Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) defeats HMS Java

HMS Java fighting against USS Constitution
I wanted to take a break and get back to my favorite subject –namely history (and naval history at that). I noticed that this is the anniversary of a famous battle by one of our most famous warships, Old Ironsides. This battle was also significant because during the course of the fight one of my heroes, Captain William Bainbridge was wunded but remainded at his post until the British Ship was defeated. Here, then, is an account of that battle.

The USS Constitution, under the command of Captain Bainbridge, sighted two sails in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil on 29 December 1812 at 0800 hours and wore about to intercept. Both Java and Constitution made private signals to identify the other; neither ship having the correct counter-signal, Constitution made sail away from Portuguese territorial waters at 1130 hours, with Java giving chase.

Captain Lambert was a well-qualified officer, having seen much combat during his service. Java had more than a full crew, having been rounded out while in Portsmouth; however many were landsmen still raw to service at sea, and even more damning to her cause, they had only practiced gunnery once with blank cartridges. Still, Java was well supplied and manned, and proved to be well handled and well fought.

Constitution had an experienced crew manning a heavy frigate rated at 44 guns and carrying 54 guns: 24 long 24-pounders and 30 32-pounder carronades, plus two 18-pounder chasers. Java started the battle badly out-matched both in terms of the experience of her crew and the weight of her broadside.
"Another Victory for Old Ironsides" by Bruce Von Stetina

Being French-built, Java was comparatively light for a frigate and was consequently faster and more maneuverable than Constitution. Java had the weather gauge and used it to attempt to rake Constitution. Bainbridge countered by not shortening sail as was standard (this reduced strain on the masts thus making it less likely to lose a mast under fire). By 1400 both ships were heading southeast. The opening phase of the action comprised both ships attempting to rake the other, with little success. Bainbridge wore Constitution to a matching course and opened fire with a broadside at half a mile. This broadside accomplished nothing and forced Bainbridge to risk raking to close Java.
A broadside from Java carried away Constitution's wheel, disabling her rudder and leaving Bainbridge bleeding from both thighs; however, Bainbridge would not sit down until after the battle. Both ships began firing broadsides but Java had a mast falling over her starboard side that prevented most of her guns from firing.

Constitution's accuracy of fire and the greater weight of her broadside put the much smaller Java at a large disadvantage. Within one hour, all of Java's masts came down. Lambert had been mortally wounded by a sharpshooter in Constitution's tops.

Lieutenant Chads took over command, assisted by a captain in transit to his ship. However, clearing the masts had hardly begun when the Constitution returned from a short break to repair her damage. She took a raking position from which Java could not reply and Chads had no choice but to surrender Java.

In the battle, Java suffered 57 men dead and 83 wounded. Constitution lost nine dead initially and 57 wounded, including Bainbridge. Some four or five wounded died later of their wounds.

Live Long and Prosper,,,,

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