Friday, April 27, 2012

Just frigate about it.

...In which our protagonist shows off the miniscule Dutch 30-gun ship.

It's small. Tiny, even. And... bright blue?

I'm not particularly thrilled with the way this one turned out, mainly because of the colour. True, in the baroque days of the 17th century gaudiness was cool, so it's perfectly plausible that a warship would've been decked out in bright blue and red (that, after all, was my rationale for painting this thing the way I did). On the other hand, it isn't as if there were drive-thru wash-and-wax stations to keep these things sparkling, and one would tend to think all the salt spray and sun would make expensive blue an unsuitable candidate for the broadside of a Dutch frigate. Not to mention the fact that every time I look at this thing I'm invariably reminded of Thomas the Tank Engine. It just needs a big smile on the front.

Actually I based my paint scheme on Ludolf Backhuysen's painting of the frigate De Ploeg. No, the ship in the painting doesn't have a bright blue stripe-- in fact, it's probably just varnished wood and not paint at all on the side of that thing. It does have a faint blueish sheen to it, however, which got me thinking how a good dark blue upperworks would look... Needless to say, things didn't quite work out the way I expected! A dark blue wash did nothing to dim my bright blue undercoat, and attempts to use blue ink as a quick fix only threatened to ruin the rest of my paintwork. in the end, being too stubborn to simply start fresh, I just blundered through to the end, and now simply try to avoid showing this thing to people unless I have to (until now, that is).

Anyway, like it or not, this is Langton Miniatures' AD17: Dutch 30 gun. Despite possessing only 2/3 the armament of the 46-gun Stad Gouda, the two models are virtually identical in size, and may well have been based off the same master. In my own defense, another reason for the jarring paint scheme was the need to be able to differentiate between ships at a glance (and admittedly, it is good for this). The small size means a) it's less impressive than the bigger models, and b) it's a real female dog to rig. And since it costs the same as all the bigger, more spectacular, and easier to work with ships, I can only recommend it to people who desperately want one for gaming purposes.
The beautiful stern art of a plowman on the frigate Der Ploeg is pretty much indistinguishable at 1:1200!

So why would you want one, I hear you ask? The 30-gun ship does have its uses. In the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-54), the Dutch had few purpose-built warships, so small frigates and converted merchantmen of this class would have been frequently pressed into the battleline. Even in the later wars, secondary theatres, particularly the Mediterranean, were often contested by squadrons made up of smaller war vessels. This 30-gun ship could also double as a small Indiaman, strong enough to go toe to toe with anything in Asian waters.

Next time: a better looking ship. Or maybe something else; I'll have to sort through my pictures to see what I can do.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Gouda and the Bad-a

...In which our protagonist finally gets off his lazy butt (or is that 'sits on his lazy butt'?) and writes another blog post. Yes, it's another 17th century ship from Langton Miniatures.

Dare I mention that it's been a while since my last post? Yes, yes I dare. I have no real excuse for the long interim, other than my aforementioned laziness. I've had the time, but lacked the volition... and now I'm several months behind in my blogging. Such is the price of procrastination, I guess.

The good news is, I've got all sorts of stuff to show off-- yes, more ships, but also plenty of not-ship stuff. The bad news is that my computer is quite obviously nearing the end of its life, and I'm not real keen to replace it. I've got so many internet-capable phones and ipods and e-readers that I can no longer justify a computer as a necessity... so I figure one last farewell-to-the-old-laptop blitz in a futile effort to get back up to speed is warranted (smart money says it's not going to be much of a blitz, by the way). So here goes.

Anyway, today we've got the Stad Gouda, a ship named after the fabled land of cheese wheels. Yes, those beautiful, mild, wonderful-melted-over-garlic-toast gouda cheese wheels... which is to say somewhere in southern Holland. You might reasonably expect a ship named after gouda to be somewhat rotund, perhaps covered with a protective waxy rind. Rather disappointingly, the vessel is, in fact, pretty representative of Dutch warship construction of the 1650s. Of course 'representative' is pretty useful if you're trying to build a fleet for wargaming.

