Wasp vs Frolic

18th October 1812
Part of : The War of 1812 (1812 - 1814)
Previous action : Constitution vs Guerriere 19.8.1812
Next action : United States vs Macedonian 25.10.1812


United States of America

Unknown Division
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Wasp (18) Jacob Jones (1768-1850)5 killed, 5 wounded

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Unknown Division
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Frolic (16) Thomas Whinyates15 killed, 43 wounded Captured

Notes on Action


On October 18th the American 18-gun ship-sloop Wasp, Captain Jacob Jones, mounting sixteen 32-pr. carronades and two long 12's, with 137 men all told, sailed from the Delaware. She went south-eastward to get into the track of the West India vessels; and on the 16th ran into a heavy gale in which she lost her jib-boom, and two men who were on it. On the 17th the weather had moderated somewhat, and late in the evening she descried several sails in latitude 37 N. and longitude 65 W. These were a convoy of merchantmen guarded by the British 18-gun brig-sloop Frolic, carrying sixteen 32-pr. carronades, two long 6's and two 12-pr. carronades, with a crew of 110 men. She was under the command of Commander Thomas Whinyates, and had also suffered in the gale of the 16th, in which her mainyard had been carried away. The morning of the 18th was almost cloudless, and the Wasp bore down on the convoy under short fighting canvas; while the Frolic hauled to the wind under her boom-mainsail and close-reefed foretopsail, the merchantmen making all sail to leeward. At 11.30 A.M. the action began, the two ships running parallel on the starboard tack within sixty yards of one another, the Wasp firing her port and the Frolic her starboard guns. By degrees the ships fell off until they were almost before the wind. There was a heavy sea running, which caused the vessels to pitch and roll; and the two crews cheered loudly as the ships wallowed through the water. Clouds of spray dashed over both crews, and at times the muzzles of the guns were rolled under; but in spite of the rough weather the batteries were well served. The Frolic fired far more rapidly than the Wasp, delivering three broadsides to her opponent's two, and shooting while on the crests of the seas. The shot, in consequence, tended to go high. In the Wasp the captains of the guns aimed with skill and precision, as the engaged side of their ship was getting down. They therefore fired into their opponent's hull; so that, though they fired fewer shots, a much larger proportion hit. Four minutes after the action began, the Wasp's maintopmast was shot away and fell with its yard across the port foretopsail braces, rendering the head-yards unmanageable. Ten minutes later the gaff and mizen-topgallantmast came down; and twenty minutes after the action had begun, every brace and most of the rigging was shot away, so that it was almost impossible to brace any of the yards. But while the Wasp suffered thus aloft, the Frolic was suffering far more heavily below. Her gaff and her head braces were shot away, and her lower masts wounded; but her hull was cut to pieces. The slaughter was very great among her crew; nevertheless, the survivors fought on with splendid courage. Gradually the Wasp forged ahead, while the two vessels drew closer together, so that at last the Americans struck the Frolic's side with their rammers in loading. The Frolic then fell aboard her antagonist, her jibboom coming in between the main and mizen-rigging of the Wasp, and passing over the heads of Captain Jones and Lieutenant James Biddle as they stood near the capstan. The brig was raked from stem to stern; and in another moment the Americans began to swarm along the Frolic's bowsprit, though the roughness of the sea rendered the boarding very difficult. A New Jersey sailor, Jack Lang, was the first man on the bowsprit. Lieutenant Biddle then leaped on the hammock cloth to board; but one of the midshipmen who was following him seized his coat-tails and tumbled him back on deck. At the next swell he succeeded in getting on the bowsprit behind Jack Lang and another seaman, and he passed them both on the forecastle; but there was no one to oppose him. Not twenty of the British were left unhurt, and most of those were below. The man at the wheel was still at his post, doggedly attending to his duty, and two or three more were on deck, including Captain Whinyates and Lieutenant Frederick Boughton Wintle, both so severely wounded that they could not stand without support. It was impossible to resist longer, and Lieutenant Biddle lowered the flag at 12.15, after three-quarters of an hour's fighting.

A minute or two afterwards the Frolic's masts went by the board. Every one of her officers was wounded, two of them mortally. The Wasp lost but ten men, chiefly aloft. Nevertheless, the desperate defence of the Frolic in the end accomplished the undoing of her foe, for in a few hours a British 74, the Poictiers, Captain John Poo Beresford, hove in sight, and captured both victor and vanquished, the Wasp being too much cut up aloft to make her escape.

The two ships were of practically equal force: in broadside the British used ten guns to the American's nine, and threw a few pounds more weight of metal, while they had twenty-five fewer men. The disparity in loss was enormous. The Frolic was desperately defended; no men in any navy ever showed more courage than Captain Whinyates and his crew. The battle was decided by gunnery, the coolness and skill of the Americans, and the great superiority in the judgment and accuracy with which they fired, giving them the victory. Their skill was rendered all the more evident by the extreme roughness of the sea, which might have been expected to prevent, and, in the case of the Frolic, actually did prevent, very great accuracy of aim. In forty-five minutes the American ship cut her antagonist to pieces, conquering a foe who refused to admit defeat until literally unable to return a blow.

The Frolic went into action with 110 men and boys all told on board. Of these, 15 were killed and 47 wounded, besides some who were slightly hurt. Among the wounded were Commander Whinyates, Lieutenants Charles M'Kay (mortally), and Frederick Boughton Wintle, and Master John Stephens (mortally).

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