design/development in the period! What is written in the books does not always translate directly into game rules, but the game does give a lot of flexibility in ship types.

I can't judge which of the 3 titles will be most use for you as Russia because it really does depend what Russia's strategic purpose for needing a fleet are. As an example, this from the start of the Design&Construction chapter of Gardiner:

"The navy of the United Provinces in the mid-seventeenth century was intended to protect and encourage the country's immense foreign trade, and initially comprised relatively small warships, and a high proportion of armed merchantmen, which were able to deal with pirates and small local squadrons. These vessels were at a disadvantage in action against the genuine battlefleets of England and France, and so larger ships were built (including a few 3-deckers), but it is noteworthy that the Netherlands reverted to its small-ships policy for most of the eighteenth century when an English alliance freed her from a battlefleet threat. By contrast Cromwellian England began with small fast 'frigates' suitable for hunting down Royalist privateers, but soon traded speed for gunpowder when faced with the Dutch, who made little attempt to evade battle unless grossly outnumbered.

The rationale for the sudden development of French naval power has always been something of a mystery, but the very large size of its ships suggests an attempt to wrest command of the sea from the existing naval powers by means of superior quality if not quantity (an attitude perhaps reflected in the extensive programme of very large 3-deckers, the most powerful ships of their day). By the end of the War of the Spanish Succession (1713), England was established as the leading naval power and thereafter France gave up any concerted attempt to compete in numbers. She developed a doctrine of the use of naval power which emphasised the primacy of the mission this allowed an admiral to refuse battle if it would jeopardise the task for which he had been sent to sea, and this tended to favour speed over gunpowder in warship design. This also encouraged the traditional French concern for individual quality (most obviously manifested in large size for any given Rate), in complete contrast to the British who believed that sea control depended first and foremost on numbers, and always preferred the smallest, and hence cheapest, individual unit (the highest practical firepower-to-tonnage ratio was regarded as the most cost-effective).

Not only the relative size but also the type of vessel reflected national priorities. Spain, for example, when rebuilding her navy after the War of Succession, opted for the 60-gun ship as a standard type. Spain's empire was still the most far-flung of her day and she needed ships of great range and staying power, which would be large enough to operate independently and embody considerable firepower on distant stations, but small enough to possess good all-round sailing and seakeeping qualities they were not really battlefleet units but more akin to large cruisers, for colonial policing and showing the flag. Naturally, radical changes to national policy and strategy usually produced new types of ship - the English cruisers of the 1690s developed in response to the novel difficulties of war with France, for example - but the relationship is not always so obvious: the introduction into the Royal Navy of both the 74-gun ship and the frigate in the late 1740s is probably a reaction to the improved seakeeping required by the new strategy of the Western Squadron, with its emphasis on all-weather blockade. However, it should be remembered that technological innovation was relatively slow in the age of sail, so the apparent leaps forward in design were little more than steps in a process of gradual, if constant, improvement."

Gardiner's chapter-based approach is ideal if you want to learn how to build a particular class of ship. I'm not going to do it a disservice by suggesting you can probably dip in and out of it more easily than Tunstall - it is simply the different way it is written. I like both.

I don't know what game you play Russia in, although since it isn't G7 I guess I'm free to give some general suggestions. Russia faces both a challenge and an opportunity to build a fleet in 1700. The positive is that you will not be constrained by inheriting an unsuitable startup fleet and trying to work around that. The negative is that you need to take the strategic decision of whether you want Russia to concentrate on the Baltic or the Black Sea before you try to design your idea fleet. This is because the potential enemies you face in each location are very different.

In the Baltic, you are more likely to be facing Sweden - good, solid ships based on French design, but Sweden cannot replace losses easily. You could therefore build large numbers of frigates and swamp/capture Swedish lineships, instead of trying to build lineships yourself. I don't think Russia can build SoL without outside help in 1700, and given the problems of the Russian Navy in G7, you may find that if you did challenge Sweden with your new SoL, they were captured which would strengthen your enemy. In Napoleonic times the Royal Navy would rejoice when badly crewed/supplied Spanish/French ships left port because they knew how easy it was to capture them. The other problem you face in the Baltic is the lack of decent ports, especially those which are not ice-bound during some part of the year. Any attempt to build a navy in the Baltic should include sufficient icebreakers to keep your chosen port open. It is also probably a good idea to issue your sailors with warm winter clothing, since even hardy Russians will freeze on board ships at that latitude. Snow and ice caused serious difficulties not just for the crews, but how the ship sailed, changing the weight distribution and how sails/rigging worked. It was bad enough to climb up to change sail in fine weather, but trying to grip anything in a biting wind with ice on the ropes and then trying to get warm below deck afterwards was almost impossible. You couldn't light a fire by your hammock on a wooden ship, so the gunports had to be closed to provide some protection against the wind. You could put sails up to try and stop the wind which inevitably got through, but without adequate air circulation conditions were rather smelly and disease was a problem. Light was provided by a few candles if you were lucky, otherwise it was dark, permanently damp and cold. The last thing crews wanted was a battle in those kinds of conditions. Warm clothing would help, but you can't climb rigging in a greatcoat or work the guns at normal combat speed.