There isn't much else to say about the historical ship, if only because I haven't been able to learn anything! The model is presumably based on one of the ubiquitous van de Velde drawings, depicting a ship of 46 or 50 guns, built in 1656. 46-gunners only seem to have been built for the Amsterdam admiralty; 50 gun vessels, on the other hand, were found in all six Dutch Admiralties. Taken together, this class of warship would have been the most numerous in the United Provinces' battlefleet, although larger vessels seem to have borne the brunt of the fighting.

The model itself is generic, meaning that unlike the rest of the named ships in Langton's Anglo-Dutch range, Stad Gouda has a blank taffrail. This gives the modeler the option of greater variety, but at the cost of being somewhat more difficult to paint. Trying to duplicate the painting that graced the historical Stad Gouda actually proved impossible-- showing the Gouda skyline in an area about a quarter of the size of my pinky fingernail is beyond even my talents. Instead, I decided to stick a moon on the taffrail and turn this ship into De Halve Maan, or, in English, The Half Moon. This was a popular name for Dutch ships, and while the most famous of these is undoubtedly the fluyt that carried colonists to the Nieuw Amsterdam/New York settlement, the actual vessel I had in mind was a 40-gun warship that served as the flagship of Cornelis Tromp at the Battle of Leghorn in the First Anglo-Dutch War.

Also worth a mention is the size (or lack thereof) of this particular model. The masts are so close together that rigging it proved quite the pain in the behind. For those used to doing the ships of Nelson's day in 1/1200, Stad Gouda is about the size of a 24-gun frigate of the Napoleonic era-- small indeed! For those who have never tried anything in this scale... well, suffice to say you can't even imagine.
Look, ma! No captions! Except for this one...

Next time: another ship. Gotta get through the backlog!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mary, Mary, quite contrary (a British 3rd rate in 1:1200 scale)

...In which our protagonist rediscovers his sense of humour, and (incidentally) talks about an English 70-gun ship of the 1660s.

Sleek and sexy HMS Mary, aka Langton Miniatures' AD9: British 3rd Rate.
Back again, with yet another post! I meant to sneak one in before the end of February... But then I didn't.

Not much booty on Mary... and I'm not talking about "pirate booty", either. Yes, I'm talking about her rear end, which, by 17th century standards, is fairly low and unimpressive. Admittedly, it is a definite step in the direction of improved seaworthiness.
Anyway, the topic of said post is my sense of humour, which, when last we checked, had been sewn into a bit of sailcloth with a couple of spare cannonballs for ballast and heaved overboard. However, it now appears to have resurfaced (perhaps because of the corrosive effects of immersion in saltwater). Consequently, my writings now threaten, as of old, to be swamped in irrelevant and irreverent sass, for which I profoundly and insincerely apologize. Sorry.

Another view of the aforementioned booty, aka taffrail. From this angle it's more impressive, since you can see all the Stuart-era bling.

Isn't there supposed to be something about Mary in all this?

Oh yes, Mary. She's a pretty little thing, so I don't mind talking about her. In fact, bring on the pretty maids, I say! Woo!

Ahem. Actually I'm talking about Langton Miniatures' AD9: British 3rd rate (Mary, 70 guns) in 1:1200 scale. Long and lean, this "great frigate" is representative of the new generation of heavy cruising ships built by the Royal Navy starting in the mid 17th century. Built for speed, maneuverability, and long endurance for overseas deployment, the type underwent some significant teething pains. For instance, the Speaker (Mary's original name, during the Commonwealth) was originally without a forcastle, and consequently tended to ship white water all the way up to the base of the mainmast. Who needs freeboard, anyway? Certainly not the British! Indeed, it was customary on English ships to cram in as many and as heavy guns as possible, to the detriment of unimportant things like crew safety or seaworthiness. The Speaker, built to carry 50 guns, eventually found herself carrying the aforementioned 70. Unsurprisingly, the extra topweight did little for her vaunted speed or maneuverability, and in point of fact didn't do much to increase her firepower, either; being so low in the water, fair weather and a calm sea were prerequisites for her to open her lower tier of gunports! Very clever, those English...

