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Posted (edited)

Seawatch is selling a book about the Royal Navy Fireship Comet of 1783.

 

The ship was highly decorated, even though it was built with the intent of setting it on fire:

 

Color10.jpg

 

Why in the world would the Royal Navy decorate a ship they intended to burn?

 

[EDIT: Since posting this question, I found a thesis online called "The Fireship and Its Role in the Royal Navy": https://nautarch.tamu.edu/Theses/pdf-files/Coggeshall-MA1997.pdf]

Edited by Smile-n-Nod
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Posted (edited)

I haven’t read the book by Sea Watch so I don’t know very much but I always thought fireships were generally ships that were destined to be decommissioned. I guess that could explain why they were decorated, because they were not built with the intention of being fireships, they just ended up being one do to old age or damage. I could be wrong here but that could be a reason. 
 

Thinking about it, I’m not sure they would have ever intentionally built a fire ship, that seems like a huge waste of money to me. But if you get 20 years out of a vessel then it’s final stand is used to break up an enemy formation that seems pretty useful to me. 
 

Bradley

Edited by Keithbrad80
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1 hour ago, Keithbrad80 said:

Thinking about it, I’m not sure they would have ever intentionally built a fire ship, that seems like a huge waste of money to me. But if you get 20 years out of a vessel then it’s final stand is used to break up an enemy formation that seems pretty useful to me.

It seems like there would have been plenty of old, nearly rotten ships that could have been used.  Building a new one, let alone decorating it, just doesn't make sense to me.

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I wonder if the expectation was that opportunities to use fireships would be few and far between, and so for most of its life the vessel would be expected to serve the same purposes as others of its size - convoy duty, commerce raiding etc. Then if the opportunity presented itself, you had a vessel on hand designed to maximize the potency of a fire attack. Comet was afloat for almost two decades before she was employed at Dunkirk Roads. 

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41 minutes ago, whitejamest said:

Then if the opportunity presented itself, you had a vessel on hand designed to maximize the potency of a fire attack.

   From my understanding of ships of the day, between the tar, wood, sails and cordage, they were ALL potential fireships...whether you wanted them to be so or not.

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Don't think any structural shortages were employed in Fire Ships, they needed to be sea worthy and capable of serving the fleet, sometimes for years. Would expect them to look like any normal vessel of their size and rig. Going aboard and the truth might be seen, expect them to filled with the combustibles of the day, stored for ready use and much of it. It would be the combustibles that set them apart from the rest of the fleet.

 

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Structure was modified for the fire deck and various hatches/vents on deck, but otherwise no skimping on construction. If you are interested buy either:

 

Fireship, The Terror Weapon of the Age of Sail by Peter Kirsch, Naval Institute Press/Conway

 

or

 

The Fireship Comet by David Antscherl, SeaWatchBooks

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Posted (edited)

Regarding the earlier point about hiding the identity of fireships, I believe one of Cochrane's legitimate complaints about the leadership on the night of the attack on Basque Roads was that the fireships were too far from the target. They were recognised by the French in time to react.

See Clive in post#2. Clearly the element of surprise is lost if the fireship stands out either by appearance or actions.

Edited by bruce d
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A fireship is a very specialized ship. The layout, the construction, how her ports are cut, the internals of her. They're not just a converted ship (generally though some were pressed to serve as fireships with significant modifications made on the spot) because a normal ship just isn't designed to burn. Ports open upwards, burning through the line that holds the port open and they all shut starving the fire of air. The combustibles below are arranged in special systems to be able to have fuses led around without to the various places that needed fusing. There's an escape hatch at the aft end, below the stern usually where the crew can make their escape. Now these things could all be changes made on the spot (knock the port lids off and they won't shut, no need to hinge them from the bottom really), but the crew was specialized as well. And as such, they needed specialized training. So why give them specialized training and let them loose into the fleet? Give them that training and let them loose with purpose built fireships. Can't for the life of me remember where I read/listened to/watched that but it was relatively recently. If I find it, I'll post a link. 

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many firehips were converted regular ships, ex Navy, merchant or prizes. Have a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_ship and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fireships_of_the_Royal_Navy

I think their original decoration was not taken off out of two reasons: too much work involved and if one could distinguish an enemy fireship on the first glance due to "low end" outfit it was easier to to adjust own tactics. 

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