In the Black Sea, you are more likely to be facing the Ottomans - not so advanced ships, much less standardisation, with more support craft and galleys. Some may use slave crews. Ottoman gunpowder was better quality, and of course rather than needing warm winter clothing, supplies tend to go off in warmer climates. Coppering your ships might help, but it is expensive. The Ottoman advantage is flexibility which makes it hard to plan a fleet to oppose them. SoL would almost certainly be more use in this theatre, but also smaller, specialised auxiliary ships and galleys. Geography also works against Russia since the Ottomans have Constantinople and can effectively bottle up your fleet in the Black Sea. This won't be so much of a problem if your purpose is defensive, but if you are trying to protect traders sailing from southern Russia, it is very hard.

There is a 3rd theatre you might like to experiment with: the Caspian Sea. Here cruisers are king, so (once you have icebreakers built to keep the port open all year round - how else are you going to keep your ships in supply?) you can build up a fleet relatively quickly. You will need to defeat the Caspian Sea pirates (who tended to be in the southern (Persian) zone, but once you have done that you should be able to protect your merchant ships and dominate sea-trade. Then integrate it in to Russia's river network with barges and gunboats. In the Caspian Sea you will at least be safe from either Swedes or Ottomans and a small navy will pay for itself through increased trade income. You can then experiment with ship design/improvements in the Caspian and build a naval tradition. This will give you time to get SoL technology from another power if you want to expand your Black Sea fleet, or to gain experience in cruiser tactics if you want to expand your Baltic fleet.

Russia isn't the only country which has to consider how to protect multiple coastlines, but the differences of climate and enemies make it a very difficult challenge. Good luck!


Disguised Ships - Age of Sail

For some reason, I thought I'd asked this question already, but didn't find it with a quick search. Sorry if it's a repeat.


What techniques did 18th century vessels disguise themselves?

The obvious one is using flags from other countries and switching them just before battle. (Ex: An English warship using a neutral Dutch flag to approach an unsuspecting American ship and switching to a Union Jack just before firing its first broadside).


I've also read about a small ship (forget what type) that used its mostly black crew to disguise its true intentions. The white crew hid while approaching a British ship. The American ship appeared to be manned by slaves out on its daily errands and such. The British ship had no clue until the American ship was right next to it.


A lot of books mention ships disguising themselves, but don't go on to explain it in detail. Could they disguise themselves well enough to go directly into an enemy port "unnoticed" and conduct business in that port like they belonged there?

Tairusiano

Earl_of_Rochester

Frigates in the 1700s were always tricky creatures because they had the same sail set as a Man O War, when viewed from the horizon the hull wasn't able to be seen so it wasn't possible to tell whether it was a 74 gun+ coming at you or something smaller.

I remember reading somewhere that dodgy flag signals were also sometimes used, whether it was Nelson or the fictional Jack Aubrey I can't be sure, but the fiction blatantly stole from the fact. When a smaller ship was being pursued by numerous enemy it wasn't unknown to deliberately slow down and send a false signal to an imaginary larger fleet. The enemy would then be duped into thinking a British fleet was just over the horizon and break off action. Unfortunately I can't find the sources to confirm this.

In WW1 sailing ships were also disguised as gun boats, one even sank a u-boat.

Mangekyou

N, if you want anything to do with 18th century naval warfare (or warfare involving the RN in general), then Sam Willis is the man to go to. The following book is pretty brilliant, I bought it last year:

[ame="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fighting-Sea-Eighteenth-Century-Sailing/dp/1843833670/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393703560&sr=8-1&keywords=fighting+at+sea+in+the+18th+century"]Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare: Amazon.co.uk: Sam Willis: [email protected]@[email protected]@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51kVJyBA2%[email protected]@[email protected]@51kVJyBA2%2BL[/ame]


In terms of deception, there was a lot of that involved with 18th century warfare, the most common ruse being disguising the nationality of the vessel via false colours. It didn't always dupe an enemy, but it was able to by time. Thomas Cochrane was quite brilliant at this type of trickery. On one occasion, when he was in the Speedy, he came across the Spanish Frigate El Gamo, and was able to escape it by flying Danish colours and even utilising a Danish naval uniform he obtained not long before. Another example of this was performed 1805 by Captain Keith Maxwell, whom sailing in the successful post ship Arab (formally a French 18-gunner), flew American colours and was able to trap and capture a French privateer.

There are plenty more examples of this type of deception, and it was hard to distinguish the nationality. If a ship was suspected, then a boarding party was really the only way to identify. The one problem that could occur with this method, was perfidy. If a ship was flying false colours, then before they engaged with the enemy, they were meant to fly their own colours, otherwise it was classed as perfidy. A notorious example of this involved the French Frigate Sybille, which took on the British man of war Hussar. This took place in 1783, and the French ship pulled up an English flag over the French colours and also a distress ensign. Although the British ship got suspicious and pulled away, the French ship opened fire with the ensign still raised. The French captain said the ensign got stuck and could not be pulled down, but it is an example of perfidy, and against naval warfare regulations. It was a controversial incident. Here is a brief description of the event:

[ame=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_of_22_January_1783]Action of 22 January 1783 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]


If you want to see how this was written up in the naval chronicle's of the time, you can view it here

In the book I provided, Sam Willis also mentions:

"To fake or otherwise disguise performance availability was another popular deception. Warships could sometimes be identified from their sister merchant ships by their style of manoeuvring, behaviour or simply by their speed, and this could be used to deceive.

