Revenge in the Name of Honour: The Royal Navy’s Quest for Vengeance in the Single Ship Actions of the War of 1812
Nicholas James Kaiser
The War of 1812 between the USA and Great Britain attracts little attention today in the United Kingdom, and not much in America, compared to other conflicts in which those countries have been engaged during their respective histories. It broke out on the declaration of war by the United States on a Britain nearly nineteen years into its desperate struggle with what had become the Napoleonic Empire, one that involved all countries of Europe as well as many others in the world.
The new American war was received with little enthusiasm by the United Kingdom. What the year of 1812 is principally remembered for there and in Europe is Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, the epic battle of Borodino (the biggest battle of the entire French Wars) and the disastrous French retreat through the Russian winter. To contemporaries, however, the defeats at sea of 1812 at the hands of the small United States Navy provoked shock and initial disbelief to the British public and military. The Royal Navy’s ‘cult of victory’ had, over many years, built up the belief that a British frigate was capable of taking any frigate of any other nation, and was expected to. That expectation had largely been fulfilled against vessels of Britain’s principal enemies the French and the Spanish, as well as of others, including against more powerfully armed ships such as the new French 40-gun frigates armed with 24-pounder guns, frigates taken by British 38-gun frigates armed with 18-pounders.
The three large American 44-gun frigates were, however, yet another step up in power from the French frigates. The USS President, United States and Constitution were the most powerful frigates afloat in 1812, well built, manned and commanded. Their three 1812 victories against British 38-gun frigates, as well as successful American actions against smaller British vessels, provoked a public outcry, sending shockwaves through the navy and public in Britain and in Nova Scotia, Canada. American pride had been boosted by the victories at sea of their tiny navy, a much-needed boost following the ineffective American campaigns on land. British pride had been wounded. For both sides, the naval war had become a matter of honor to be upheld or reclaimed, as the author clearly points out, and of revenge to be exacted by the world’s most powerful navy.
The author, Halifax-based Nicholas James Kaiser, effectively follows this theme through to the war’s conclusion in 1815, offering a fascinating and well-balanced account that covers all the important actions and their effects. His style flows smoothly, and he has contributed a most readable book to the increasing volume of works on the War of 1812, and one with a different slant to most. This is an offering firmly recommended to all interested in the maritime history of the period and of this war in particular.
- Warwick: Helion & Company, 2020
- 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, softcover, 216 pages
- Illustrations, maps, appendices, bibliography, index. $32.95
- ISBN: 9781912866724
Reviewed by Roger Marsh, Killaloe, Co. Clare, Ireland