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Constitution vs Guerriere: Frigates during the War of 1812 (Duel) Paperback – August 18, 2009
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“The four battles are fully covered so that we can understand how each ship performed during these times. The book is superbly illustrated with period painting and drawings and there is a statistical analysis of each of the battles. In all, a superlative inclusion to this series. It is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and is one that I know you will find a delight as well.” ―Scott Van Aken, Modeling Madness (October 2009)
“Mark Lardas' Constitution vs Guerriere: Frigates During the War of 1812 follows a duel between two 19th century sailing frigates, one of the most brutal classes of arms in history where four famous frigate duels were fought. A vivid analysis of combatants, ships and their battles.” ―The Bookwatch (December 2009)
About the Author
Mark Lardas holds a degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, but spent his early career at the Johnson Space Center doing Space Shuttle structural analysis and space navigation. An amateur historian and a long-time ship modeler, Mark Lardas is currently working in League City, Texas. He has written extensively about modeling as well as naval, maritime, and military history.
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I love square riggers, and this book gives fine details of the first couple frigate fights in the War of 1812. There is nice detail about the ship guns, about how they were rated, etc. The author seems to give Humphreys less credit over how the American frigates were built than my sense is, but that is not a negative point, just a disagreement.
My only negative are the side bars, which while informative, are also distracting. Sometimes one feels as if half the book was written as a side bar. One wishes the author might have figured out how to include more of the information in the main body. As it stands, it breaks up the flow of the book somewhat.
This, however, is a small complaint, not a major detraction. Overall a good little addition to the collection of information on the War of 1812.
The volume begins with a 13-page section on the design and development of British and American frigates in the late 18th Century. Two color plates with technical data, one of the Constitution and one of the Guerriere, are included. The next section is a 5-page discussion of the strategic naval situation in 1812 and includes a map that depicts the location of the five main frigate actions. It is in the 9-page section on technical specifications that the author makes his main points about the superior firepower and protection of the American Humphreys-built frigates. The 11-page section on combatants is also interesting and includes profiles of one British and one American captain.
The heart of the volume lies in the 16-page section on combat, which covers the four main frigate actions in detail. The author's combat narrative is well done and he aptly uses data to support his conclusions. Although the period artwork of these actions is excellent, the two battle scenes are very similar and don't add very much (it would have been nice if one was from the angle of the marksmen up above or below on the gun deck, instead of two deck scenes). The author's analysis in the final section is also excellent and well-supported, making clear that superior training and gunnery were the prime ingredients for victory in frigate duels. The author also provides a bibliography and a glossary. Overall, this volume is a fine addition to the Duel series and a worthy read for anyone interested in a technical look at fighting in the age of sail.
The book begins by noting something of the romance of the frigates during this historic time frame (Page 4): "Command of a frigate was the goal of every dashing captain during the Age of Fighting Sail, the period from 1650 through 1820. Not only could a frigate beat anything it could catch and escape from anything that could beat it, but the captain of a frigate also commanded the most potent independent warship afloat."
This slender Osprey volume covers life in one of these sailing warships (grim--take a look at the rations on page 39). The book covers the structure and specifications for frigates--both British and American. A table on page 21 compares some British and American frigates in terms of length of gun deck, breadth, and tonnage. Want to learn about armament and sails? You can get a nice thumbnail sketch here.
Then, the story of the combatants--the sailors and the officers of these elegant warships. Brief biographies are presented for such officers as Stephen Decatur. The hi8ghlight of the book is a discussion of the fights between frigates. For instance, Constitution versus Guerriere (pages 48-54), including a sketch of the maneuvers of the two vessels.
All in all, a nice addition to Osprey's "duel" series.