The True Frigate


In the course of its development the frigate had witnessed many things and was subject to constant changes until 1745. However, the design of the 1720s was a peacetime design and therefore completely unsuitable for the upcoming French war. The frigates of that time were still rough and heavy and had no gundeck of their own, not to mention a closed maindeck. 

From 1745 the admiralty began to concentrate exclusively on warships again. Especially the hated three decks with 80 guns had to be changed. And so she became without further ado the fast two and a half decks of the 74s. Just like the French and the Spanish already had. Due to internal disputes there were gross errors in the design and so the Admiralty lost confidence in the 1745 ships before one of them was launched and took steps to circumvent the regulations of the new arrangement before it came into force.

Model of a sixth rate, 24- guns, ca 1745. In a little-noticed move, the admiralty first revealed its intention to establish a new design by ordering two ships with 24 guns in 1745. The ships became Centaur and Deal Castle, and it may be that they were originally not supposed to have guns on the lower decks, although they had an extended quaterdeck. But you can already see here how they try to bring the forecastle and the quaterdeck to the same level and they try to add a gundeck.

The most influential critic of the current ship design was Admiral Anson, who reconciled his admiralty duties with command of the new Western Squadron, which developed a more aggressive strategy involving keeping a main fleet in the Channel, where it had to protect incoming trade and be ready to attack any French squadron that ventured out of Brest. The ships needed to be stronger and more seaworthy, as the fleet was to stay at sea longer and operate in almost any weather; likewise, its success depended on good reconnaissance of the French movements, so the reconnaissance role of the frigates was again emphasized. No British fifth or sixth was up to the task, and Anson’s verdict was scathing – “all our frigates sail wretchedly” – but he had a radical suggestion: to copy a captured French ship.

The French were longer, deeper in the water and lighter in construction than anything the Royal Navy had at that time. Everyone who sailed on them was simply thrilled, because these ships were faster, lay much better in the wind and had a gun deck. Even though they lost some of their headroom and comfort. They also lacked the cannons on the fore and aft deck. This design goes back to Blaise Ollivier, a shipbuilder from Brest. And was first realized in the form of the Medée a 24-guns frigate in 1741. Shewas the base of the so-called True Frigate. France initially had 8 of this type in their service, four of them were quickly captured by the British and placed in their service.

Model of the Guadeloupe, she is the last of the 20 built after the Unicorn and the Lyme. She was ordered in 1757 but was not launched until 1763.
The deck layout is typical of the early frigates. The raised fore ship shows the position of the foremast with bollards on both sides as well as the galley chimney and the bell tower when the fore ship breaks. Below, in the waist, are the riding buttons, the hatches and, in the main mast position, the gallows buttons, fresh water and bilge pumps. On the quaterdeck are the main capstan and the steering wheel.
The mizzenmast was situated just abaft the wheel.The gundeck is well visible, although the main deck is not closed yet. But this true frigate design allows four 3pdrs to stand on the quaterdeck. While the 24 -9pdrs are on the gundeck and reach into the great cabin. 

Anson now wanted to have a ship built in that design, but couldn’t dare to build a warship right away so he first tried it with a privateer named Tygre. She was very close to the final 24-gun design and proved to be very successful. So in 1747 the first two true frigates were ordered for the Navy. The Unicorn and the Lyme were the first to be launched in 1748 and so successfull that 20 others were built after their design.

Model of the Lowestoffe/ Lowestoft a 12pdr -32 gun fifth rate frigate, 1761

After them the developments did not stop of course, already in 1761 the first 12pdr 32-gun frigate was launched and only 10 years later the first 28-gun frigates appeared. But they are all based on the design of the Unicorn and the Lyme, which were refined to adapt them to the times and the needs of the time.