Sunday, 15 September 2013

HMS Shannon vs USS Chesapeake 1st June 1813

This year is the 200th anniversary of this famous action in which the Shannon captured the Chesapeake in just 15 minutes of bloody action.

The frigate battles of the War of 1812 were often one sided affairs when rash Royal Naval captains went up against the American super frigates only to find that they were heavily out gunned by these "pocket battleships" of their day. The Shannon vs Chesapeake action was, in those terms, a much more even affair with both ships carrying a similar broadside and crew compliment.

Captains Broke and Lawrence
The action though quick was bloody. The Shannon lost 23 killed, and had 56 wounded. Chesapeake had about 60 killed, including her four lieutenants, the master and many other of her officers, and about as many wounded. Captain Lawrence was mortally wounded by fire from Shannon’s fore-top and was carried below before the Chesapeake was boarded. His last order upon being wounded was "Don't give up the ship!".

Shannon opens fire aiming to take down the rigging on Chesapeake with chain shot but the range is to far
Our re fight turned out very similar to the historical encounter. The ships were set up as in the original fight with the Chesapeake up wind of the Shannon, both ships on topsails and mizzen sail sets. The breeze from the North.

The Chesapeake increased sail and, having the wind, bore down on the Shannon. As the two ships closed the Shannon opened fire with chain shot on the Americans rigging, but misjudged the range and the fire fell short. As the Chesapeake closed, the Shannon tacked into wind and the two ships exchanged broadsides, as the Chesapeake passed downwind of the Shannon.

As both ships close the range the first telling broadsides are exchanged
The Shannon now had the advantage and increasing sail kept the range down and swung in behind the Chesapeake at close range giving her a triple shotted stern rake as she passed. The American ship staggered under the fire but amazingly suffered no critical hits or lost masts. As the British frigate swept past the American fired off a desperate reply with minimal effect except that one shot took away the Shannon's wheel, forcing the ship to maintain course whilst effecting repairs.

With the range increased due to the damage to Shannon's wheel and the Chesapeake having the wind, the Shannon, after effecting repairs, was forced to tack back towards her quarry to try and end the duel. However the Chesapeake wasn't finished yet and succeeded in causing further hull damage and knocking out the repaired wheel yet again.

Shannon with the wind gauge bore in for a close range triple shotted stern rake, badly damaging the Chesapeake
Eventually the two ships closed and the Shannon was able, yet again, to swing in towards the stern of the American fouling her as she passed. The next boarding phase would decide which ship grappled first.

After several rounds of medium range cannon, the Shannon grapples
With the two ships locked together the Shannon got the opportunity to board and requiring 4 on three d6 promptly rolled a 12 sealing the Americans fate and forcing a strike.

The Chesapeake strikes.
Thus ended what was a very close run fight with both ships suffering over 50% hull damage and with the Chesapeake slightly better off at the end. The deciding blow was the stern rake from which the Chesapeake never recovered causing her a much reduced gunnery effect.

Thanks to Nathan, Ollie and Jack for a very entertaining game.


  1. Excellent looking naval battle, your ships are really nice!

    1. Thanks Phil, I have quite a few others waiting to be finished off. Every now and then I think I must get them done. So much to do, so little time