The Naval Act of 1794 established a permanent standing United States Navy on 27 March of that year. Prior to this, a formal American military presence at sea had been lacking for a decade. By October 1797, the first three of six frigates were launched: the USS United States, Constellation, and Constitution. Between 1798 and 99, several engagements took place between the US and France – though this was not a declared war. The First Barbary War of 1801-1805 saw actions against the pirates of that African coastline, representing the first in a long line of substantial USN deployments overseas.
The fleet would then see substantial action in the War of 1812 – achieving victory in 11 single-ship engagements against the Royal Navy and forcing British forces off Lakes Erie and Champlain, effectively preventing the invasion of New York State. The fleet, however, was unable to prevent British blockades of US ports, the Royal Navy of course being significantly more numerous.
The largest ships of the US Navy may pale in size compared to those of other navies, especially when using their National Special Rules (being unable to field any large or extra-large vessels). However, their frigates were substantially overbuilt and reinforced with many cannon. To represent this in Black Seas, US fleets have access to both the Over Gunned and Sturdy upgrades at a significant discount compared to other navies.
Additionally, in a similar vein to British crews, US crews were exceptionally well-drilled and always receive the +1 bonus on to hit rolls. This makes US frigates, the core of your fleet, incredibly dependable, although bear in mind that if you do purchase both upgrades across your entire fleet (even at a discount), you may well find yourself outnumbered!
Collecting a Fleet
With the launch of Hold Fast!, the US Navy has received both new ships and updated rules – let’s take a look at everything that’s available for this burgeoning fleet, perfect for fighting ‘what-if’ scenarios and taking on all comers!
The US Navy Fleet boxed set is the ideal starting point for any would-be Yankee sailor. Leading the fleet are the resin frigates USS President and United States, part of the ‘Original Six’ designed to outgun their British equivalents and outrun ships of the line. USS United States was the first to be completed, commissioning in July 1797. Serving until 1865 (including a short stint with the Confederate Navy!), she is most famous for capturing the USN’s first prize, HMS Macedonian, having previously partially dismantled the British fifth rate with her gunnery. USS President meanwhile had a somewhat less happy career, being captured by the British in early 1815 and taken into service as the rather ironically-named HMS President!
The starter Fleet also includes plastic and metal components to allow you to build three more historic 38-gun frigates – the USS Chesapeake, Congress, and Constellation, all members of the Original Six which saw service in the Quasi-War of 1798-1800 – along with a squadron of the always-useful brigs. These nippy craft are perfect for the kind of raiding and coastal defence actions fought by the early US Navy, and I find you can never have too many in your Black Seas collection!
For Admirals looking to expand, there is the USS Essex, the bane of British whalers the Pacific over. While in reality she was captured by the British in 1814, she’s ideal for ‘what-if’ scenarios and with her +2 modifier to Boarding checks can be an absolute handful when the fighting gets up close and personal.
And what miniature US Navy would be complete without ‘Old Ironsides’? The world’s oldest ship still afloat, and still a commissioned USN vessel, USS Constitution brings some serious firepower and survivability (for a frigate!) to the Black Seas tabletop. Capable of smashing most vessels in her class to matchwood, and able to take a savage beating in the process, she makes an ideal flagship for those Admirals who enjoy the swirling melee of frigate actions.
New Vessels & Rules
With Hold Fast! on the horizon, now’s a great time to look at the slew of new characters, ships, and rules for the US Navy that the supplement introduces. First off, there’s a great section of lovingly-researched history giving you plenty of historical context into which to place your fleet. Covering the War of 1812 and both Barbary Wars, it’s full of inspiration for scenarios and modelling opportunities. It also includes the Special Characters John Paul Jones (who is capable of seizing and taking control of other ships mid-game!) and James Lawrence, who famously issued the order “Don’t give up the ship. Fight her until she sinks” after being mortally wounded in battle against HMS Shannon.
Moving on to the ships, USS Essex receives an updated alternate profile, while USS Niagara, Independence, and Ohio are added. USS Independence gives the USN a genuine ship of the line to go toe-to-toe with other heavies in hypothetical scenarios, while USS Ohio is a rare post-1812 third rate. While she did not see action during the period covered by Black Seas, she makes an ideal squadron mate for USS Independence on those ‘what-if’ missions. Finally, USS Niagara brings the battle to Lake Erie, where her gunners’ prowess grants a +3 to the final damage total of a Raking Shot. Still afloat today (albeit so heavily rebuilt and restored that there is significant debate as to whether she can still be called the same ship (The Ship of Theseus already has that thought experiment covered -ed.)), she now serves as a sail training ship and museum on the Great Lakes.
Launching alongside the book are a trio of glorious miniature vessels:
There’s never been a better time to start a USN fleet of your own. Weigh anchor, run out the guns, and let the Star-Spangled Banner fly!