WL - L'Orient (1791)

Orient Orient
Originální název:
Original Name:
řadová loď ship of the line
Toulonský arzenál (Toulon Arsenal)
Založení kýlu:
Laid Down:
Spuštění na vodu:
Uvedení do služby:
Vyřazení ze služby:
01.08.1798 Zničena (destroyed)
DD.MM.RRRR-DD.MM.RRRR Casabianca, Luc-Julien-Joseph ( )
Technické údaje:
Technical Data:
5095 t 5013 long tons
Celková délka:
Overall Length:
65,18 m m 213 ft 10 in
Délka na vodorysce:
Length on Waterline:
- m -
16,24 m m 53 ft 3 in
8,12 m m 26 ft 8 in
Počet dělových palub:
Number of Gun Decks:
3 3
Počet stěžňů:
Number of Masts:
3 3
Typ oplachtění:
Type of Sails:
Příčné oplachtění
Square rig
Plocha oplachtění:
Sail Area:
3265 m2 35,140 ft2
- km/h - kt
Výzbroj a vybavení:
Armament and Equipment:
118 děl 118 guns
- -
Původní jméno Dauphin-Royal
Přejmenována na Sans-Culotte v září 1792
Přejmenována na Orient v květnu 1795
Original name Dauphin-Royal
Renamed Sans-Culotte September 1792
Renamed Orient May 1795
URL : https://www.valka.cz/WL-L-Orient-1791-t63002#708604 Version : 0


French liner from the 18th century. Flagship of Vice-Admiral François Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers at the Battle of Abu Kir.

Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers (1753-1798). He was killed at the Battle of Abu Kir. He refused to leave his command post after a cannonball tore off both his legs. He allowed himself to be tied to a chair, strangled on his wounded limbs and continued to direct the battle. Finally, another cannonball hit him in the stomach...
Source: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27Orient_(1791)


The ship was the result of efforts to modernize naval warfare somewhat in the late 18th century, as the French Ministry of the Navy had then passed a regulation to standardize the warships then in use. It was a bold and revolutionary step, for it was then quite common for navies to have a motley mix of ships of different types and sizes, differing especially in the number of guns.

The purpose of this measure was to ensure that all line ships fighting in the line had the same characteristics. That is, speed, manoeuvrability, etc. This greatly facilitated the conduct of combat, because all ships in the line behaved the same way during maneuvers; there was no need to take into account the slowest vessel, etc.

Therefore, at that time, certain modules characteristic of the basic types of line ships were established, the most important being ships with three gun decks carrying 118 guns and double-deck ships with 74-80 guns.

The French shipyards therefore began essentially mass production at that time - the proportions were precisely defined and strictly adhered to. Thus, the basis for the future division of ships into classes was actually laid. Vessels of the same shape, size, draught, armament, etc., i.e. so-called sister ships, were now being built.

History of the creation

L'Orient belonged to the group of the largest three-deckers built in France between 1788 and 1814. She was the third of fifteen ships of this type, referred to as the Ocean class. Construction of the L'Orient itself began in 1790 at the Toulon Arsenal, and the ship was launched just a year later. She was then named Dauphin Royal (in honour of the little prince later known as Louis XVII.), in 1795 it was renamed Sans-Culotte and before Napoleon's campaign in Egypt it was renamed L'Orient.

It was a massive triple-masted ship with three gun decks (i.e. four rows of guns in the sides, as the upper uncovered deck is no longer counted among the gun decks). The hull length was 65.18 m, width 16.24 m, draught 8.12 m and displacement 5,095 tons. Crew figures vary, with 1,010-1,130 men being given.

The cross-section of the Ocean class ships gives an idea of the ship's layout, which did not deviate from the custom of the time: the lowest part of the hull was the powder rooms, ballast ballast, drinking water barrels, etc., followed by the hold with stores of various stores and materials and water pumps, then the three gun decks, and finally the upper deck with rigging
Source: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27Orient_(1791)

On the lower gun deck was a battery of 32 thirty-six-pounder guns. There was a battery of 34 24-pounder guns on the middle deck and 34 12-pounder guns on the upper gun deck. That was not all, as the upper uncovered deck and superstructures carried 20 eight-pounder guns plus 4 thirty-six-pounder carronades. In total, 120 guns and 4 carronades (which were not counted among the conventional guns at the time). According to other data, however, the upper deck carried 18 eight-pounders, but 6 carronades - so the number of guns would be 118. For comparison, the most powerful English ships (i.e. the ships of the arch-enemy) had around 100 guns at that time, so they had about 20% less firepower. (For a breakdown of English ships into classes, see here.)

