This book focuses on the activities of frigates and frigate captains during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, looking especially at their activities away from the main battle fleets. The frigates were the workhorses of the fleet, maintaining a presence in waters that rarely saw a ship of the line. They also formed a key part of small squadrons, operating with one or two larger ships in circumstances that meant they had to take part in battles against larger opponents. The most famous frigate commanders were those lucky enough to win a dramatic dual with one of their French opponents, ideally capturing the defeated warship. During this period the frigates carried out a very wide range of activities, from commerce protection to supporting amphibious attacks, acting as the eyes of the fleets, blockading French ports and generally harassing the French and their allies. The major battles do feature in the text, but don't get too much coverage.
The book takes the form of a chronological narrative of key actions presented within a framework of the general course of the war. This puts it very much in the Hornblower or O'Brian school of writing rather than the academic study of naval warfare - don't look for an analysis of frigate construction or the problems of supplies the widely spread fleet. Instead expect an exciting read that follows these frigates during a war that spanned many entire careers, fought against an enemy that was persistent, and sometimes very skilful.
Having followed the generally successful activities of the Royal Navy through most of the book, it becomes easier to see why the sudden series of defeats at the hands of the Americans at the start of the War of 1812 caused such shock in Britain. There had been plenty of setbacks during the long wars against the French and their allies, but there were often mitigating circumstances, and they were scattered in time. In contrast the Americans won a series of victories in fairly equally balanced single-ship duals, all in a short period of time. The bad news just kept on coming, and the successful British blockade lacked the glamour of the early American victories (then and now). The decision to include the War of 1812 is an excellent one, giving a more complete picture of the experiences of the frigates during the period.
1 - 'Post nubile Phoebus'
2 - 'We dished her up in fifty minutes'
3 - 'Consummate professional skill'
4 - 'A very heavy gale'
5 - 'Broadside uppermost'
6 - 'The Devil in harbour'
7 - 'I shall return'
8 - 'I will lead you myself'
9 - 'So daring an enterprise'
10 - 'The peace which passeth all understanding'
11 - 'England expects'
12 - 'Firmness … to the backbone'
13 - 'Stand firm'
14 - 'Remember Nelson'
15 - 'My Lord, you must go'
16 - 'To purge the eastern side of the globe'
17 - 'Don't give up the ship'
18 - 'The ship is safe'
Author: Richard Woodman
Year: 2014 edition of 2001 original