Author Topic: HMS Valiant (1759 - 1799)  (Read 177 times)

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Offline stuartwaters

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HMS Valiant (1759 - 1799)
« Reply #1 on: September 30, 2019, 10:27:02 PM »

HMS Valiant was a Large Type, 74 gun, third rate ship of the line, built at the Royal Dockyard at Chatham.  With her sister-ship, the Woolwich-built HMS Triumph, the pair were the prototypes of the Large Type of third rate 74 gun ship of the line and were the first 74 gun ships of the line, designed as such from the ground up, to be built for the Royal Navy. The 74 gun, Third Rate Ship of the Line would become by far the most numerous type of ship of the line in the world and would form the backbone of the Royal Navy's battlefleets until well into the 19th Century.

What was significant about these two ships was not the long list of significant naval battles they fought in, or that they were commanded by any particularly famous or infamous naval officers, but the political machinations which led to their being designed, ordered and built.

In 1689, a series of wars between Britain and France began, which became informally known as the Second Hundred Years War. Like the First Hundred Years War, it was not one single conflict, rather a series of wars interspersed with periods of peace. Unlike the First Hundred Years War, which was fought over the competing claims of the British and French crowns, the Second Hundred Years War had no single underlying cause. It started over French support for the Jacobite cause after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This had seen King James II forced to abdicate in favour of his sister Mary and her Dutch-born husband, Prince William of Orange. Other causes of the wars were competing territorial claims in India, North America and around the Mediterranean, French support for the American colonists in the War of Independence and French attempts to export their Revolution throughout Europe. The wars were not to end until 1815.

From the 1730's, the French began to introduce to service a new type of ship of the line, one carrying 74 guns on two gundecks. The British soon found that the new French ships were bigger, faster, more manoeuvrable and more heavily armed than their own. The British, on the other hand, were struggling with their own problems, political rather than tactical or technological. The Royal Navy was at the time under the control of two separate and distinct organisations. On one hand was the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, responsible for the organisation and deployment of the fleet. On the other hand was the Navy Board, responsible for the budget, the organisation and day-to-day running of the Royal Dockyards and the design and ordering and construction of new ships. The Navy Board was in favour of the standardisation and centralisation of ship designs and for that purpose, produced a series of 'Establishments'. An Establishment was a set of detailed specifications withing whicg the Master Shipwright at a Royal Dockyards or private shipbuilders was expected to design a new ship. An Establishment was produced in 1745 which called for two types of third-rate ship of the line, then as later, forming the backbone of the Fleet. One was a ship of 70 guns on two gundecks and the other was a ship of 80 guns on three gundecks. The War of Austrian Succession being fought at the time soon gave the Royal Navy the opportunity to try out the new designs and the result was not altogether good. The Royal Navy found that the new 70 gun ships, although tougher and able to spend much longer at sea, were still markedly inferior to those of the French in terms of firepower, speed and manoeuvrability. The British ships had more efficient rigging than the French, meaning they needed smaller crews. On the plus side, this meant that the ships were easier and cheaper to operate, but in action, ran the risk of being overwhelmed by the enemy's superior numbers. This was offset by the British tactic of firing into the enemy's hull at close range, maximising damage and casualties, cancelling out the French numerical superiority. The British ships however, had a fundamental and perhaps fatal flaw. Their lower gundecks were too close to the waterline. This meant that in ideal sailing conditions, they were unable to open their lower gundeck gunports for fear of sinking the ship. The 80 gun three-decker was found to be too cumbersome and only two of them were actually built.

On 14th May 1747, at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre, the British captured one of the finest of the French 74 gun ships, L'Invincible. On being taken into British service, L'Invincible was found to be capable of up to 16 knots in ideal sailing conditions; a good three knots faster than the best of her British counterparts. It was also found that in ideal sailing conditions, she could open her lower gundeck gunports with plenty of room to spare. The Admiralty began to pressure the Navy Board to do something about it, ideally, to produce a British 74 gun ship along the lines of the French ones. Instead, the 1745 Establishment 70 gunner was reduced to 68 guns in order to lighten the ship, in an attempt to increase the height of the lower gundeck above the waterline. The amended Establishment, the so-called 1754 Amendment had a negligible effect.