Mary has got some pretty nice top-hamper, if you know what I mean.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying this was a poorly designed warship. Far from it. By combining (at least on paper) good sailing qualities, decent firepower, and a fair turn of speed all for a reasonable cost, the Mary and her sisters can be considered the ancestors of the great two-decker ships-of-the-line of the 18th century, the famous 74s. Heck, all it took was the French, who who made the astounding decision to build hulls large enough to actually keep all the guns they were planning to put in them above water (yes, I'm aware that all you Francophobic Brits are going to pretend you didn't read this. Whatever).

A good view down Mary's mizzen. She really knows how to run up that Red Ensign!

It isn't how big it is, it's what you do with it that counts.

Of course if she tells you that, it means she thinks you have a small... cog? But of course size is the issue here, and it is the ship I'm talking about. The model Mary, a 3rd rate, is longer than the model English 1st rate, and considerably larger than the Dutch 70 gun ship. Yeah, British men-o'-war of the day tended to be larger than their Dutch equivalents, but Mary was, as previously mentioned, built for only 50 guns, while the Dutchman is a purpose-built 70. Sculpting error? Maybe. Langton does use builders' plans to make their models as accurate as possible... but there were no builders plans in the 17th century (as astounding as that is!). To me, Mary just seems too big. Part of it is that she's riding high-- as mentioned above, British ships in particular tended to sit very low in the water, yet model Mary's lower guns are perhaps the highest-sited in the Anglo-Dutch range, English or Dutch.

Sometimes bigger IS better.
Perhaps another reason the ship looks so big is that she's got small gunports. How small? Too small. To paraphrase the blessedly long-retired Sir Mix-a-lot, "I like big 'ports and I cannot lie." More pertinently, the only depiction I could find of the actual ship is one of the ubiquitous van de Velde drawings; and to all appearances the port lids on the model are smaller than they ought to be. Shrinkage? Hey Mary: is the water too cold? Are those only 12-pounders on your lower deck, or aren't you happy to see me? (ha ha ha!) ...Anyway, maybe our protagonist should get his mind out of the proverbial lower deck, and back to griping nitpickishly about unimportant trivialities.

Do you know why they call her "three-penny Mary"? Because she's three pennies long. That's why.
But there are benefits to being big; don't let anyone tell you differently. For one thing, bigger means more intimidating, which can be very important on the gaming table. For instance, witness the following exchange during an Anglo-Dutch Wars battle:

          Dutch player: "Hey, how come yours is bigger than mine?"

          English player: "Heredity."

          Dutch player: "What? Oh. ...Get your mind out of the
                               proverbial lower deck, you English sod!"

As you can see, the player with the biggest ship possesses a clear moral advantage. Additionally, bigger models are also easier to rig, as well as easier to identify at a distance. There are probably even more advantages, but since good things come in threes (and because I'm lazy), I'll stop here.

Next time: Something else. Then again, maybe not. We'll see.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ye 1:1200 scale Anglo-Dutch Wars: British 5th rate

...Whereupon ye protagonist showeth ye man-o'-war of 36 gunnes.

Langton Miniatures AD5: British 4th rate, 36-40 guns. As usual, the sails, shrouds and ratlines are photo-etched brass, and the base is resin. The flags and pennant are homemade.

Yes, here I am only a week into February, and my 2012 post count has already matched the impressive 2011 total of three (impressive, but not in the good way, you understand). Even more surprisingly, I'm delivering on my promise; this post is about an English 5th rate of the XVII century.

Side view. The upper gunports are mostly hidden by the shrouds. Much of the lower gundeck would have been buried in the waves in any kind of a sea.

The ship is another Langton Miniatures model, of course, in this case AD5: British 5th rate 36-40 guns. She's small. She's sexy. Okay, maybe that last is a bit of a stretch; in point of fact she's so small that her masts actually appear rather over-thick. But that's just niggling. On the plus side, with this code the Langtons seem to have gotten past their teething problems, and there is a noticeable improvement in sculpting and casting quality on product codes AD5 through AD21. Compare, for instance, the sharply defined ladders on this ship versus the ones on 7 Provincien. What's that, you say? 7 Provincien doesn't have any ladders? Yes she does, actually; they just didn't cast or paint very well, and are consequently nearly invisible.

