John's Maritime History / Warships

The World of Warships Facts & Details

Historical Warships

Contents of this Page

1,  HMS Victory

2, The Wasa   ( Swedish Warship )

HMS Victory

HMS Victory, a First Rate Ship of the Line.

This following intro could well have been a newspaper report of the day:

As the last gunfire rumbled across the sea and was succeeded by an errie silence, the gunsmoke slowly drifted away from the scene, revealing, One with more than half her masts and rigging shot away, was sailing into history and legend. She was HMS Victory. Her admiral, Lord Nelson, was dying but he had just won the most famous of all sea battles; the battle of Trafalgar.

Lord Viscount Nelson, Knight of the Bath, KB, Duke of Bronte ( 1758-1805.) was the most glorious of Englands Admirals. He Died within hours of the defeat of the combined french and Spanish fleet of Cape Trafalgar in 1805.

The Victory was already an old and glorious ship when she fought at Trafalgar. Her building was started in 1759 when Nelson was only ten months old and she was launched in 1765. At that time England was at peace and the goverment, to reduce costs, just laid her up in reserve on the River Medway, Not far from Chatham dockyard where she was built. The war of American Independance started ten years later. France was unoficially helping the American rebels and open war with England erupted in 1778. The Victory was hastily commissioned as flagship of Admiral Keppel, for the Channel Fleet and she participated in an indecisive action of Ushant the same year.She was then in turn flagship of Admirals Hardy, Geary,Parker and Kempenfelt before flying the flag of Admiral Lord Howe. When Spain joined with France against England, the Victory was sent on convoy duty to relieve the Blockade of Gibraltar. There , still under the comand of Admiral Lord Howe, she fought at the battle of Cape Spartel. After the peace in 1783 she returned to Portsmouth where she was Laid up for a short spell.The peace was short lived , In 1793 England joined the First Coalition against Revolutionary France and the Victory was commissioned as the flagship of Admiral Hood, in command of the Mediteranean Fleet: Twenty one ships of the line and fifteen frigates were at his command. This fleet and a small expeditionary force held Toulon with help of French Royalists, but it had to evacuate under pressure from the republican army. One of the Republican officer, a young artillery Captaine, distinguished himself on that occassion, earning his first claim to celebrity. It was not his last: Captaine Napoleon Bonaparte still had some promotion ahead of him.

So did captain Horatio Nelson, who was placed in command, the following year,of a group of men and guns landed from the Victory for the successful seige of Calvi in Corsica.

After a brief refit in Portsmouth the Victory returned to the Mediteranean under the flag of Admiral Man and in 1795 she took part in the decisive action off Hyeres, near Toulon, which encouraged Spain to side with France.

The Victory returned to Chatham in late 1797 and was paid off and converted to a hospital ship for French prisoners until 1801 when she was docked for an extensive refit which was completed in 1803. Amongst other changes, her old fashioned open air galleries on the stern( use as private walks by the Admiral and Captain ) were replaced by the flat srtern that can be seen today,

Victory's chains ( where the shrouds are fixed to the hull ) were moved from below to above the upper gun deck ports and her lower deck was fitted with 32-pounder guns instead of the heavier, but slow firing 48-pounders. There was no official colour scheme for painting men of war, and Nelson had her painted in his own style, with black ochre stripes. the gun port lids, at the level of the ochre stipes, were picked out in black and the style became known as ' Nelson's Checkers'. the Victory in Portsmouth today is how she would have looked in her heyday.

The Victory despite her age was one of the largest ships in the Royal Navy, a first class ship of the line armed with 104 guns. her hull is 82 m long and her overall lenght is 120m. She is 19m wide and she has a draught of nearly 7m. Such ships were never numerous, they were expensive to build. The oak sides of the Victory are up to 72cm thick amd it took 2,5000 oak trees to build her, a small forrest in fact. First Rates were also expensive to operate, the Victory had a crew of 850 seamen, officers and marines.

The poop deck, the highest deck and behind the mizzen mast, is armed with two 12-pounder guns and with two big stubby guns called carronades. these can only be used at short range, but they fire 68-pound balls or grape shot ( Shrapnel ) and are known aptly as ' smashers'. the captains quarters are situated below this deck. Painted white and pale green they were luxurious but still business like, with guns lashed behind the windows.

