Great Lakes Warships

One of the nice consequences of a major anniversary is that it leads to new books that cover neglected topics. This year that means we get books about the War of 1812, including several from Osprey Publishing.

In the last forty years, Osprey has built a small publishing empire based on the production of lavishly-illustrated books on both the best-known and more esoteric military topics. Who else would publish a book on the armies of the Balkan Wars or Napoleon’s regiment of Dutch lancers?

The latest bit of exotica is the 48-page Great Lakes Warships 1812-1815 (written by Mark Lardas, illustrated by Paul Wright) from Osprey’s New Vanguard series. One thing that makes the War of 1812 unique was that both sides built full-size warships to contest the Great Lakes—including ships of the line on Lake Ontario. The book does a nice job of covering what that made these lake warships different from their ocean-going cousins: because they didn’t need deep hulls to carry several months of supplies, Great Lakes warships had a high deadrise. That led to frequent center of gravity problems, since the weight of the guns was high in the hull and there were no supplies down low to pull the c.o.g. down.

Great Lakes Warships also explains one of the strangest aspects of the war on the lakes, the British plan to send prefabricated ships from the British Isles. As you can expect, the whole project was a disaster. Only one of the prefab ships, the frigate HMS Psyche, was ever completed.

One of the main selling points of Osprey books are their excellent illustrations, so I was surprised by the absence of hull cross-sections to show the unusual features of the lake warships. Also, though this is probably just a side effect of having just finished a copy editing course, a number of minor errors seem to have slipped through the editing process.


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