The English royal arms on the stern. I'm not sure if I used to much primer, or if the lion and unicorn aren't quite as crisply rendered as on some of the larger ships. At least they're identifiable.
It's a quintessentially British ship of the day-- low poop (for the time), sleek lines, and the old lion-and-unicorn supporting the Royal Arms on the taffrail, indicating a King's ship. If not for this last, the model would serve equally well as a merchantman, particularly as there are no guns visible on deck. The sharp sheer of the deck aft would've been increasingly rare later in the 17th century, but would only have looked seriously old fashioned after the Dutch Wars were over.

The 5th rate men o' war were surprisingly uncommon during these wars, mainly because there were few jobs they could perform with any real success. These were not the speedy frigates of Nelson's day, purpose-built by the dozen for work as cruisers and scouts. Rather, they were miniature battleships, two-deckers with the same hull lines as their larger siblings, and with their gunports dangerously close to the waterline. Poor firepower kept them out of the battleline, but they also made poor cruisers; while they did tend to be more manueverable, their light weight and shorter masts actually made them slower than the big ships. With the added problem of low freeboard, their employment as cruisers was largely restricted to the North Sea and Mediterranean.

She's a little one: barely 4cm from the taffrail to the tip of the bowsprit.
One indispensible, specialized role was left entirely to the 5th rates, however: working alongside fireships. In the titanic sea battles of the 17th century, the fleets were divided into squadrons, each with its own small complement of fireships. These were small, lightly-crewed ships crammed with casks of oil, flammable pitch and resin, gunpowder and double-shotted cannon. The fireships' job was to sail up to an enemy ship, grapple it, and fire the cargo; under the best of circumstances, the enemy vessel would burn, while the fireship's crew escaped in a boat. The job of the accompanying 5th rates was to prevent enemy boats or frigates from towing the fireship off course, as well as the unenviable task of intercepting enemy fireships before they could be used against the English line of battle--a task which was pursued with understandably less enthusiasm.

The Copper Currency Comparison: a couple of pennies long.

Next time: an English 3rd rate.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ye 1:1200 scale Anglo-Dutch Wars: British Armed Merchant

...Whereupon ye Protagonist showeth ye armed English shippe of 40 gunnes, and continueth ye naval project for ye XVII Century.

Langton's AD4: British Armed Merchant, 40 guns.

Yet another fine product from Langton Miniatures, in this case AD4, the British Armed Merchant, 40 guns. As you might guess, this ship is meant to be generic. This is very much a good thing, since making a different model for each of the innumerable ships that took part in the mammoth Anglo-Dutch wars would be prohibitively expensive, for both sculptor and for anyone who would feel obligated to collect them all.

Looking for trouble... or running from it? Hired merchant captains were not always renowned for conspicuous bravery.
As to whether or not this particular model is typical of an English merchantman of the time is difficult to say (the term 'British' is anachronistic). Drawing up construction blueprints was all but unheard of at the time, and consequently even similar ships from the same yard could vary widely in detail. Compared to the other purpose-built warships in the Langton line, the armed merchant is decidedly long and sleek-- not necessarily what you would expect in a merchant vessel, but given the lack of hard data and Langton's reputation for meticulous accuracy, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Stern view. Notice the narrow beam compared to the ship's length.
 Then again, the ship's design is in many ways ambiguous. The taffrail is relatively austere compared to the warships, lacking much of the heavy carving, not to mention the absence of the near-ubiquitous Stewart royal arms of the English men o' war. The design of the quarter galleries, the clinker-built upperworks, narrow poop and transom stern appear downright Dutch, while the comparatively low stern, high length-to-beam ratio, and the location of the catheads are more characteristically English. The aftmost gunports are also mounted lower than the rest of their respective tiers, indicating a "downhill" shear of the deck aft, which is--as far as I know--also characteristic of some English shipping.