By the mid-1750's the last of the old guard in the Navy Board had either died or had been pensioned off. Their place was taken by more enlightened men, men such as Thomas Slade. One of his first acts on becoming Surveyor of the Navy was to do away with the Establishments altogether. Instead, the Surveyors of the Navy would produce the designs centrally, and the first design for a Third rate ship he produced under the new system was the Dublin Class. These were based on the 1754 Amendment but were enlarged and pierced for 74 guns. Unfortunately, being based on the 1754 Amendment, they suffered the same problems as the earlier 68 gun ships. Eventually, the Navy Board gave in to pressure from the Admiralty and ordered two new types of 74 gun ship. The first was the Bellona Class, which were designed by Thomas Slade and were a reduced version of L'Invincible and the first of class, HMS Bellona became the prototype for the Common Type of 74 gun ship. The other type were essentially direct copies of L'Invincible, adapted for British use. One was ordered from the Royal Dockyard at Chatham and was to be called Valiant. The other, ordered from the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich, was to be called Triumph.

See here for the story of HMS Triumph

HMS Valiant was laid down at Chatham on 1st February 1758 and was launched on 10th August 1759. By the time she was completed, she had cost the phenomenal sum of £42,000, 5s 10d as opposed to the £30,000 or so of a 70 gun ship built to the 1745 Establishment. The construction of her sister-ship, HMS Triumph at Woolwich was also not without problems. Although that ship only cost £36,000 to build, her construction took seven years.

On completion, HMS Valiant was 171' 2" long on the upper gundeck and she was 49' 4" wide across the beam. At full load, she was a ship of 1,799 tons. She was very heavily armed on completion, even when compared against later ships of her type. On her lower gundeck, she carried 28 32pdr long guns and on her upper gundeck, she had 30 24pdr long guns. In addition to these, she had 14 9pdr long guns on her quarterdeck and 2 9pdr long guns on her forecastle.

Valiant Class Plans

Orlop Plan:

Lower Gundeck Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

The Navy Board model of HMS Valiant:

Stern view:

The issues fought over in the War of Austrian Succession were not settled by it's end and another war was inevitable and this had broken out on 18th May 1756, one of the reasons why HMS Valiant was ordered in the first place. This new war is now known as the Seven Years War.

Captain William Brett took command of the new ship upon her being launched and oversaw her fitting out at Chatham until he was replaced in command by Captain Augustus Keppel in January 1760. Keppel was promoted Commodore whilst in command of HMS Valiant and went on to have a successful career as a Flag Officer, rising to the rank of Admiral, attaining the post of First Lord of the Admiralty in 1782 and commanding the British Fleet in the First battle of Ushant in 1778.

Keppel was replaced in command of HMS Valiant in March 1761 by Captain Adam Duncan. Duncan also went on to have a successful career as a Flag Officer, rose to the rank of Admiral and in 1797 commanded a fleet which defeated the Dutch in the Battle of Camperdown. With Duncan in command and Commodore Keppel flying his Broad Pennant in the ship, HMS Valiant took part in the seizure of Belle Ile, an island off the French port of Lorient in June 1761. This operation was a major success for the British because it denied the use of a major naval base to the French.

In 1761, Spain joined France in the war against the UK and the British launched an operation to seize Havana with the intention of denying Spain the use of a major base in the Caribbean. Commodore Keppel, Captain Duncan and HMS Valiant sailed to the West Indies in March 1762 to join this operation under the overall command of the Earl of Albermarle. From June till August 1762, the British force laid seige to Havana with the city eventually surrendering on 14th August.

After that, the ship sailed to Jamaica and remained there while peace negotiations were underway back in Europe. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 officially ended the war and in the summer of 1764, HMS Valiant returned to the UK and was paid off into the Ordinary at Chatham.