Fighting At Sea in the Eighteenth Century, Sam Willis, pg 22-23


A third method is also disguising the type and size of ships. smaller ships usually had small rigging and masts. Painting the side of ships was a fourth option. The French generally used Red as it appealed - as an expressive feature - their determination to die for their cause. The British (certainly with Nelson) favoured a chequered style (Black and Yellow) but usually yellow. The colours were usually distinctive, hence deception could take place. Because of the choice of colours, like black down the portside, it lent itself to painting of gunports on the side, making ships appear stronger than they were. This was a method also used by Merchantmen.


I hope this information helps in some way, N

In WW1 sailing ships were also disguised as gun boats, one even sank a u-boat.


Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare Hardcover – Illustrated, April 17, 2008

[A] superbly researched book [which] contains high-quality maps, many excellent illustrations, and an essential glossary, all of which give a better understanding of Willis's argument.--UNITED STATES NAVAL INSTITUTE

A clear and well-documented account.--SEA HISTORY

A detailed historical study based on extensive research.--.

A very valuable addition to the extensive literature on naval warfare in the age of sail, looking at a neglected topic. The events of individual battles have been extensively discussed, as have the technical aspects of ship construction, but this book fills the crucial gap between those two, and greatly expands our knowledge of the practicalities of naval warfare in this period.--HISTORY OF WAR.ORG

An excellent historical handbook with much to tell modern readers about military command. Highly recommended.--CHOICE

An illuminating read.--SKIRMISH, October 2008

An insightful analysis of the practical realities of sailing warfare that probes deeply into the technical skills, written and unwritten rules, command and control necessary for the Royal Navy's century of unrivalled success in naval combat.--NAUTICAL RESEARCH JOURNAL

As a reference work for what these ships were like, how they handled at sea, and how naval officers sought to capitalize on these material constraints for both offensive and defensive purposes, Fighting at Sea is not likely to be surpassed any time soon.--JOURNAL OF BRITISH STUDIES

By emphasising the critical role of practical seamanship and unwritten rules, this book offers students of the subject a new angle on an old subject.--MILITARY HISTORY

Is sure to become the standard reference on naval tactics in the Napoleonic era [and] is enthusiastically recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in this aspect of naval history.--INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MARITIME HISTORY

When it comes to discussing shiphandling Willis is peerless. Not a page is wasted and virtually everything he writes is fascinating and provocative. This is indeed a wonderful book. Anyone interested in warships should have it on his or her bookshelf for frequent consultation.--NORTHERN MARINER

Will become widely read by students and academics of the subject, in addition to those who are fascinated by the literary world of Hornblower or Aubrey.--INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF NAUTICAL ARCHAEOLOGY


Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare, Sam Willis - History

Ukázka z připravované knihy známého českého historika. Původní česká práce s podtitulkem Anatomie námořní bitvy pojednává strhujícím způsobem o námořní bitvě u Trafalgaru.

&bdquoTroufám si říci, že na bitvu u mysu Trafalgar se musí nahlížet (odmyslíme-li si zcela náhodné pohromy, jež z toho vyplynuly) jako na boj, který činí francouzskému a &scaronpanělskému námořnictvu svrchovanou čest a ukazuje, čeho bude to první jednoho dne schopno.&ldquo Generáladjutant de Contamine, velitel pozemních pě&scaroních jednotek na francouzských lodích, v hlá&scaronení Napoleonovi.

Nepočínali jsme si vůbec &scaronpatně! (HMS Royal Sovereign versus Le Fougueux a Santa Ana)

