Friday, March 23, 2012

Today in History -USS Hornet Captures HMS Penguin

HMS Penguin was a Royal Navy Cruizer-class brig-sloop launched in 1813. On March 24, 1815 the USS Hornet captured Penguin in a battle that took place after the end of the War of 1812 (communications being what they were then, neither ship knew the war had officially ended). Hornet then scuttled Penguin as she was too damaged to merit keeping.

Penguin was commissioned in November 1813 under Commander Thomas R. Toker. The next month Commander George A. Byron took over command. In June 1814 command transferred to Commander James Dickinson.

On 23 March 1815 Penguin encountered the USS Hornet off Tristan da Cunha. In the ensuing single ship action, Penguin lost 10 men killed, including Dickinson, and had 28 wounded; she struck her colors after 22 minutes of combat. By contrast, the Americans only suffered one man killed and nine wounded, including Hornet's captain, James Biddle. The Americans then scuttled Penguin the next day as she was too damaged to keep.

The two vessels had been relatively evenly matched. Hornet had a slightly heavier armament as she had 20 cannon, two 12-pounder guns as bow chasers and eighteen 32-pounder carronades. She also had a crew of 146 officers and men, including 20 US Marines, less a prize crew that she had dispatched. Penguin's crew numbered 132 and included 12 extra Royal Marines.

However, what had proved decisive was the Americans' better gunnery and superior ship handling. Penguin's gunnery was abysmal as no cannon shots had hit Hornet; most of Hornet's casualties were due to musketry fire from Penguin, i.e., from the Royal Marines.

Live Long and Prosper...

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