Profile view. The low stern and oddly-placed gunports aft are clearly evident.
All in all, the ship is most useful as a merchantman hired or purchased by the navy; the full tier of guns visible on the upper deck wouldn't likely have graced the decks of an honest trader. A fair number of merchant vessels, mainly of the 4th rate (at the time, roughly 30 to 50 guns) were hired by the Royal Navy during the Dutch Wars to bolster the battlefleet, despite their decidedly chequered record. The merchantmen were frequently found to be slow, unhandy, lightly built, and, since they were often captained by their owners, rather shy of taking risks in battle. In hindsight, the hiring of merchant ships may seem odd, but at the time it was a common expedient; in fact until the crash warship-building programmes of 1665-66, the largest Dutch fighting ships were East Indiamen chartered from the VOC!

Starboard quarter.
The model itself is, like Langton's 7 Provincien, one of the earlier offerings in this range. The main drawbacks on this particular unit are clunky, difficult to install rudder, and the decidedly oversized guns on the deck. Not that these are major problems; at any kind of normal gaming distance they fade to insignificance.

The hull clocks in at just under 4 cm or 1.5 inches in length.
 Reflecting its origins as a privately-owned ship, I opted to forgo the usual gold/red/black/varnished wood colour scheme I've been giving to the King's ships. Instead, the upperworks have been painted a dark green, and I've made the insides of the rails a darker burgundy. I also used a much smaller red pennant; red flags and pennants were flown by the senior squadron of the Royal Navy, as well as by any warship not sailing with the main battlefleet. I'm not sure whether these flags and pennants were provided to each ship ready made, or whether they were produced aboard ship; certainly in the latter case any enterprising merchant captain might be sorely tempted to sew a smaller flag and sell off the excess scarlet cloth! I've also given the ship an English flag rather than a Union one; I guess the skipper of this particular ship just doesn't like Scotland.

Copper Currency Comparison: she's only about two pennies long!
One more for the road.

Next time: an English 5th rate frigate.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ye 1:1200 scale Anglo-Dutch Wars: De Zeven Provinciën

...Whereupon ye Protagonist continues with his project of ye XVII Century, conceiving to show ye Dutch Flagship De Zeven Provinciën.

Langton`s 1:1200 scale De Zeven Provinciën from the starboard quarter.
So here I am, back again. To the surprise of no one, it's been more than two months since my last post, this despite my promising a "veritable flurry of posts" back in October. Clearly I'm not to be trusted.

Nevertheless, more time between posts means more time to work through the leadpile; much has been accomplished on the hobby front, and I'm eager to show it all off. What this means is that this time around I'm going to promise not merely this one pathetic post, but at least seven more posts in the near future! It's unprecedented, I know. but barring catastrophe (and the aforementioned caveat about my trustworthiness), it's going to happen. The Pictures are taken; all that's required is for me to sit my lazy butt in front of a keyboard.
View showing the tightly-packed gundecks. The largest Dutch warships were two-and-a-half-deckers carrying 80 guns, like De Zeven Provinciën. By contrast, the English required more space for their heavier guns; their contemporary 80-gun ships were all three-deckers.
But I digress. We're here today to talk about the lovely ship in all the pretty pictures. This is Langton Miniatures' AD1, 7 Provincien aka De Zeven Provinciën, or, in English, The Seven Provinces. The original ship was built in Rotterdam during 1665, at the beginning of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, as a special overall flagship for the United Provinces' combined fleet.

Some additional explanation is perhaps warranted here: unlike England, France, Spain, or any of the other better-known maritime states during the Age of Sail, the Netherlands had no navy-- instead, they had no fewer than five navies, each with their own ships, docks, shipyards, stores, admirals, and everything else. They had one Admiralty for the province of Zeeland, and another for Friesland; the other three represented different parts of Holland, the largest Dutch province. These were the Admiralty of the Maas/Maze/Maeze, representing Rotterdam, the Admiralty of the Noorderkwartier, representing Westfriesland, and the Admiralty of Amsterdam. Each of these five navies was traditionally quite jealous of its prerogatives, and their flag officers were prone to bickering, even while they were ostensibly cooperating against the English. This organization (or lack thereof) had served them miserably in the first Anglo-Dutch war, contributing to a number of alarming defeats. Addressing the problem, the States General (i.e. the federal government of the Netherlands) opted to name a single commander-in-chief.