Plocha mořské hladiny na západ od Cabo Trafalgar, mysu Trafalgar (36o11&rsquo08&rdquo severní &scaronířky, 05o01&rsquo45&rdquo západní délky), která se měla postupně stát boji&scarontěm, byla neslýchaně velká, neboť do oblouku prohnutá linie Kombinovaného loďstva zabírala od jihu k severu čtyři námořní míle, tedy 7,4 kilometru. Zhruba kolmo na ni útočily od jihozápadu dvě eskadry, návětrná (severněj&scaroní) Nelsonova a závětrná (jižněj&scaroní) Collingwoodova. Obě tyto formace, které bude nejlépe nazývat podle dobových svědectví kolonami, se během &scaronestihodinového přibližovacího manévru značně roztáhly pomalej&scaroní lodě zůstaly pozadu a order of battle, jakkoliv závazný, zůstal dodržen jen zčásti: HMS Victory, která měla být původně až druhá, plula v čele sil pod přímým velením lorda Nelsona, a Collingwoodova HMS Royal Sovereign, zanesená jako třetí, byla rovněž vepředu. Zcela na severozápadě, naprosto odtržená od britského loďstva, se ocitla téměř paralelně, av&scaronak protiběžně s Kombinovaným loďstvem, HMS Africa. Nad britskými loděmi vlál tzv. Union Jack, jenž před čtyřmi lety mírně pozměnil podobu, neboť k dosavadní kombinaci symbolů Anglie (červený svatojiřský kříž na bílém poli) a Skotska (bílý svatoondřejský kříž na modrém poli), přibyl už&scaroní (a navíc půlený) úhlopříčný kříž svatého Patrika, mající symbolizovat roku 1800 k Spojenému království přičleněné Irsko. Správně by se mu mělo říkat Union Flag, Spolková vlajka, leč Union Jack s druhým slovem značícím malou vlajku na vlajkové žerdi čelenu (bow of a ship) už zdomácnělo i pro zástavu velkou. White Ensign, druhá vlajka, byla námořní válečná, tvořená rudým svatojiřským křížem v bílém poli s Union Jack v horní, k lanu, stěžni či ke stožáru přilehlé čtvrti.

&bdquoNa poledne jsem vyslal signál k zahájení boje, jakmile se nepřítel ocitne na dostřel, a ve čtvrt na jednu zazněly první výstřely z Le Fougueux a Santa Any, určené korábu Royal Sovereign, vedoucí lodi nepřátelské pravé kolony, která nesla vlajku admirála Collingwooda. Palba byla na chvíli přeru&scaronena, vzápětí ale propukla s je&scarontě vět&scaroní prudkostí ze v&scaronech lodí, které byly tak blízko, že střílet mohly, což nepřátelskému korábu nezabránilo, aby za Santa Anou nepřeťal na&scaroni linii,&ldquo psal do pozděj&scaroního hlá&scaronení admirál Villeneuve. Collingwoodova vlajková HMS Royal Sovereign, plující v čele závětrné kolony, nebyla ani elegantní, ani zvlá&scaronť rychlá, kvůli robustně jednoduchému vzhledu se jí přezdívalo West Country Waggon (volně přeložitelné ve smyslu Venkovská kára či barvitěji Žebřiňák z Buranova), v britské klasifikaci se ale jednalo o mohutnou First Rate, řadovou loď první třídy. Zjevně změnila kurz tak, aby veplula do značné mezery, jež vznikla v zadním voji Kombinovaného loďstva mezi francouzskou Le Fougueux a &scaronpanělskou Santa Ana, jejíž trup byl podle některých svědectví natřen jednolitou černí. Britskému trojpalubníku trvalo dobrých deset minut, než doplul ze vzdálenosti tisíc yardů, což byla hranice reálného francouzského dostřelu, až do bezprostřední blízkosti Le Fougueux. Na francouzskou palbu mohl odpovídat jen příďovými děly, ta v&scaronak po celou tu dobu nepoužil, neboť kapitán Edward Rotheram čekal, až bude těsně u nepřítele a natočený tak, aby uplatnil plnou boční salvu. Collingwood mužům na dělových palubách nařídil, ať si lehnou mezi děla, aby je co nejvíc chránil. &bdquoZdá se nepochopitelné, že Angličané, plující na nás v takovéto sestavě, neutrpěli velké &scaronkody, zejména na takeláži. Když dopluli na dostřel pu&scaronky, vypadalo to, že jim první salvy moc neublížily, tak &scaronpatně byly mířeny,&ldquo posteskl si kapitán Hospitalier-Villemadrin, velitel Le Swiftsure.