The Seven Years War was not without consequences and one of these was that the war had left the UK virtually bankrupt. Attempts to pay the National Debt by levying taxes on the colonies in America led to unrest there, which eventually led to the next war. What had started as protests against what the colonists saw as unfair taxation had by 1775, flared up into open war.

HMS Valiant had been laid up in the Ordinary, probably in St Mary's Creek. This had led to decay in the ship's structure and in 1771 the ship entered a major repair at Chatham. By the time this was completed in 1775, it had cost £36,297, 10s 10d. Increasing French intervention in the war in America had led to the British mobilising the fleet and in October 1777, HMS Valiant recommissioned at Chatham under Captain John Gower. In her refit, her 24 pdr upper deck guns were replaced with 18 pdr guns, bringing her armament into line with other 74 gun third rate ships.

The ship joined the Channel Fleet which was under the command of her former captain, now Admiral Augustus Keppel, flying his flag in the 100 gun, Chatham-built first rate ship, HMS Victory. On 23rd July 1778, the fleet sighted a French fleet of 29 ships of the line west of Ushant, off Brest. In poor weather, Victory was the first to engage the enemy, opening fire on the French flagship Bretagne, 110 guns. The action which followed became known as the First Battle of Ushant and ended indecisively, with the British driving off the French but suffering heavier casualties. The indecisive result of the battle caused a violent political quarrel in the UK which led to Keppel being court-martialled for dereliction of duty but found not guilty and resigning from the Navy temporarily.

In 1779, HMS Valiant received a new commander, Captain Samuel Goodall and joined a small squadron under the command of Commodore Charles Fielding. After the wars of the 17th century, Britain and the Dutch Republic had been staunch allies, with the British increasingly becoming the dominant partner. Public opinion in the republic had become sympathetic to the American cause during the War of Independence, eventually leading to the Dutch trading with both the Americans and the French. This led to friction between the allies and the Royal Navy had begun stopping and searching Dutch ships looking for war materiel. This led to the Dutch sending their ships in convoys escorted by warships. On 27th December 1779, the squadron sighted such a convoy off the Isle of Wight under the command of Rear-Admiral Count Lodewijk van Bylandt. The British stopped the convoy and asked for a parley to which the Dutch commander agreed. The parley continued into the night, during which most of the Dutch merchantmen slipped quietly away. The British closed in on the Dutch with three ships of the line and sent a boat to search one of the Dutch ships. One of the escorting Dutch warships fired a shot across the bow of the boat, at which point the British ships (the 2nd rate ship HMS Namur of 90 guns and two 74 gun ships) opened fire with full broadsides. In all the British ships fired three full broadsides and and the Dutch replied with one of their own before striking their colours and surrendering. Now known as the Fielding-Bylandt Affair, this incident caused an outrage in the Dutch Republic and increasing tensions between the two former allies led to the British declaring war in December 1780.

HMS Valiant underwent a refit at Chatham between May and August 1780 and on 13th January 1781 recaptured the Sloop-of-War HMS Fairy of 14 guns. This Sheerness-built ship had previously been captured by the French. On 12th April 1781, HMS Valiant was part of a fleet of 29 ships of the line under the command of Vice-Admiral George Darby which relieved the Siege of Gibraltar.

On 12th December 1781, HMS Valiant was part of a squadron of 12 ships of the line led by Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt, flying his flag in HMS Victory. They had been ordered to intercept a convoy of 15 troopships escorted by 19 French ships of the line, carrying reinforcements to America. In poor weather, the French escort had been driven downwind of the troopships, allowing Kempenfelt and his ships to sweep down on the convoy and capture all 15 ships before the escort could intervene. This action became known as the Second Battle of Ushant and it started the impetus for peace talks.