I`ve been putting lots of flags on these models; it really seems to make them stand out. For me, this gaudiness was one of the main draws of this period over the more popular Napoleonic age.

Another of the primary factors contributing to Dutch losses in the first war was the small size of their ships. Amsterdam especially suffered from shallow, silty harbours, and that city's economic and political predominance over the States General had allowed Amsterdam to impose severe size restrictions on the ships of all the Dutch admiralties. Only the disasterous test of war against the English--who possessed the largest and most heavily armed warships in the world--proved the folly of such limits. Consequently, between the wars all the Dutch admiralties embarked on flurried programs of construction, churning out a new generation of heavier warships, intended to wrest the control of the seas back from the English. There were still shortcomings in the new ships: the shallow Dutch harbours meant that there was still no chance of matching the largest English ships, either in size or in firepower; nevertheless, events proved that the new Dutch fleets were nothing to shrug off.

View from the waterline.
 De Zeven Provinciën was the pride of the new establishment, the largest and most heavily armed ship in the Dutch fleet. As built, she carried 80 guns: 12 36-pounders, 16 24-pounders, 14 18-pounders, 12 12-pounders, and 26 6-pounders. The mixture of different calibres was unavoidable; there were few large arms manufacturers in the Netherlands, leading to a chronic shortage of the largest guns. The ship was modified several times over her career, mostly in regards to armament, but was never seriously rebuilt; the light construction of Dutch ships (necessary because of the shallow harbours), and their employment in so many battles meant they never lasted quite as long as some of their foreign counterparts, and De Zeven Provinciën was finally broken up in 1694.

A portside view

Of course I shouldn't understate the importance of this ship to the Dutch. Its tempting to make comparisons to HMS Victory, but even that could be seen as an understatement; whereas the British have a long history of naval dominance and can consequently look back on a number of greatly renowned ships, De Zeven Provinciën stands alone as the best-remembered symbol of the single short age of Dutch naval preeminence. In a lifetime of only thirty years, she fought in no less than seven major fleet battles: the Four Days' Battle and the St. James Day Battle in the Second Anglo-Dutch War; the Battle of Solebay, the First and Second battles of Schooneveld, and the Battle of the Texel in the Third Anglo-Dutch War, and finally the twin battles of Barfleur and La Hougue during the War of the Grand Alliance. As the flagship of the almost-legendary Admiral Michiel Adrianszoon de Ruyter, she frequently fought broadside to broadside against much more powerful opponents; during the St. James Day Battle, for instance, she defeated the massive English first-rate flagship Royal Charles in a duel lasting four hours, before being beaten in turn by another first-rate, the Royal Sovereign (ex-Sovereign of the Seas, ex-Sovereign, the most powerful ship in the fleet).

Stern view. The red lions on the stern decoration are well cast, considering their size, although the seven coats of arms (representing the eponymous seven provinces of the Netherlands) have been reduced to a single shield.
Like the rest of Langton's Anglo-Dutch line, the model is exceptionally detailed for 1:1200 scale. On the other hand, 7 Provincien does suffer from being the first ship of this series to enter production; the detailing actually seems to have been too fine, particularly on the quarter-gallery trim, and thus isn't as crisply cast as some of the other vessels. The guns visible on the ship's deck are also comparatively larger and more crudely sculpted. None of this is particularly noticeable on the finished model however, and I hasten to add that this is still very much a top-rate offering.

From stem to stern, the ship clocks in at a little more than 5cm or 2 inches. Yeah, I paint these things with a magnifier.

Choosing a colour scheme for De Zeven Provinciën was relatively easy; ships as famous as this one are always popular subjects for modelers, so pictoral examples abound. The only real decision was whether to paint the upperworks blue or green. I chose green, obviously.

The key test: yes, you could fit it in your pocket. No, you wouldn`t want to. Not unless you wanted to buy me a new one (and pay for me for the time and effort it takes to build these things).
 Next time: more Langton Anglo-Dutch, specifically an English 4th rate.