The USS Wasp in the War of 1812

This post follows on from this one on the US loss of Detroit and the capture of HMS Guerriere by the USS Constitution.

The sloop USS Wasp, captained by Master Commandant Jacob Jones, set sail from the Delaware River on 13 October 1812. Three days later Wasp lost two men and suffered damage to her rigging in a heavy storm. The next evening she observed half a dozen large ships and pursued them, although two of them appeared to be large warships.

The followng morning, 18 October, she caught the convoy, consisting of six merchantmen escorted by the brig HMS Frolic, which had also been damaged in the storm. Frolic’s captain, Thomas Whinyates, ordered his charges to sail east under all sail, whilst Frolic dropped back. Whinyates raised Spanish colours in the hope that Jones would think that his convoy was a Spanish one that Whinyates had seen a few days before, but Jones was not fooled.

Both ships carried 16 32 pound carronades, giving them a very strong close range armament for their size. Carronades were shorter and lighter than the standard naval long gun. A ship could therefore carry more or larger calibre carronades than long guns, but the range of a carronade was only a third to a half of that of a long gun. They were first produced by the Carron Ironworks in Scotland, hence their name

The Wasp had little long-range firepower, since the rest of her armament consisted of only two 12 pounders. Alfred Mahan writes that Jones claimed that Frolic carried six 12 pounders, but that the British naval historian James said that Frolic had only two 6 pounders in addition to her carronades. Theodore Roosevelt gives Frolic two 6 pounders and a moveable 12 pounder carronade in addition to her 16 32 pound carronades. J. J. Colledge’s Ships of the Royal Navy states that she had 18 guns, but does not give the types.[1] It is likely that the two ships had similar firepower.

Both ships had an armament biased towards close range combat, so they quickly closed the range and did not start firing until they were 60 yards apart.

Whinyates claimed that his ship produced ‘superior fire’[2], by which he meant that Frolic fired more quickly than the Wasp. The Americans thought that the British fired three broadsides to their two, but the American fire was more accurate.

The Wasp soon lost most of her rigging, but suffered only five men killed and five wounded. Fifteen of Frolic’s crew were killed and 43 wounded. The British ship was left unable to manoeuvre after her masts fell, and the Wasp, which had some control left, boarded. The British, with half the crew, including all the officers, dead or wounded, surrendered.

They were not to remain prisoners for long. The 74 gun third-rate ship of the line HMS Poictiers appeared. The Wasp and Frolic were both too badly damaged to flee and had no chance against Poictiers, so Jones had to surrender.

Whinyates returned to command of Frolic. Wasp was taken into British service, initially as HMS Loup Cervier and then as HMS Peacock. She was lost with all hands in 1814. Jones and his crew were soon exchanged and he was promoted to command the 38 gun frigate USS Macedonian. She had been captured by the USS United States later in October 1812; a forthcoming post on this blog will describe this action.

[1] J. J. Colledge, Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy from the Fifteenth Century to the Present (London: Greenhill, 1987), p. 143; A. T. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812, 2 vols. (London,: Samson Low, Marston, 1905). vol. i, pp. 414-15; T. Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812, 2 vols. (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900-2). vol. i, p. 128

[2] Mahan, Sea Power 1812. vol. i, p. 412.


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One response to “The USS Wasp in the War of 1812

  1. Pingback: The End of the War of 1812 | War and Security

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