1804 - Invasion Flotilla, Description of prames &c


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1804 British and French Fleets - Channel 218

20 sail under M. Villeneuve approaching from off Rochefort, would, it was considered, be sufficient to cover the grand flotilla, and enable it to fulfil the ultimate object of all the expeditions on foot, a disembarkation of its host of troops on the shores of England ; and which, it was at last discovered, could not be accomplished without the powerful aid of the larger vessels. The year 1804, however, was not destined to witness the attempt, much less the execution, of this gigantic, and, in the opinion of most persons, impracticable undertaking.

Before we proceed, as is now our intention, to narrate the different engagements which, during the present year, ensued between the British cruisers and the French flotilla, prepared or preparing for the invasion of England, some account of the vessels of that flotilla, and of the ports in which they were assembling, will free the subject from much of the obscurity that must otherwise attend it. The armed vessels of the flotilla were divided into five or six classes. It will suffice to describe the prame, and the gun-vessel, or canonnière. The prame was a remarkably strong-built vessel, measuring in her extreme length about 110 French feet, and 25 in breadth, and drawing from seven to eight feet water. She was rigged as a ship, and carried 12 long 24-pounders, with a crew of 38 sailors, and upwards of 100 soldiers, the majority of them, from daily practice, as useful on shipboard as the sailors themselves. Of these prames, or corvettes, 20, each with stalls for 50 horses, were ordered to be constructed ; but the number was afterwards greatly augmented.

The first-class gun-vessels, rigged as brigs, were usually armed with three long 24-pounders and an 8-inch mortar, and the second class, with one 24-pounder forward, and a field-piece abaft ; some rigged as schooners, and some as luggers. Of these two classes between 600 and 700 were constructed ; and, of a smaller and lighter class called " péniches " (rigged chiefly as schuyts), about 400. The gun-vessels, as well as the prames, were afterwards increased in number ; so that the armed vessels of the flotilla amounted to 1339, and the transports to 954; total 2293 vessels. The naval commander-in-chief of this numerous flotilla was Vice-admiral Eustache Bruix, having as an assistant, on account of ill health, Rear-admiral Jean-Raimond Lacrosse, a brave and intelligent officer, and the same, it will be recollected, who commanded the Droits-de-l'Homme at the time of her loss.

The ports of reunion for the flotilla were seven; Ostende, Dunkerque, Calais, Ambleteuse, Vimereux, Boulogne, and Etaples. Boulogne, as being situated directly in front of, and only about 12 leagues distant from, the low land between Dover cliff and Hastings point, was made the main depôt, or capital. Until the grand project of invasion was thought of, Boulogne possessed a worthless harbour, formed by the estuary of the little river Laine, and nearly dry at low water, with only one quay. In, a short time both banks of the river were lined with quays ;

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