Ship Losses During the French Revolutionary War (1793-1802)

Capture of HMS Swiftsure by Indivisible and Dix-Août
Capture of HMS Swiftsure by Indivisible and Dix-Août

Ship losses during the Revolutionary War from 1793 through to late 1802 are very revealing as to the strength of the British navy. Although the French and Spanish were the main adversaries the British also had to contend with the Dutch (under the guise of the Batavian Republic) and the Danes. There is also one case of a British ship being taken by a Swedish vessel, the 12 gun BLAZER, although this was later restored.


Taken 51
Mutinied 5
Expended 7
Wrecked 135
Destroyed in Action 5

Total 203


Taken 279

Wrecked 9
Destroyed in Action 99

Total 389


Taken 93
Mutinied 1

Wrecked 0
Destroyed in Action 4

Total 98


Taken 57

Destroyed 19

Total 76


Taken 1

Destroyed 14

Total 15

From this it can be seen that the French were at a serious disadvantage. This was mainly due to their execution by Madame Guillotine of the majority of the officer class and also that the Royal Navy had them bottled up in port for the majority of this time. The Royal Navy therefore had the advantage of being well-trained and were in fact better shots and used better tactics, usually, then their adversaries. The revolutionary fervour of the French was not enough. Among the losses were several top ships of the line. The British lost three 74’s to the French, CENSEUR, BERWICK and SWIFTSURE. The French, however lost two 120’s, COMMERCE DE MARSEILLES and the ORIENT along with five 80’s and twenty-one 74’s. The Dutch lost one 72, three 68’s and seven 64’s. The Spanish, three each of the 112’s, 80’s and 74’s and the Danes one each of a 74, 64, 62 and a 60. The majority of losses were of the smaller ships such as frigates and unrated craft like gunboats, cutters and luggers.

It will also be noted that the Royal Navy had quite a number of ships wrecked. This was due to the extreme amounts of time that ships spent at sea blockading the French but also that the influence of the British was world-wide and therefore their ships were to be found all over the world too.

However the overall picture is of a vast superiority for the Royal Navy and their tactics during the Revolutionary Wars.

Courtesy of the Historical Maritime Society.

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