Friday, June 12, 2009

HMS Victory Firing a Broadside

If you are a regular (or even an irregular) reader of my blog, you know of my interest in nautical history of the 18th and 19th centuries. While I'm more interested in smaller vessels, especially fore-and-aft rigged craft, the sheer impressiveness of a British battleship in action cannot be denied.

The link above will take you to a web page with a video of HMS Victory firing her first broadside since Trafalgar. Even loaded with salute charges, its an impressive display of power. Note that it takes 56 seconds to fire a rolling broadside. Imagine that you are on the receiving end of that barrage, in a ship made of wood . . . Hollywood does not do justice to the reality of naval combat.

Which leads me to a pet peeve with Pirates of the Caribbean: Remember the climatic battle between the Flying Dutchman, the Black Pearl, and the British battleship? The ship in the movie was a triple-decker like Victory. The models are not to scale; the Flying Dutchman and the Black Pearl would actually have been only about two thirds of the size they appear in that scene. The guns they carry, judging by the size, are about nine-pounders (capable of throwing a nine pound shot), which was common and normal for vessels of their size. The battleship would have been armed with eighteen-pounders, and a great many more of them. The hulls of the two smaller vessels would have been anywhere from about 2 - 6 inches in thick; the hull of the battleship would have been 10-14 inches thick. In short, the British battleship should have blown the two smaller vessels to hell.

Armament for the HMS Victory: 30 42-pounders, 28 24-pounders, 30 12-pounders, 12 6-pounders (mounted on the fore and stern castles). Total armament: 100 guns. Total weight of metal in a single broadside: 1146 pounds. She was the biggest ship of her day, and the movie battleship isn't quite that big, but still . . . Even if she were only a 88 gun ship, she was still throwing in excess of 900 pounds in her broadside.

Compare that to a privateer of similar size and armament to the Flying Dutchman or Black Pearl: 10 - 12 guns in broadside, with 9 pound shot. Total weight of metal per broadside: 96 pounds. Times 2 vessels: 192 pounds.

Maybe they got lucky and had 12 pound shot in something as big as a large frigate: Total weight of metal in broadside: 240 pounds. Times 2 vessels: 480 pounds. Explain to me how a pair of small vessels throwing half the weight of metal beat a battleship?

I forgot: it was magic!

When I watch that scene, I see lots of courts martial for the various British officers for total incompetence and cowardice. And don't tell me they were taking orders from the East India Company guy -- since when do civilians command battleships?

Go watch the HMS Victory thunder out her broadside and tell me who you think would REALLY win that match up!


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for pointing out that obvious plothole, but hey - those movies are about as far removed from real pirates and reality as rule of cool permits, so we shouldn't expect them to stick to common sense or naval history.
    I also found the scene where those two ratty pirate tubs blew apart that magnificent ship of the line an outrageous case of "we make stupid movies for stupid people".