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November 24, 2005

Wooden Walls

With all the celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar now behind us, I felt it was appropriate to bring out this picture of the famous old ship herself. A little shorter in overall length than a modern Type 23 Frigate, she mounted 104 guns in her broadside batteries, the largest, the 32 pounders, on the lower gun deck. Her crew of 995 men and officers (including a Royal Marine Comany of just over 100) lived in incredibly cramped conditions between the guns. Even the officers were quite crowded in their quarters aft in the Wardroom, with only the Captain, Thomas Masterman Hardy, and the Admiral having the luxury of a private space with separate sleeping quarters. The Midshipmen lived in the "Gunroom", a space below the waterline aft, which also became an overflow sickbay in battle.

HMS Victory, still in commision after 248 years, flying the Flag of the Port Admiral, Portsmouth Dockyard.

The 32 pounder guns had a range of about 3 miles and the 24 pounders on the middle gundeck could send a shot about the same distance. The upper gun deck carried lighter 12 pounders which had a slightly lesser range. Fired at close quarters into an enemy, the shot often passed right through the other ship, tearing out huge chunks of the ship's fabric in the process. Most wounds were from wood splinters rather than shot - and gangrene almost always followed a splinter wound as "Green Heart" Oak (from which these ships were built) is poisonous! On the Quarterdeck and on the forecastle she carried (in common with most British ships of the period) a number of "Smashers" - Carronades - short barrelled guns which fired a large hollow caste iron ball filled with metal balls. These burst on impact and did terrible damage in the process. Victory had 24 pounder carronades on the Quarterdeck and four 64 pounders on the forecastle. It was one of these latter which almost put Admiral Villeneuve out of the fight right at the outset.

The Grand Old Lady is open to the public and well worth the effort of visiting her.

Posted by The Gray Monk at November 24, 2005 10:40 PM

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