Bylo to dáno men&scaroními střeleckými zku&scaronenostmi velitelů děl, vlněním, které francouzskými loďmi kolébalo z boku na bok, i zastaralým způsobem odpalování, o kterém už byla řeč. Když Collingwoodova vlajková loď připlula bokem k francouzské lodi kapitána Beaudoina, projevila se dal&scaroní výhoda anglické strany. Boky anglického trojpalubníku výrazně převy&scaronovaly trup francouzského korábu s pouhými dvěma dělovými palubami, což neopomněl Pierre Servaux zdůraznit se v&scaronemi důsledky: &bdquoDěla z její horní a střední dělové paluby mohla střílet vpravdě rovnou dolů na na&scaroni palubu, čímž se v&scaronichni na&scaroni muži z horní paluby, kteří pomáhali loď ovládat, i pě&scaronáci na palubovém ochozu ocitali bez ochrany a zcela nekrytí. Také jsme vypálili, jak bylo ve francouzském válečném námořnictvu zvykem, na sto kulí ze vzdálenosti krajního dostřelu, než anglická loď vystřelila poprvé. Učinila tak až v době, kdy jsme se nacházeli bok po boku a ráhno na ráhně s anglickou vlajkovou lodí teprve tehdy zahájila palbu. Poslala nám salvu z pětapadesáti děl a karonád, která se přiřítila jako smr&scaronť kulí, velkých a malých, i střel z mu&scaronket. Zdálo se mi, že se Fougueux musí rozpadnou na kusy a rozletět. &ldquo Salva francouzskou loď doslova odhodila stranou, čtyřiasedmdesátky ale měly bytelnou konstrukci, příval železa ov&scaronem napáchal na horní palubě a v lanoví značné &scaronkody, které Servaux shrnul následovně: &bdquoDé&scaronť projektilů letěl ke trupu, prorazil jej z levoboku, nadělal v lodi peklo a pravobokem vyletěl.&ldquo Napsal-li tento námořník, že kule letěly ke trupu, nebyl to jen stylistický příměr, výmetná rychlost nebyla nikterak velká a mnozí pamětníci se shodovali, že leckterou kuli mohli v letu i vidět. Již čtyřiadvacetiliberky (nemluvě o &bdquorážích&ldquo silněj&scaroních) přitom měly v boji zblízka dostatečnou průraznost, aby probily oba lodní boky skrz naskrz, což bylo zlé, ne v&scaronak nejhor&scaroní. Pokud je Servauxovo svědectví správné, museli brit&scarontí dělostřelci použít při prvním nabíjení plnou dávku prachu, často se ale účelově používala dávka men&scaroní, to aby kule proletěla jen jedním bokem. Uvnitř trupu pak efektem riccochet, odskoků a odrazů, páchala &scaronkody doslova stra&scaronlivé. &bdquoSpousta lan a plachet se změnila v cáry a střely horní palubu doslova vymetly od námořníků i vojáků-ostrostřelců. Na&scarone dělové paluby přesto utrpěly méně, z boje bylo vyřazeno sotva třicet mužů. Přesto úvodní pozdrav, jakkoliv tvrdý a surový, na&scarone muže neodradil. Dobře udržovaná palba ukazovala Angličanům, že i my máme děla a umíme s nimi zacházet. &ldquo líčil Pierre Servaux dal&scaroní chvíle. Le Fougueux, nyní poněkud natočený po větru levobokem k HMS Royal Sovereign, začal opětovat salvu salvou na vzdálenost, kdy ani jeden výstřel nemohl minout. Možná měl výhodu, obsluhy děl příli&scaron neutrpěly a mohly se soustředit jen po jedné straně dělových palub, zatímco britská loď musela obsluhy rozdělit, neboť začínala pálit z obou boků, z pravoboku na Francouze a z levoboku na &scaronpanělskou Santa Ana, jíž proplouvala za zádí. &bdquoAnglická loď, která k nám doplula, přeťala linii mezi námi a Santa Anou. &Scaronpanělská loď, popravdě řečeno, nevypálila během na&scaroneho střetu s vedoucím Angličanem ani ránu, zůstala stranou a plula dál, aniž sebeméně zkrátila plachty, čímž nepříteli proplutí jen usnadnila.&ldquo Není jasné, do jaké míry jde ohledně Santa Any o individuální svědectví, ani kdy tato loď vypálila poprvé. Některá svědectví z britské strany říkají, že střílela a palbu začala vést dokonce o chvíli dříve než Le Fougueux, jakmile se k ní ale HMS Royal Sovereign přiblížila a mohla uplatnit plnou levoboční salvu, nastalo na &scaronpanělské lodi peklo. &bdquoEl rompió todo. Rozbili v&scaronechno,&ldquo poznamenal lakonicky jeden ze členů posádky. Kartáče a kule boční salvy britského trojpalubníku vážily dohromady kolem půl tuny a na &scaronpanělské lodi vyřadily, možná v důsledku měkčího dřeva na ob&scaronívce, čtrnáct děl. &Scaronpanělské dělostřelce to neodradilo ani nezlomilo, odpověděli stejně a Collingwoodově vlajkové lodi stihli rozbít levobok tak, že do něj bylo místy vidět. Onen zápas shrnul sám Collingwood, který to, co dělal on, popisoval ve třetí osobě: &bdquoPři prvním proplutí kolem Santa Any jí Royal Sovereign poslala jeden a půl salvy do kormy, skrze kterou střely pronikly, pobily a zranily na 400 mužů, načež s kormidlem ostře na pravobok přirazila tak těsně, že se spodní ráhna obou lodí dotýkala. Když &scaronpanělský admirál (don Ignacio de Alava) zjistil, že má Royal Sovereign v úmyslu přirazit k jeho závětrné straně, shromáždil v&scaronechny síly na pravoboku a váha železa, které Santa Ana vychrlila, byla taková, že roztrhla Royal Sovereign bok dva pásy ob&scaronívky nad čarou ponoru. Závětrovková i hlavní ráhna se tří&scarontila . &ldquo. Britská loď sice do mezery v linii Kombinovaného loďstva vplula, byla v&scaronak sama a ocitla se ve dvou ohních. &bdquoPo kapitánově krátkém manévrování jsme dokázali vzdálenost zkrátit natolik, že se ná&scaron čelen dotýkal jejího záďového zábradlí. Tímto manévrem se nepřátelská loď ocitnula u střílen na&scaroneho levoboku, přičemž my sami jsme se vystavovali jen pár ranám z jejich záďových děl,&ldquo líčil pokračování boje Pierre Servaux z Le Fougueux. Francouzský dvojpalubník se tedy dokázala natočit bokem k zdi HMS Royal Sovereign, přičemž mezeru, do níž se Collingwood sunul (to slovo je případné, rychleji plout nemohl a prostoru měl pramálo), uzavíral a vrchovatě oplatil první ničivou britskou boční salvu: &bdquoZanedlouho jsme spatřili, jak se přes bok kácí Angličanův besan. Ústrojí i tělo kormidla měl po&scaronkozené, což činilo loď neovladatelnou. Plachty volně pleskaly ve větru, jak jim takeláž pocuchaly na&scarone střely. Na nějakou chvíli přestala ta loď střílet. My naopak znásobili úsilí, a pak jsme spatřili, jak padá jejich hlavní ko&scaronová čnělka. V tom okamžiku vyvěsila anglická loď na přední stěžeň dvě signální vlajky. V nás to vzbudilo pocit, že volá o pomoc. Nepočínali jsme si vůbec &scaronpatně!&ldquo

