View Full Version : Razees?

David Manley
12-20-2011, 04:26
A word that has come up a few times here is the term Razee , applied to a type of ship. But what were Razees?

Ship design during the Age of Sail was characterized by a constant struggle to achieve an optimum balance between speed and firepower. As technology and the art of shipbuilding advanced the size of ships increased.

Under the standard rating system for men o’war, ships of the line came in four rates. 1st rates carrying 100-120 guns, 2d rates carrying 90-98 guns, 3rd rates carrying 64-80 guns, and 4th rates carrying 48-60 guns. By the latter half of the 19th century it was obvious that 4th rates and those 3rd rates carrying fewer than 74 guns could no longer hold a place in the line of battle. To compound their weakness as line of battle ships they were too slow to be used as frigates.

Navies were confronted with the dilemma of how to best use these ships as scrapping them before their useful life cycle was ended wasn’t a good option. The solution was to convert them as razees.

A razee was simply a larger warship with a deck removed, or razed, to convert it to a large frigate. The resulting ship would have the strength of construction to carry larger guns and take more punishment than other ships in its class. As a bonus, their increased length made them fast sailers, often as fast if not faster than their more traditional frigate brethren. Size also conferred advantages in heavy weather, where they could maintain speed in conditions where smaller frigates were forced to reduce canvas.

This process will be familiar to anyone who wrestled in high school or college. A razee is the guy at the low end of a weight class who could shed 7-10 pounds in a week so he could wrestle at a couple of classes lower than his natural weight.

Take, for instance, Sir Edward Pellew’s famous HMS Indefatigable. Indefatigable started life as a 64-gun 3rd rate that was obsolete upon its launch in 1784. A fact that was recognized by the fact that this new ship was never commissioned. In 1794, Indefatigable was razeed into a 44-gun frigate converting a relatively useless ship of the line into a frigate that could outsail anything it could not outfight.(Indefatigable was one of the most successful razee frigates, taking 25 prizes during her career. Readers of historical fiction may well be familiar with her as the ship commanded by Sir Edward Pellew in which Mr Midshipman Hornblower spent his formative years)

As technology progressed, razees became more extreme. HMS Majestic was a 74-gun 3rd rate that was razeed into a 58-gun frigate. The US Navy razeed the USS Macedonian, the former 38-gun frigate HMS Macedonian, into a 20-gun sloop. The 50-gun USS Cumberland was razeed into a 24-gun sloop. In these latter two cases not only did the longer hull length and heavier construction overmatch other ships in their class, improvements in technology enabled them to carry the same weight of broadside as they had as larger ships.

Old Salt
12-20-2011, 04:39
Thanks David that cleared up a couple of things for me.

The Cowman
12-21-2011, 20:28
Love the wrestling anology....

12-22-2011, 21:01
Thanks, very interesting!!!

12-23-2011, 03:18
My favourite Razee is the Dutch Mars at the battle of Camperdown. Starting out as Zevenwolden, a 64, she was never finished as such, and instead was finished with a single gun deck. Most of those guns however, were 30-pounders (equivalent to British 32-pounders), so she carried a gun deck equivalent to the lower deck of a British 74. That beats even the 24-pounders Indefatigable carried.

David Manley
12-23-2011, 03:27
Mars is one of the ships in my (unfinished) Dutch collection that is on my "to do" list for 2012. I got a bag full from that nice Mr. Langton a while back and alas they have languished whilst I've concentrated on 1/144 WoW models from Shapeways and medieval cogs. I recall Vincent did a good painting guide for Dutch ships a while back.

12-23-2011, 03:41
Interesting ship the 64. Mainstay of the early fleets of the period, some still persisted right through to the end. HMS Agamemnon Nelson's "favourite" was built in 1781 and fought at Trafalgar successfully. But these ships were slow compared to their more modern cousins the 74's and although they could go toe to toe, the British tended to send them to far off corners of the globe to fly the flag and keep the natives honest in environments where their limitations would not be noticed.

David Manley
12-23-2011, 03:59
Same thing happened in my 1/1200 collection. I was given a pile of Navwar 64s many years ago which were the mainstay of my fleets (they were free, after all!) and when they fell out of favour (i.e. when I met Rod Langton and started collecting fleets in earnest) they were retired and passed on to friends, or converted into model hulks. That is, all but one of them (a rather dumpy specimen) which has developed a character of her own through many spirited actions and thus still has a firm place in my line of battle :)