Friday, 16 January 2015

The Battle of Lissa - 1811

In March 1811 France dispatched a mixed French and Venetian flotilla of six frigates, and several smaller craft, under Rear-Admiral Bernard Dubourdieu to capture the strategic Adriatic island of Lissa. Off the coast of the island this force was met by a force of four British frigates under Captain William Hoste.

We played out the ensuing action last night using 'Form Line of Battle'

The Franco-Venetian force consists of six ships.

Windward Column - Favourite (40), Flore (40), Bellona (32)
Leeward Column - Danae (40), Corona (40), Carolina (32)

The Favourite, Flore and Danae are French and the other ships Venetian.

Opposing them, in line are Amphion (32), Active (38), Volage (22) and Cerberus (32). The Volage is entirely carronade-armed.

I rated the 40s and the 38 and Superior 5th rates, the 32s as 5th rates and the Volage as a 6th rate. The French and British ships had a gun-class of A, whilst the Venetian ships were B, as they didn't seem to have secondary carronades. The Volage was rated as D. Venetian crews were Poor, French were Experienced and the British crews Elite. The Franco-Venetian ships all had extra crew factors to represent the Italian soldiers they had on board.

Here are the British ships. They started in line ahead, beating and very close into the shoreline.

The two Franco-Venetian columns bore down on them.

An overview of the opening positions. The wind is coming from the top-left of the photo, and the land a little off the bottom of the picture. This meant that the battle would tend to drift into the island itself.

The French leeward column made for the two British ships at the rear of the line, and firing commenced at medium range between the Cerberus and the Danae.

The British got off to a bad start when, in the light winds under which the battle commenced, the Active almost ran on board the Amphion, steering out of the way at the last minute, but throwing the head of the British line into confusion.

The Danae and Cerberus closed to point-blank range and began to pound each other in earnest. Despite its smaller size, the more experienced British crew gave the Cerberus the advantage, and the Danae quickly began to suffer serious damage.

The engagement began in earnest. To the left the Favourite and Flore engaged the Amphion and Active, who had turned towards the land in order to avoid masking each other. Cerberus and Danae fought each other to the right. The Venetian ships lagged behind, barely into the fight yet, whilst the Volage also found itself strangely isolated, its deadly short-ranged firepower making the French somewhat reluctant to close with it.

The situation a few turns later. As in the actual battle the British ships had worn, and were now travelling in the opposite direction to that which they had started in. The Danae had taken a serious battering from the Cerberus and was close to striking, but kept passing its morale checks. Most of the Venetian ships were now engaged, although still not closely.

A broadside from the Cerberus finally finished off the Danae, shattering its hull and leaving it sinking.

The little Volage found itself stuck between two larger Venetian vessels, the Corona and Carolina. But quality told over quantity, and Corona caught fire

The Favourite had taken some major damage early on, and was soon in trouble. The crew were ready to strike after a broadside from the Active, but the wounded French captain rallied them. (In FLOB a killed captain critical gives a penalty when taking strike tests, but if the captain is wounded he inspires his crew and gives them a bonus - the Favourite missed a roll by one point and was saved soley because of this rule.)

By now the wind had picked up to a strong breeze, which made fine maneuvering harder, and very dangerous in such close proximity to the shore. But as the laggardly Bellona came into the fight the wind gave the Amphion a chance sweep across its stern, and rake the Venetian, hulling it below the waterline. The crew panicked and struck.

Meanwhile the crew of the Corona were having real difficulty extinguishing the fires on board their ship, but despite that managed to pull of a last minute tack to avoid going aground. That black bit is the edge of the table, representing the rocks on the coast of Lissa.

The Volage took advantage of a lull in the action to lower boats and take possession of the Bellona before it drifted into the island.

The British had also tacked, and were now back on their original course. Aside from the Amphion, who was now engaged with the Flore at the top of the picture.

The Flore put up a good fight, but once again the superior British gunnery began to tell.

The Favourite was pretty much beaten, and the Volage closed in to force it to strike.

Having extinguished the fire, but now badly damaged, the crew of the Corona decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and sailed their ship away. The Carolina joined them

The Franco-Venetian force lost the Danae, Favourite, Flore and Bellona, the first one sinking and the other three captured. Rear-Admiral Dubourdieu was seriously wounded, whilst the captain of the Danae was killed. Carolina and Corona escaped with moderate to heavy damage, mostly from fire in the case of Corona. The British ships took very little damage to the fabric of their ships, but the Cerberus and Amphion had taken plenty of hits, and both had their captains killed.

Despite their superiority in numbers this is a tough one for the Franco-Venetian force, but it's the numbers they have to use, ganging up on individual British ships whilst preventing others from assisting. In this game the British were mostly able to prevent this, fighting a series of one-on-one engagements in which quality was always going to win out. But it made for a great game, with some truly cinematic moments.


  1. Considering they had the weather gage at the outset I would have credited the Allies with the edge, despite the superior British gunnery. A fine squadron action in the best traditions of the Age of sail. The vessels, bases and ocean nicely presented too.

    1. Well, the gunnery counts as the Allies approach the British line; both the Danae and Favourite took a fair battering before they could really get stuck in. And, on the day, the Allies found the British line hard to break because they sailed quite close together.

      The other issue with this battle is that both sides are having to watch their proximity to the shore. If anything my setup had it too far away; in the actual battle a French ship went aground after a brief breakdown in its chain of command.

  2. The lee shore added a good twist to an engrossing naval engagement. We had just the right number of ships each to keep the game moving and have plenty of decisions to make. Many thanks for putting on this great scenario.

    P.S. Nice ship bases!

  3. Yes a great scenario and a thrilling and engrossing game. Sorry I had to run down my pennant before the end of the action - and it was all going so well up to that point... (Not!)

  4. Nice report, great looking ships!

  5. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good

  6. Excellent write up. Volage looks very interesting,I shall research her further.
    Going to try replaying using To Glory We Steer


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