Cuthbert Collingwood věnoval ve své vzpomínce pár slov památce navigačního důstojníka Williama Chalmerse, který stál na palubě vedle něho: &bdquoVelká střela téměř přerazila jeho tělo. Hlavou mi klesl na rameno a povídal, že je mrtev. Podepíral jsem jej, než se ho chopili dva muži. Nedokázal nic říci, žehnal mi v&scaronak, a když ho odná&scaroneli, vypravil ze sebe, že by rád žil, aby si mohl v novinách přečíst zprávu o vítězství.&ldquo Collingwoodova vlajková loď vskutku volala o pomoc a měla proč, neboť se ocitala doslova v křížové palbě. Krom Le Fougueux a Santa Any po ní pálily i San Justo, San Leandro, Monarca, Le Pluton a Magonova vlajková L&rsquoAlgésiras, byť výstřely vzdáleněj&scaroních lodí nemohly HMS Royal Sovereign výrazněji ublížit. Britská admirálská loď občas v&scaronem oplatila a její kule zalétaly až k Lucasově Le Redoutable, plující hodně vpředu, v závěsu za Villeneuvovou vlajkovou Le Bucentaure. &bdquoV oné čtvrthodině předtím, než se dokázala do akce zapojit kterákoliv dal&scaroní britská loď, do&scaronel k admirálovi (tj. ke Collingwoodovi) kapitán Rotheram, jehož odvaha byla pozoruhodná a překračovala onoho dne v&scaronechny meze, potřásl mu rukou a pravil: ,Sire, zpomalili palbu (na Santa Aně) a budou se muset brzo vzdát.&lsquo Na palubě Royal Sovereign už vskutku usoudili, že by mohli získat podíl plynoucí ze zajetí &scaronpanělského admirála, který plul v prostřed floty o třiatřiceti plachtách, a to je&scarontě dřív, než dorazí jakákoliv jiná anglická loď. Av&scaronak Santa Ana, ačkoliv byla soustavnou palbou z Royal Sovereign vystavena hrozné zkáze a nedokázala už víc než tu a tam děly odpovědět, pokračovala se svrchovaným odhodláním v boji. Opírala se přitom o pomoc sousedních lodí, které teď anglickou loď obklopily a snažily se ji zničit je&scarontě předtím, než jí vlastní lodě přispěchají na pomoc,&ldquo vyprávěl Collingwood.

Toto je ukázka z knihy TRAFALGAR, anatomie námořní bitvy. Bitva u &scaronpanělského mysu Trafalgar, svedená 21. října 1805 mezi 33 řadovými loďmi francouzsko-&scaronpanělské floty admirála Villeneuva a 27 britskými řadovými loďmi admirála Nelsona, který zde zemřel, je jedním z největ&scaroních a nejproslulej&scaroních námořních střetů v dějinách. Tato kniha, která si skutečně zaslouží podtitul Anatomie námořní bitvy, líčí Tragalgar na základě vyprávění mnoha očitých svědků od admirálů a kapitánů po prosté členy posádek v&scaronech zúčastněných národností. Přibližuje i zásady bojové taktiky plachetních lodí, manévrů, dělostřelby a plavby samotné. Popisuje v&scarone, co bitvě předcházelo od úniku spojeneckého loďstva přes složitou plavbu do Karibiku a zpět, střet u mysu Finisterre až po tečku za Trafalgarem, bitvu u mysu Ortegal. Odpovídá i na otázku, zda admirál Villeneuve skutečně zhatil Napoleonovy plány na invazi do Anglie.

Autorem knihy je Jiří Kovařík, F.I.N.S. (*15. 7. 1950 v Praze). Historik, autor literatury faktu a překladatel, čestný člen The International Napoleonic Society. Napoleonským a koaličním válkám věnoval řadu knih, zejména pětisvazková Napoleonova tažení.

