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Ships of the Line

by Daelon

Throughout the 18th and early 19th century, warships were called Ships of the Line. These mammoths were considered engineering master pieces that took months, sometimes years, to build. Some had as few as 16 guns, while others had as many as 120 cannon, or more. These ships took war to the seas with crews of hundreds. Gentlemen commanded these ships and they made their ship apart of their lives.

Empire Total War does a fine job of replicating these lumbering monsters. Most notably, the Heavy 1st Rate. These were considered battleships of their time, and were rarely taken out onto the high seas to patrol. They were held in the harbor and were only used in staged battles, much like the Battle of Trafalgar. In this guide, I will discuss and explain the six basic ship of the lines, and speak a bit about the Carronades.

Part 1: Sixth Rates

These were the first ships of the era built for naval battles. Sloops, galleons, brigs and other small merchant vessels really can't compete against the first of six ships of the line. A large galleon might be able to put up a fight, but would be outmaneuvered.

The sixth rate ship of the line is a small frigate, carrying 32 guns with a crew of 95. These entry-level war ships are very mobile, and relatively faster to their predecessors. A well trained crew can handle the vessel with great efficiency, and with a good commander can make quick work of larger war ships.

Sixth rate's do not stand a chance against 3rd rates or higher, simply due to the fact they are outgunned and out-manned. A common practice to use sixth rates is leaving them out on the flanks of a battle to simply sit there and fire cannon volleys while your larger ships engage at closer ranges.

Part 2: Fifth rates

Next in line is the Fifth Rate ship of the line. These war birds carry more guns, crew, and have overall better stats. Double the guns, and a bit more men, these venerable frigates work well in conjunction with larger war ships. Much like the Sixth rates, the Fifth rate is a single deck frigate. Capable of firing barrages at the same range as Sixth rates, they pack a bit more of a punch and can take more damage.

I usually take fifth rates over sixth rates in every sea battle, just due to the fact that they do a bit more for a little bit more gold.

Part 3: Fourth Rates

The fourth rate is the first double-decker ship of the line. They offer more guns and crew, stronger hulls, slightly slower, less maneuverable, but deliver stronger broadsides. They can use chain, grape and solid shot ordinances. Whenever I use fourth rates, their sole purpose in game is to de-mast enemy ships with chain shots. Cutting down masts SIGNIFICANTLY effects maneuverability and speed.

Again, slightly increased number of guns and crew. The fourth rate is the first reputable ship to attempt to board with. They have enough crew to last, and can board third rates with no problem. It is recommended that you grape shot ships before you board to even the odds.

Part 4: Third Rates

Now we start to get into the more sluggish type of ships. Heavier, deadlier, and larger ship of the lines start with the third rate ship of the line. These war birds would be probably the biggest ship in a fleet or squadron. They almost have 199 crew and 74 guns on two decks. The third rate is the last of double-decked ships of the line.

It would be the first ship of the line I would send in for close engagements. They have enough firepower to pack a heavy broadside, and withstand several broad sides. These ships should be supported by lighter fifth and sixth rate ships of the line. The third rate also has cannons on the foreword of the ship, perfect for perusing fleeing ships.

Part 5: Second rates

The first three-decker behemoths. Now with 227 man crews, and 86 guns, these ships I would like to classify as true battle ships. They can withstand a beating, and deliver an even better one. A full broadside at good distance can severely damage lower rate ships, and pack a mean punch into ships of the same size.

Second rates should be used only to engage ships of the same size. You shouldn't waste ships of this size on smaller ships unless you do not have better targets. These ships can also board most ships and win without a problem. Their numbers go a good distance when boarding ships, and typically can keep good moral unless the ship is being hammered.

Part 6: First rates

Largest of the ships of the line. I will include the heavy first rate into this part. These are true battleships. 106 guns, 267 men on this floating monster. They do, however, have terrible speed and maneuverability that offset their terrifying broadsides. Be careful though, a fleet of sixth rates may outmaneuver these monstrosities.

Thankfully, the massive barrages that the first rates deliver can decimate smaller ships of the line, in usually two or three broad sides. Be careful when engaging first rates, both when boarding and at range. They have decent morale, but due to their size the morale is a bit lower, but because of their hull strength, they can withstand the most amount of damage.

Part 7: Carronade Frigate

Remove the cannons from the sixth rate, take some 24-pound howitzers and place it on a sixth rate, and you have yourself a carronade frigate. These have very short range, but pack the meanest punch for such a small ship. They cannot take much damage but they do a fine job of delivering when needed.

These ships are not built to engage for long periods of time. They don't have the hull strength to withstand long barrages. This is why they should sit off on the side of a battle at a good distance to fire off their guns until danger lurks closer, like a larger ship of the line.

I hope you enjoyed this guide.

—Daelon


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