Friday 7 June 2024

Napoleonic Naval - 1st June 1794

Wtih models and rules provided by local naval enthusiast Andrew Taylor, a group of us got together on the 230th anniversary of The Glorious First of June 1794. In this battle the British Fleet captured six French ships and sunk another and claimed victory, though both fleets were seriously damaged. The French also claimed a strategic victory in that the grain fleet they were escorting escaped.

The Battle

Here's the British fleet heading west, chasing the French.

British Fleet in the foreground with French in the background. The French Grain fleet that was being protected would be further north of table.

View from the north of French Fleet, as Andy Barclay and I attempt a dubious double line tactic. or to be fair, I attempt a double line tactic with the Vanguard while Andy wonders what I'm doing.

The idea being that when the British intercept, they will get a blasting form the first line, which will then power down wind under full sail (assuming they still have all their sails of course which is a potential flaw in the plan), while the second line delivers a second volley into the same British ships.

British start heading downwind towards the Fench.

The British intercept near the rear and front of the French fleet, concentrating firepower on a couple of points, before turning parallel to the French.

We end up with British ships between the two lines, and both side just blast away at each other.

One of the French ships leading the vanguard is crippled and strikes its colours to surrender (top right), many other ships are not in rather poor shape. The  ships are heavily intermingled firing increasingly less effective broadsides at each other as they take damage. End result is bit of a bloody draw...

The Rules

With many dozens of ships in play and a proper fleet battle, you need a quicker set of rules than many Napoleonic Naval offerings (which are more approrpriate for a duel between maybe half a dozen ships a side at most).

The rules Andrew chose were thus based on Admirals, from Jeff Knudsen, see here:

These were modified to use squares rather than hexes. the carpet tiles below were each divided into 3x3 squares, each of which could hold a squadron of 3 ships, (plus potentially same of enemy), with chances of collision if more ships enter. Each large tile represented one nautical mile. As the ships all moved westwards, we took tiles off east end of board, and placed them at the west which worked really well.

Movement was up to 2 squares with the wind, (3 for frigates), 1 if close hauling into the wind, and 0 if trying to tack around it (and no penalty otherwise though Andrew thought there could be as it was quite a difficult manouever in reality).  

Combat was also nice and simple. Each ship had a rating of 4 for three decker, 3 for two decker, and -1 for each hit taken. You added up the number of the three ships in a square, so usually a number up to 10, and halved this number to get the number "to hit" number on a D10. Halve again if one square away, and once more if two squares away. Rounding down, and if below one, then you can't hit.  You rolled two D10 if a target was in view for one of two moves, and four D10 if in view for whole turn.
Ships had damage equal to their rating and would strike and surrender if fired on and  no damage remaining. You could also lose masts instead of taking other hits, which made it harder to manouever.

We also tried a card damage system at the end, though I personally didn't think this was easier to resolve. I also prefer dice over cards as I prefer the independence of outcomes dice provide over cards.
Anyway while there could be tweaks to these rules (e.g. ships tended to get stuck to each other which Andrew wanted to modify), I think the basic structure of the combat rules was pretty sound.

Ship Models

The ships Andrew made are very impressive I think. They were all scratch built using two or three layers of laser cut wood, square brass  tubing and rod for masts.  Sides were printed on light card with paper sails.  

As Andrew commented, he also wanted to have the ships lose masts to mark damage so that the table looked a little like one of Nicholas Pocock's sketches/paintings.  Pocock was present at the glorious First of June on HMS Pegasus, Lord Howe's signal repeating frigate, just upwind of the British battle line.

Having decided on removable masts he decided that it was important that the yards could be tacked.
Most games hard model their yards braced square, but this is a  point of sail on which almost no warship ever fought.  They were almost always braced to larboard, or starboard.  If you are going to tack the sails then you also need to be able to re-orient the flags.  Oh, and you can also then strike the ensign too!

By going for smaller models it is also less obvious that there is no rigging on the models.

Here's a picture of the ships being built.

He settled on 1/2400 scale ships.  Which he said was mostly in honour of the models built by John Clerk of Eldin, 1728-1812, the great 18th century armchair admiral who wrote and advocated for a study on naval tactics.  Some of these wax models have survived as in picture below.

Andrew noted there have been several recent articles in the Society for Nautical Research publication Mariner Mirror. Amongst other things there exists a copy of the publication with margin comments by Admiral Rodney of the Battle of Saintes, 1782 fame.  "The Influence of the Theories of John Clerk of Eldin on British Fleet Tactics, 1782-1805"  Jim Tildesley, 2020, Mariner's Mirror, p162-174.

Background History

Courtesy of Andrew here are some more pictures.
The Marlborough engaged with two French ships.

Table of flags worn by British ships at the Battle of the Glorious First of June, 1794.

The 'Queen Charlotte' and 'Queen" after the battle.

'Invincible' and 'Le Juste'

'Royal Sovereign' and the 'Terrible'  -  notice size difference between two 3-deckers.

Lord Howe to windward of the French Line on the same tack - Sail NOT square.

Several more refined paintings of action during the battle exist.
But awesome to have sketches from someone who was there.

Lastly, worth a reminder that Andrew Taylor has also built two ships with crew in 15mm!!
See this post on my blog for more details


  1. What a great looking game, can't believe all those ships are hand made!!!

  2. I was going to ask about the ships and the rules, but you laid it all out in perfect detail Mark. I prefer dice to work out damage outcomes as well, and I would imagine the card system could easily be converted to a table.

    1. Thanks Lawrence, and yes that coulld be anotehr option.

  3. Mark -
    That the masts are 'tackable' as well as removable is a bally good feature of those war ships. But even were they not, I think I would model my ships broad reaching on the larboard or starboard tack, rather than running before the wind. Just looks better, as your pictures show.