Knihu vydalo 21. 10. 2008 (v den 203. výročí bitvy) nakladatelství Elka Press. K dostání je u v&scaronech dobrých knihkupců, u výhradního distributora Krameriova knižní distribuce, Vosmíkova 538, 396 01 Humpolec (tel. 565-532-837, fax 565-532-837, e-mail [email protected]), anebo na adrese nakladatelstvi: Elka Press, P. O. Box 46, 111 21 Praha 1, [email protected]

Pevná vazba, černobílé ilustrace, 496 stran, MOC 309 Kč.


4 Answers 4

This is where the wind gauge becomes critical. Having the wind gauge, contrary to popular perception, was of little tactical benefit but rather enabled one to prevent the enemy from escaping. This is because being upwind of the enemy allows one to cover him, disturbing the wind and reducing their speed by (I would estimate) 3% or so. Not enough to matter when one vessel type is inherently faster, but more than enough for comparable vessels.

For some superb examples of this, look up the online videos of the 1983 and 1987 America's Cup races off Newport and Freemantle respectively. These are the last two times that 12m yachts competed for the Cup, and as I recall one wag remarking at the time: "no sailor has ever been able to sail a slow boat faster than Dennis Connor can." The way in which Connor maneuvred his slower boat, particularly in 1983, to repeated wins by covering on both the upwind and downwind legs was a beauty to watch.

The above is why sailboat races (except for catamarans) are over triangular courses with upwind, downwind, and reaching legs. Upwind the yacht in front can cover, and downwind the yacht behind can cover, providing opportunities on both for a more skilfully crewed yacht to catch and pass in both cases. The reaching legs then become pure speed tests.

However in a full fleet battle it is impossible for both sides to engage (in line of battle, that is) except on parallel downwind paths. As downwind is considerably slower than a broad or close reach, either side can disengage from such by simply reaching away - at which point they also cover the pursuing fleet and escape.

Nelson at Trafalgar, in particular though the tactic wasn't new, could create a decisive battle *by sailing on a broad reach into the enemy line, with the weather gauge (see diagram) and, completely disdaining line of battle, engaging just 2/3 of the Franco-Spanish fleet in vessel-to-vessel combat. Notice how the entire trailing 2/3 of Villeneuve's fleet is covered by the British fleet, while Nelson has skilfully avoided having his own vessels cover each other. The light wind that day assisted - as while it slowed the British advance into battle their lead vessels were quite capable of taking the punishment, the light air was even more disturbed by the cover than a slightly heavier breeze would have been.

Note also that the van of Villenueve's fleet, in order to enter the battle, must either turn to port and tack into the line of the approaching British fleet, or gybe away and then tack or close-reach back. Neither will be either pleasant or efficient, and as it happened the battle was all but over before they were able to do so. Nelson truly contrived a masterful plan that gave Villeneuve no good choices as the two fleets started to engage.

From my now deleted comment to another answer:

The slowest point of sail is straight downwind. In ascending speed after a straight run are broad reach, close-hauled, close reach, and finally beam reach as the fastest point of sail.

The reasons for this are that on a run there is zero aerodynamic lift, and the boat is simply being dragged by the wind at some speed less than the wind itself. A tiny amount of aerodynamic lift is available on a broad reach, with some of the sails. Close hauled lots of aerodynamic list is available, but one must counter considerable leeway in addition to the hydraulic drag. As the vessel bears off the wind from close-hauled the lee-way lessens and the aerodynamic lift increases, and the vessel reaches full speed.

Now clearly there musty be some intermediate reaches between a (slow) broad-broad reach and a (fast) beamy-broad reach. The point above stands as I know of no precise nautical terminology for describing these, and part of a Master's or Captain's skill is setting a course that best leverages these choices.

To conclude, some may recall the phrase: "running before the wind". I have seen this interpreted as justification for the claim that a downwind run is a fast point of sail. Rather, it refers to a downwind run being the most comfortable point of sail. The boat sails flat with no heel the crew can gambol freely aboard the vessel sail changes are infrequent and minor (unlike a square-rigged tack or gybe) the seas are often following and if not calm then at least less disturbing to the vessel's trim and even the passengers are comfortable and not retching over the sides. All very pleasant, and very unlike the faster points of sail.

Clarifications (mostly from my comments below):

Re close-hauled please clarify if you are referring to velocity-made-good, which of course is terrible on a square-rig due to the inability to get much closer than 60 degrees to the wind, or actual measured speed relative to the water which I maintain is still fairly fast as, if it isn't, one is not making progress at all due to lee-way and that is demonstrably not the case. My reference is specifically to measured speed over water, the knots measured over the gunwale, which I believe should be clear from context.
Terminology: Velocity-made-good (VMG) is net speed as plotted on a chart, as distinct from vessel speed (over the water) as measured over the gunwale. Upwind VMG for square-riggers is terrible even at appreciable vessel speed because of their very poor pointing characteristics, often in excess of 55-60 degrees off the wind. The speed references above are to vessel speed because that is independent of the reason why one is on a particular heading relative to the wind. Think of it as the difference between speed towards where you're pointed (what's dead ahead of the bow) and where you're headed (a location on a map or chart).