By this time however, disaster had befallen the British in America. The British army under General Lord Cornwallis had holed up in Yorktown for the winter and the Franco-American armies under the command of the French General the Compte de Rochambeau and the American General George Washington had beseiged them there. The French fleet under the Compte de Grasse had blockaded the entrance to Chesapeake Bay and prevented a British fleet under Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Graves from resupplying them. Cornwallis had been forced to surrender and and as a result, the war on the mainland was lost.

After the victory at the Second Battle of Ushant, the ship was sent to the Caribbean to join the fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral George Rodney, arriving on 28th February 1782. By now, de Grasse was attempting to end British dominance in the area and Rodney's mission was to stop him. On 7th April 1782, de Grasse set out from Martinique with 35 ships of the line with a convoy of 100 transport ships with the intention of meeting up with a Spanish squadron of 12 more ships of the line and 15,000 soldiers and seizing Jamaica from the British.

On sighting the French force, Rodney and his fleet gave chase and four British ships of the line caught and dismasted the French 74 gun ship Zele. de Grasse attempted to assist the stricken ship and both fleets formed lines of battle. As the two fleets came alongside each other and opened fire, a change in the wind allowed the British to break through the French line, the first time the Royal Navy had tried this innovative tactic. This led to confusion and disorder in the French line and many of their ships were severely damaged, including the flagship, the 110 gun Ville de Paris. The French line was cut in two and a general chase developed. This action, on 12th April 1782 is now known as the Battle of the Saintes. On 17th, Rodney ordered his 2IC, Rear-Admiral Samuel Hood to give chase to the remaining french ships and they caught up with the enemy on 19th. In the Battle of Mona Passage, HMS Valiant captured the French 64 gun ships Jason and Caton at the cost of 4 dead and 6 wounded. The two captured ships were taken into the Royal Navy. Jason was renamed HMS Argonaut and served until 1831 when she was broken up. Caton was used as a hospital ship for prisoners of war off Saltash, Cornwall.

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed and the war ended with the Americans having gained independence. France had been bankrupted by the war and had gained nothing from it. The hardship caused by this led to the French Revolution in 1789. HMS Valiant remained in the Caribbean until 26th April 1783, when she sailed to Plymouth and was paid off. The ship underwent a major repair at Plymouth between February 1785 and July 1786. The ship was again refitted and recommissioned under Captain William Henry at Plymouth in May and June 1790 during the Spanish Armament Crisis of that year. She paid off into the Ordinary at Portsmouth later that year.

On 1st February 1793, the revolutionary Government in France declared war on Britain and in October that year, HMS Valiant was refitted for service again. This was completed in March 1794 and the ship joined the Channel Fleet under Admiral Lord Howe, commanded by Captain Thomas Pringle. France had suffered a poor grain harvest that year and the French Government had negotiated a supply of Grain from the United States. The vital cargo left the USA in a convoy said to have numbered 81 ships, under the protection of the French Atlantic Fleet with 26 ships of the line. Howe had been ordered to intercept and destroy the convoy with his fleet of 25 ships of the line, including HMS Valiant. Howe, in his flagship the 100 gun, Chatham-built first rate ship Queen Charlotte ordered his ships to close the range, then individually break through the French line, raking the enemy's ships on either side through their bows and sterns at point blank range, destroying the entire enemy fleet. Unfortunately, many of his captains either misunderstood his signals or disobeyed them and it was an uneven line which approached the French. Some ships executed the planned manoeuvre perfectly, with devastating consequences for the inexperienced French. HMS Valiant was part of the centre division and pulled up to the French 74 gun ship Patriote. The entire crew of the Patriote were sick with fever and the French vessel pulled away before Valiant could engage her. HMS Valiant then engaged the French 74 gun ship Achille, severely damaging that ship before moving off to join the flagship and ten other ships attempting to assist HMS Queen which had been battered by the enemy and dismasted. Eventually, the French fleet was driven off having suffered 4000 casualties and having lost seven ships of the line. The British suffered 1200 casualties and lost no ships. Both sides claimed victory in the battle, the British because they had defeated a superior enemy force and the french because the grain convoy got through. The battle, officially known as the Third Battle of Ushant became more popularly known as the Battle of the Glorious First of June.