That Victory was a splendid three-decker under sail is witnessed by the succession
of illustrious flags she wore, and although her name is forever linked with
that of Nelson, this is her story and not primarily his. Sir John Jervis
was another redoubtable seaman, and when in 1797 he commanded the English
fleet at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, he rose to the occasion with distinction.
Nelson hoisted his flag in Victory in 1803In 1804, when she was persuaded
by Napoleon to renew her war against England, Spain can only be described
as a veritable glutton for punishment. Nelson regarded the Spaniards with
contempt, and had little more respect for the French. He was exasperated
by their practice of running away from a fight, and ached to get to grips
with them. After several abortive attempts to do so, he returned to England
arriving on 18 August, 1805. There he spent just over three weeks on shore
and it was during his final day in London that he met, for the first and
final time, the future Duke of Wellington. Victory's last fighting action
took place in the Baltic in October 1812, and after being paid off in Portsmouth
before the end of that year, she never went to sea again. She was docked
for repair in 1814 and emerged two years later with a built-up bow and, among
many other alterations, the bands along her gunports painted white instead
of yellow. Used then as a floating utility for over a hundred years on, she
was moved to dry dock in 1922, when work began to restore her to the condition
and appearance she had at Trafalgar. Flagship in her time of half a dozen
famous admirals, including the most famous of all, HMS Victory is preserved
today at Portsmouth, more than two hundred and fifty years after her keel
was first laid, viewed and admired by visitors from many parts of the world

Source From Various Books, The Main One "Ships of the High Seas" By Erik Abranson, and Published by Euro Books Limited

38737 ABRANSON, Erik
London. 1977. Book Club Associates. Reprint of the 1976 original. 124 PP with b/w & colour illustrations, icluding 20 paintings by Edward Mortelmans. Fp: Steamship "Ruatehu" & sailing ship "Turakina". Eps: Plans of a ship of 74 guns...The gradual evolution of vessels dependent upon manpower, wind & weather, to the modern vessels using computer technology & nuclear power.
Jean-Louis Boglio Maritime Books (Australia) £6.36GBP

The Wasa ( Swedish Warship )

Seventeenth Century Warship

In 1961,three hundred and thirty three years after they had been drowned, two knights rose slowly from the murky waters of Stockholm's harbour, hardly the worse for their imersion. In fact, if they had not been submerged, they would probably never have been preserved at all, for the knights were carved wooden bitts by the fore mast emplacement of the seventeenth warship " Wasa". As the water was pumped out of the wreck,more and more of the hull appeared until,before long,the salvage was completed and marine archaeologists could start work in earnest on a unique and invaluable find, and almost undisturbed man-of-war complete with stores and crews belongings.

The " Wasa " did not survive long enough as a warship to become famous or even painted on canvas. Until her recent salvage, very litlle was known about her, apart from the fact that she capsized and sank on her maiden voyage in 1628.

The Vasa was located 30 metres beneath the surface. The Swedish Navy's heavy divers, under the leadership of head diver Per Edvin Fälting, dived down to the ship. They managed to flush six tunnels inthe mud beneath her, using specially made nozzles. Steel cables were drawn through the tunnels. Two lifting pontoons on the surface were to lift the ship using the cables. In August 1959 the time came for the first lift Although she was the largest ship in the Swedish fleet,there was nothing particularly exceptional about the " Wasa ", despite her tragic and untimely end, she was not the result of some freakish and experiment in ship design. In other words she was not salvaged because of her design or her history, but because she happened to be a remarkably well preserved example of a large warship of her time.

Its astonishing how little we know about ships of the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth century. Contemporary paintings and other pictures must be used with caution. Most of them are technically incorrect and they do not give much imformation about the underwater shape of the hull and internal layout. The " Wasa " is therefore of particular interest, as much of the missing imformation on shipbuilding of the period can be obtained by direct study. She is also the oldest salvaged ship in exsistance for which we know the name, the exact dates and other similar details.