Cover has a small tactical effect at Trafalgar by slowing the trailing Franco-Spanish vessels compared to the van. Note all the battle commentaries which speak of how slow those vessels were in forming line of battle, and how this hindered Villeneuve's plan. That's the cover having effect. It's right there in the battle summaries. However it's main effect is in the chase, where the pursuer has both the wind gauge and a long enough chase for the effect to manifest. For a 200 foot mast the effect in even short match races would extend out to perhaps 2000 feet, for a single vessel. The effect for a large fleet is both greater in effect, and much easier to aim at opposing vessels.

The subject of disengagement and, possibly, the subsequent chase is one that fills chapters and even whole books on Age-of-Sail tactics. Determining the possibility of escape involves a large number of variables. This includes, the number of vessels involved on each side, the state of those vessels (age, loading, trim, damage, how clean the hull is, etc), the comparative skill and morale levels of the crews, the nationality of the vessels involved (which determined standing orders, training, etc.), the proximity of allied forces (e.g. other ships, harbours and shore defences) and, especially, the weather.

A book you should read is by Sam Willis - Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century, The Art of Sailing Warfare (Boydell, 2008) which has two chapters on "Chase and Escape". (While the title refers to the 18th Century, much of what is covered will apply to tactics through the whole Age-of-Sail). As he notes -

Once two ships or fleets had made initial contact, one of two things would then happen: they would prepare to engage, or one would flee and the other would chase. It was rare indeed for two ships or fleets to meet and both be intent on action, and usually the aggressive party in some way had to force action on his enemy. The captains of both ships, therefore, now turned their minds to the question of speed.

Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century, The Art of Sailing Warfare, S.Willis (Boydell, 2008) pg. 27

In a engagement between single ships, it's the individual captains who are responsible for the choice of tactics. They decide if and when to break off and attempt an escape from an action, or if they were the aggressor, how and if they make the attempt to chase. Again, there are many factors involved in making those decisions. For example, a British Royal Navy captain always had the Articles of War in mind which required him (on pain of death) to do his utmost in the face of the enemy. Other navies were less focused on the destruction of the enemy, especially if that conflicted with the mission that they were on, which gave their captains other priorities.

In fleet engagements, the captains had less scope for individual action. They had a responsibility to the fleet as a whole and were directly answerable to the admiral in command. Conducting an escape or a chase as part of a fleet was a very different proposition.

The whole purpose of a fleet was to achieve strength in numbers, and that required a certain degree of cohesion. A fleet strung our over miles of ocean posed relatively little collective threat offensively, and could offer little collective resistance defensively a fleet in close formation, on the other hand, was a fearsome opponent. The basic problem for a fleet in chase, therefore, was that the basic building blocks of fleet performance, the performance of the individual ships themselves, was neither uniform nor reliable.

Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century, The Art of Sailing Warfare, S.Willis (Boydell, 2008) pg. 31

Any captain of a vessel that broke away from an engagement, to escape, without permission or extremely good reason, would find himself in a very awkward position. In theory, the escaping fleet has the option of scattering, which makes it more likely for the faster vessels to escape, but that would doom the slower ones to capture or destruction. There were also other risks -

The dilemma facing the fleet commander in chase, therefore, was to go at the speed of the slowest performer or to sacrifice any hope of cohesion. Sacrificing cohesion was risky it opened the fleet up to attack and brought with it a heightened risk of collision. If a fleet was committed to a general chase through individual action, with each captain free to do exactly as he saw fit to bring his ship up with the enemy as quickly as possible, the behaviour of each ship immediately became unpredictable. In fair weather this could be problematic, but if the weather turned foul, chaos was inevitable.

Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century, The Art of Sailing Warfare, S.Willis (Boydell, 2008) pg. 32

In a general chase there was also the risk that the fastest vessels of the chasing fleet would get too far ahead of their own companions and risk being defeated by coming up on larger numbers of the escaping fleet. First contact would be the 'hottest' combat, with fresh gun crews and a full complement of guns on each side. So there was the potential for the fastest chasers and/or slowest of the escapers to be significantly damaged (which would reduce their performance) in such a situation.

Ultimately, the ability to escape or not wasn't simply the relative performances of the vessels -

It has been argued that once a chase had been established, with both ships sailing as fast as they could, the only chance of escape for a slower craft rested on 'shifts of wind, squally weather, or the blunders of the chaser'. It is a statement that implies both a passive role for the captain of the escaping ship and a sense of inevitability in the outcome of the chase, both of which are unjust. The outcome of any chase, however ill matched the ships or fleets, was characterised by a marked unpredictability it was an activity in which everything remained uncertain.
[my emphasis]

Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century, The Art of Sailing Warfare, S.Willis (Boydell, 2008) pg. 36

To answer the final part of the question — was escaping easier than boarding? — you might want to have a look at an earlier question on this site: Was there a way for ships to disengage from boarding actions?. In short, there were significant risks to boarding actions, so, for a ship that is potentially losing a battle, it's essentially a last throw of the dice. If your ship was still manoeuvrable, it was far more sensible to attempt to escape first (and boarding remained an option if that escape attempt failed).


Watch the video: #TERRIFYING Footage. What Its Like On-Board a Ship In a North Sea STORM #waves #Storm #ocean (January 2022).