Three weeks later, HMS Valiant was to take part in another major naval engagement, The Battle of Ile Groix. On 12th June 1795, she was part of the Channel Fleet, now under the command of Admiral Alexander Hood, Viscount bridport (the younger brother of Samuel hood under whom the ship had fought at Mona Passage in 1782).  The French Atlantic Fleet with 12 ships of the line had sailed from Brest in an attempt to rescue a squadron of three ships of the line and several frigates which were trapped at Belle Ile. Viscount Bridport was at sea with 14 ships of the line including HMS Valiant and was escorting a convoy of troopships containing French Royalist troops with the intention of landing them in Brittany and attempting to start a counter-revolution there. By now, the French Atlantic Fleet had joined the others at Belle Ile. Once Bridport found out about the enemy force, he placed his ships between them and the troopships. The French, intending to try to make it to Brest sailed from Belle Ile. The British having spotted them on 22nd June, gave chase and Bridport ordered his fastest ships, HMS Sans Pareil, HMS Orion, HMS Valiant, HMS Colossus, HMS Irresistible and HMS Russell to break formation and catch the french force. Bridport followed in his flagship, the 100 gun Chatham-built first rate HMS Royal George, with the 100 gun first rate HMS Queen Charlotte and seven 98 gun second rate ships. Against expectations, the giant HMS Queen Charlotte caught up with the smaller ships and engaged the enemy at 06:00. In the melee that followed, the French lost three ships of the line and suffered 670 casualties. The British lost no ships and suffered 31 dead and 113 wounded. The French, caught between the rocky coastline and the seemingly invincible British, regrouped and fled into Brest. Viscount Bridport, concerned for his ships' safety so close to the rocks signalled a withdrawal. The invasion by the Royalist force was a complete disaster.

This defeat and the earlier defeat on 1st June led the French to remain in their ports and left the Royal Navy in complete control of the entire French coastline, apart from the occasional foray, for the rest of the war.

On 24th July 1795, HMS Valiant received a new commander, Captain Joseph Larcom. He was only in command for two months, when in September 1795, Captain Eliab Harvey took command. Captain Harvey was later to gain fame as captain of The Fighting Temeraire at the Battle of Trafalgar. Between October and November 1795, the ship was in refit at Portsmouth. On 11th August 1796, she sailed for Jamaica. On 17th April 1797, now with Captain Edmund Crawley in command, HMS Valiant in company with the 74 gun 3rd rate ship HMS Thunderer destroyed the French 44 gun frigate Harmonie. In October 1797, she captured the 16 gun French privateer Magicienne.

In October 1799, HMS Valiant entered a refit at Chatham. By now, her career as a front line warship was over. By this time, the ship was 40 years old, her age and many years of hard-fought battles had taken their toll on her. In November 1799, the ship was de-rated and stripped of her name. She was converted to a hospital ship. Although now un-named, the hulk of the Valiant survived until April 1826, when she was finally broken up at Sheerness. Incidentally, the hulk of the first HMS Valiant outlasted the next ship to bear the name, launched at Blackwall in 1807, which was broken up in 1823

Although the career of the first HMS Valiant is now mostly forgotten, the name is not. The next two ships to bear the name were also 74 gun 3rd rates. The name was also given to a Queen Elizabeth class super-dreadnought battleship which served with distinction in both World Wars. The name Valiant was also given to Britain's first fully home-grown nuclear powered submarine, which spent most of her career hunting Soviet ballistic missile submarines under the Arctic ice cap during the Cold War.  That HMS Valiant was also the first nuclear powered submarine to be refitted and refuelled at Chatham.

The construction and launch of the first HMS Valiant is the subject of the 'Wooden Walls' interactive exhibition at Chatham Historic Dockyard, her birthplace.
"I did not say the French would not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Admiral Sir John Jervis, 1st Earl St Vincent.