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.