USS Wasp vs HMS Avon, 1 September 1814

The clash between USS Wasp and HMS Avon (1 September 1814) was a second victory for the American raider, but came late in an ambitious raid that ended in tragedy when the Wasp was lost at sea with all hands.

The Wasp had been sent across the Atlantic to conduct a raid on British shipping in the western approaches to the English Channel. The temporary end to the Napoleonic Wars meant that the seas were now too dangerous for the larger American frigates, but the Wasp, a 22 gun ship-sloop, was able to get past the British blockade and reach areas that were not as well protected as they had been when French privateers had been a threat.

The cruise of the Wasp fell into two halves. In the first she captured seven merchant ships and defeated the British sloop HMS Reindeer (28 June 1814). She then reached safety in the French port of L'Orient, where she remained for two months, despite the new alliance between Britain and France.

The second part of the cruise began on 27 August when the Wasp put back to sea, apparently heading for home. She captured two more merchant ships in August, before on 1 September running into a ten ship convoy guarded by the 74 gun ship of the line HMS Armada. The value of smaller, faster, sloops was made clear during this encounter - the Wasp was able to capture and destroy the brig Mary before the Armada could react, and even attempted to capture a second ship before finally being driven off.

Later on the same day the Wasp encountered HMS Avon, an eighteen gun brig (sixteen 32 pdr carronades and two long guns). Some time passed before the two ships were certain that the other was an enemy, but eventually the Wasp caught the Avon, and both ships opened fire at around 21.30. The Avon's efforts were apparently ineffective, but the Wasp's early broadsides were devastating, bringing down some of the Avon's masts and sails. The Avon was now out of control, and some of her guns were masked by the fallen sails, but for the moment her captain, Commander the Honourable James Arbuthnot, was determined to fight on. At around 22.00 the Wasp ceased fire and called on the Avon to surrender, but the only response was a broadside. The Wasp returned fire, and finally, at 22.30, the Avon was forced to surrender. During the hour long fight she had lost 10 dead and 32 wounded and had been so badly damaged that she would soon sink.

The Wasp was denied the fruits of her victory. Other British ships were in the area, and now appeared on the scene. First to arrive was HMS Castilian, a similar ship to the Avon. The crew of the Wasp prepared to engage the Castilian, but two more sails were seen on the horizon, and it became clear that her only option was to withdraw. The Castilian began a short pursuit, but was called by a distress signal from the Avon. The surviving crewmen were rescued before the Avon sank.

The Wasp didn’t survive much longer. Two more merchant ships were captured and sunk (Three Brothers on 12 September and Bacchus on 14 September). The Atlanta was captured on 21 September, a prize crew put onboard and she sailed for the United States (arriving on 4 November). The Wasp herself was never seen again, and is assumed to have sunk in a storm somewhere between Madeira and the Caribbean. 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 October 2011), USS Wasp vs HMS Avon, 1 September 1814 ,

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