The " Wasa's " history goes back to 1626 when King Gustav ii Adolf of sweden decided to have four new warships built. The largest , which was to be larger than any other ship he had previously owned,was called " Wasa ", from the name of his dynasty. this name "Wasa " Wasan or Wasen and is often written today as " Vasa "

The Swedes, with their viking background, were competant producers of small ships, but the task of designing and building such a large ship as the " Wasa " was entrusted to a Dutchman, Henryk Hybertson. The Dutch were then the uncontested leaders in such matters, the contemporary French ship " Saint Louis ", was Dutch built for the same reason. Ehglish design at this period had, if anything, regressed to pre Aemarda extremes of very tall hulls with poor sailing performances. The building of the " Wasa " took place at the Royal Dockyard on Blaisieholmen island, but was contracted to a private shipbuilding firm.

The " Wasa " was launched in 1627 and the following year she moved a short distance to Stockholm Castle to be ballasted ( with stones 0 and to take on her armament of sixty four bronze guns. These consisted of forty eight 24 pounders, eight 3 pounders, to 1 pounders and six mortars. This artillery weighed eighty one tonnes, all above the waterline, posing a stability problem that was common to all men of war.Stability trials were held by the simple expedient of having thirty men running from one side to the other. The rolling motion thus created was so alarming that the trials were stopped.

Finally, on 10th asugust 1628, the " Wasa " was ready for her inaugural cruise,a short sail to Alvsnabben island in the outer Stockholm Archipelago, with many guests and personalities aboard. She was certainly a beautiful ship. her displacement was, 1m422 tonnes and her hull was 54m long ( 75m with the bowspit ) by 12.5m beam. Her draught was 5.25m and her stern towered some 16.4m above water. She had two gun decks pierced by fifty two gun ports,and a continuous upper deck which consisted partly of gratings to allow light and air below. Above the forecastle, around the foremast, and abaft the main mast a half deck was extended to the poop where it was in turn surmounted by a raised quarter deck.Now the " Wasa " was ready for sea.

The Vasa set sail and fired a salute. But only after a few minutes of sailing the ship began to heel over. She righted herself slightly - and heeled over again. Water started to gush in through the open gunports. And, to everyones horror and disbelief, the glorious and mighty warship suddenly sank! Of the 150 people on board, 30-50 died in the disaster.After the disaster the captain of the Vasa - Söfring Hansson - was arrested. The Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus was not in Sweden at the time. He was waging war in Poland. It took two weeks for him to learn about what had happened. When he did, he wrote angrily that the disaster had happened because of "imprudence and negligence" and that the guilty parties had to be punished. Söfring Hansson and many others were called to inquiries at the Royal Castle of Stockholm.

At the inquest people were troubled by the fact that the shipbuilder Henrik Hybertsson had died the year before the Vasa was completed. Instead his brother and partner, Arendt de Groot, was held responsible for the completion of the ship. But in the end no one was condemned for causing the disaster. The people in charge of the nquiries concluded that the ship was well built - but badly proportioned

Why did she sink???

In the 17th century there were no scientific methods of calculating a ship's stability. It was not uncommon that warships heeled over and sank. Their cargo - the guns - were placed relatively high up in theship, whereas merchant-vessels stored their cargo in the hold, ie in the bottom of the ship.
Instead of using calculations, the 17th century shipbuilders used so called reckonings, which recorded certain ship-measurements.However, the reckonings used in building the Vasa were intended for smaller ships with only one gun deck.The Vasa was built differently.She had two gundecks with heavy artillery (when the norm was to place lighter guns on the upper gundeck). The standard rules obviously did not apply here.

Deep down in the Vasa several tons of stone were stored as ballast.They were meant to give the ship stability. However, the main reason for the Vasa capsizing was that the ballast was not enough as counterweight to the guns, the upper hull, masts and sails of the ship. In the inquiries after the Vasa disaster it was revealed that a stability test had been performed prior to the maiden voyage. Thirty men had run back and forth across the Vasa's deck when she was moored at the quay. The men had to stop after three runs, well before the test could be completed - otherwise, the ship would have capsized. Present
was Admiral Klas Fleming, one of the most influential men in the Navy. His only comment to the failed stability test was "If only His Majesty were at home!" After that he let the Vasa make her maiden voyage.
More on this ship to follow:

The Vasa Museum
Box 27131
SE-102 52 Stockholm

The Information Desk:
+46-8-519 558 10

Sources. "Ships of the High Seas" By Erik Abrason, Published by Eurobook Limited


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