Artillery armament breakdown:

Lower gun deck:32 × 36-pounder gun
Middle gun deck:34 × 24-pounder gun
Upper gun deck:34 × 12lb gun
Upper deck:18 × 8lb gun + 6 × 36lb carronade

The L'Orient was considered the most powerful and best warship in the world at the time. In 1793, the English Royal Navy captured another ship of this class, Commerce-de-Marseille, and immediately put her to the test. The conclusion of the Admiralty Commission was very positive, according to which she was a ship of "exceptionally fine lines, a good vessel for rough seas... Despite her size she sails like a frigate, and behaves well at sea. Few ships can compare with her, she is a remarkable ship, very reliable and comfortable'.

Although the ship was commissioned into Royal Navy service, it quickly became apparent that no one knew what to do with her in practice. The vessel was so different from any ship in active service that the Admiralty eventually had Commerce-de-Marseille converted in 1796 to a floating gun battery.

This brought to the fore the opinion of other experts who were considerably more critical of these ships. For example, Gabriel Snodgrass, one of England's leading ship designers, referred to the French hundred-and-twenty-gun ships as "ridiculous monsters".

The French themselves preferred the two-decked ships of the second class because they were faster and better manoeuvred. On the other hand, the firepower of the three-deckers was overwhelming.

A view of a 1:16 scale model of an Ocean class ship on display at the National Maritime Museum in Paris. The model was built in the first half of the 19th century by Jean-Baptiste Tanneron and is 6.5 metres long and over 5 metres high. The model gives a good idea of the firepower of ships of the time - it also explains why over 1,000 people were crammed into a ship about 65 metres long. Each of the guns had a crew of at least 6 people, depending on the calibre. It is worth noting that the least rewarding function in this crew was that of boys aged about 12, nicknamed "powder monkeys", whose job was to climb down into the hold and carry up to the guns spare powder kegs. That means there were at least a hundred of them on the ship when the powder magazine exploded...

Combat Abilities

What his 120 or so guns can do L'Orient demonstrated at the Battle of Abu Kir (September 1, 1798), where he knocked out an English privateer with 74 guns, but ultimately succumbed to superior numbers. This gave credence to superstitious sailors who were convinced that bad luck was pursuing the ship.

For when L'Orient set sail as Admiral Bruyes' flagship on an expedition to Egypt on 19 May 1798, she was so overloaded that her keel touched the bottom of the ray. This was considered a bad omen. Nevertheless, L'Orient successfully survived the voyage across the Mediterranean and even had Napoleon Bonaparte himself on board.

After the French landed in Egypt, their warships took refuge in Abu Kir Bay near Alexandria, where they were surprised by a fleet led by Admiral Nelson.

The Last Stand

As the English began to enter the bay, an alarm was raised on the French ships. Many ships also had incomplete crews as parts of the men were sent ashore to resupply.

The English sailed in from both sides to the anchored French ships, choosing their counterparts with whom they intended to engage, trimming sails and dropping anchors to keep their ships in firing position. L'Orient was at first fearlessly opposed by the seventy-four-gun Bellerophon, though she had only about half the firepower.

Yet it was not a futile struggle. The training of the English gunners was of a much higher standard. The English were able to fire a volley every minute, while the French guns fired one volley every three minutes. It also appeared that the guns of the French ships on the landward side were littered with barrels, ropes, and many other articles of daily use, which limited their firepower. Nevertheless, the French fought fiercely.

Admiral Brueys was severely wounded, but remained on the bridge of the L'Orient until he fell to enemy fire at about half past seven. A cannonball nearly tore the brave admiral in two. The ship was commanded by the flag captain, Luc-Julien-Joseph Casabianca, who was, however, severely wounded in the head an hour later.

However, even Bellerophon was crushed by the fire of L'Orient. Around 8 p.m. the badly damaged and mast-less Bellerophon cut the anchor lines and, with 197 dead and wounded on board, drifted with the current trying to get out of range of the French guns. The fire on L'Orient was now transferred to Swiftsure and Alexander.

