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Mariners engage enemy in single action and are driven off, lose 6-0

JULY - 2023 Ballparks are now Battlefields

Detroit Tigers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

To the honorable lords of the Admiralty, First Lord Admiral Manfred

Dear Sir,

Shortly after 4 bells in the first dog watch of the 15th instant, we spied an unknown sail hull down on the easterly horizon. She was nose on to us, and the lookout was unable to determine the exact cut of her sails. She was clearly square rigged and sailing straight towards us. Believing her to be an enemy warship that had mistaken us for a merchant vessel, I ordered my men to silently clear for action, so as not to alert the newcomer to our intentions.

I regret to report that due to recent shore leave, there is a current epidemic of poor discipline among the regular seamen. In clearing for action the men were slovenly and disordered, and the boatswain had to make frequent use of his cat in order to prevent shouts and cries from the sailors. I ordered the sailing master to set a course just to the north west, on a tack that would make it seems like we were fleeing, but still on a tack that would give us the weather gauge once we turned and fought. In an ironic sort of luck, the topmen handled the sails so poorly that the enemy must have surely been convinced that we were but a mere merchantman.

As time wore on, the enemy’s hull rose over the horizon and for the first time were able to identify her. She was larger than expected, a frigate of 40 guns. Our sloop-of-war would be no match for such a foe. During the coming engagement we determined her identity to be the Tigre. The enemy closed with us and at approximately two bells in the second dog watch, they opened fire with their bow chasers loaded with chain shot. A lucky shot tore through our main topsail.

I would have prefered to draw them in a little closer, but rather than be crippled without responding, I made the decision to turn and fight. The move, however, was mistimed by First Lieutenant Kirby and allowed the enemy to fire their chasers again, doing yet more damage to our sails. Meanwhile, our gunners, being poorly trained, we unable to score even so much as a single hit on the enemy from our chasers.

We were now, at five bells, pointed straight at each other, with the wind at our backs. However, the enemy made the unconventional move and started her turn first. The Tigre turned hard to port, and brought her starboard guns to bear. The enemy frigate fired a raking broadside right down our bow, practically crippling us.

It was at this moment that I began to bring my ship around to starboard in order to bring my guns to bear. Our broadside was fired properly, however it was improperly aimed. Only one shot from our cannons hit. That shot, however, did damage. It was fired by the number 5 port gun, crew captained by a seaman named Kelenic. The shot hit the enemy right on their quarterdeck, and from my position I could see clearly that it had shaken their officers. After some time the French captain, named Lorenzen if our records are accurate, was taken below.

Meanwhile, I had ordered that the ship continue to turn to starboard after firing the broadside, making it appear that I intended to take advantage of our ship’s smaller size by sailing close-hauled where the enemy could not follow. On instinct the French captain ordered that they match my course so that our two ships were now in line astern. However, right as we were about to cross into the eye of the wind, I ordered instead hard to port. I am pleased to write that the men handled this maneuver well, and the nose of the ship quickly swung round so that we were now once again headed downwind towards our enemy.

The frigate did not fare as well as we did. Unprepared for our change of plans, the Frenchman was still crossing the eye of the wind when he noticed us turn round. His men botched the maneuver and the frigate was left hanging in stays pointed right at the wind. We exchanged one more volley as our sloop shot by the immobilized frigate, and then we escaped. We lost sight of the frigate over the horizon as they were still stuck waiting for the wind to back.

We suffered six casualties, 2 dead, 4 wounded, with three coming from the raking broadside the Tigre delivered us.

Sir, I implore you to send us more men and officers. The petty officers we have onboard at present are as cruel as they are incompetent, and the gunners are worse. With discipline being at the state that it is, by no doubt we owe our lives to some form of Providence. We faced a surprisingly superior enemy and did not defeat him, only escaped. I fear the next engagement may be worse.

I am and remain your obedient servant,

S. Servais

Cpt. HMS Mariner