After 8 p.m., L'Orient began to burn. In a desperate struggle with the flames, the French sailors nipped several fires in the bud, but unfortunately the flames soon flared up again and elsewhere. The fire was fed heavily by the oil coatings that had been applied to the L'Orient's deck.

Thomas Whitcombe's 1799 painting depicts the scene described above. The Orient is on fire, and behind its stern can be seen the mastless Bellerophon drifting away from the battle in the current...
Source: en.wikipedia.org

By 21.45 the situation had become critical, with fire spreading through the rigging as well. The entire crew of the second gun deck was recalled from the 24-pounder guns and engaged in fighting the fire. However, the situation was hopeless, buckets were strewn about, the fire axes could not be reached and English balls had destroyed the water pumps. The ship stood bow to stern in flames.

The commanding officer, Rear Admiral Honoré-Joseph-Antoine Ganteaume (who had taken over from the wounded Casabianca), in a fateful situation, took the last desperate act of ordering the powder magazine flooded, even though it meant the ship would be defenceless. However, it was already too late. The fire was clearly spreading faster than the water could advance. Ganteaume, therefore, in a completely hopeless situation, ordered the ship abandoned. With shouts of "Save whoever you can!", the French sailors frantically lowered their boats or plunged straight into the waves, where they clung to the wooden debris from their shot-up ship, which literally littered the sea. About a hundred men were crammed into a sloop, others were rescued in a half-burned boat, but many of the wounded burned alive on the blood-stained decks of L'Orient. At about half past ten, the L'Orient exploded with terrifying force. The massive blast killed much of the crew, the 15-ton rudder was thrown up like a plank. The explosion severely damaged neighbouring ships, especially the English Alexander and the French Franklin. A rain of burning wood and debris rained down on the surrounding vessels.

It is unclear how many men of the L'Orient's crew of over a thousand survived the horrific inferno. The English claimed as few as 70, matching the number of sailors from the French flagship's crew rescued by English ships. Determining the exact number is also made difficult by the fact that L'Orient's crew was not complete during the battle (part of it was sent ashore for fresh water before the battle), missing, for example, at least half of the twelve-pounder's gun crews. The French frigate commander, Rear Admiral Denis Decres, reported after the battle that about 760 men of L'Orient's crew had been rescued.

British gunner John Nichol of the Goliath wrote down after the battle: "When the French flagship exploded, the Goliath was so shaken that we thought the stern of our ship had exploded [...] When the firing ceased, I went on deck to see what condition both fleets were in, and it was a terrible sight. The whole bay was covered with mutilated corpses, wounded, burned, wearing nothing but their trousers. There were several Frenchmen from the flagship L'Orient pressed against the stern of the Goliath. Poor fellows!"

A painting by British painter George Arnaldo from 1825, displayed in the Naval Gallery of Greenwich Hospital, London. It depicts the terrifying scene of the moment of the explosion of L'Orient at about 10:30 pm. In the centre of the composition is the British ship Swiftsure with its sails billowing with the force of the explosion. On the left the L'Orient detonating, in the foreground desperate survivors. The painting was a huge success when it was first exhibited publicly in 1827, despite its sombre charge, conveying to the viewer not the most triumphant but the most terrifying moment of the Battle of Abu Kir
Source: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27Orient_(1791)

The force of the explosion was confirmed by an underwater archaeological survey initiated in 1984 (and later repeated in the 1990s). The wreckage of the ship was discovered seven kilometres from shore and at a depth of nine metres. They were scattered within a radius of 300 metres. The wreck was identified by a 12-metre high, copper-beaten rudder with the old name Dauphin Royal written on it. However, according to this survey, it appears that the explosion occurred not only aft, as reported by witnesses, but apparently almost simultaneously forward, which is interesting and unexpected. The seabed is said to be still covered with gunpowder...


After the battle, the captain of the Swiftsure, Benjamin Hallowell, fished a piece of L'Orient's mast out of the sea and had it made into a coffin, which he then presented to the victor from Abu Kir Admiral Nelson with this dedication:"My Lord! I send you a coffin made from a piece of the mainmast of the L'Orient. When you are tired of life, you may be buried in one of your trophies."

Nelson was so delighted with the gift that the coffin always stood in his cabin afterwards. When Nelson was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar, his remains were then, according to his express wishes, actually placed in this coffin...

URL : https://www.valka.cz/WL-L-Orient-1791-t63002#224979 Version : 0
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