HMS Little Belt (1807)

HMS Little Belt (1807)

HMS "Little Belt" was a 20-gun sixth rate of the Royal Navy.

Career

She was formerly the Danish ship "Lille Belt". She was captured by the British schooners "Scorpion" and "Chippeway" while trying to flee the scene at the Battle of Copenhagen on 7 September 1807. [cite book|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=JidUAAAAMAAJ|title=Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia|author=Lincoln P. Paine, Hal Fessenden, James H. Terry|date=1997|publisher=Houghton Mifflin Co|isbn=0395715563] She was commissioned under the Anglicised version of her name, and placed under the command of John Crispo and by 1808 was off the African coast. Crispo was promoted to Post-Captain on 21 October 1810, and was succeeded as commander of the "Little Belt" by Arthur Batt Bingham in December 1810. He sailed her to Halifax, to operate off the North American coast.

Little Belt Affair

By early 1811, "Little Belt" was in the Caribbean, where on 19 April she was instructed by Rear-Admiral Herbert Sawyer, based at Bermuda, to meet up with Captain Pechell in HMS "Guerriere", who was cruising somewhere along the Atlantic seaboard between Charlestown and New York. If he was unable to make contact with Pechell, Bingham was instructed to cruise along the coast, protecting British ships and intercepting enemy vessels. He was warned to be careful to avoid a clash with the Americans, as relations between America and Britain were strained. In the event, Bingham did not locate the "Guerriere", and continued to cruise along the coast.

On the morning of 10 May, as the "Little Belt" was some 48 miles east of Cape Charles at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, a strange sail was sighted in the distance. Bingham made signal 275 (calling on a strange ship, if a British warship, to show her number). The other ship did not reply, and Bingham concluded that the mystery ship was a frigate of the United States Navy. He hoisted his colours and began to round Cape Hatteras. The frigate followed, closing the "Little Belt", and appeared to be trying to manoeuvre into a position to rake the smaller British ship. Bingham wore ship three times to foil the American's attempts, while calling for the frigate to identify herself. Each time though the American demanded the same of Bingham. The frigate, actually the 44-gun USS "President" under Commodore John Rodgers, Bingham claimed, then opened fire on the "Little Belt". Bingham returned fire and an engagement began, lasting three-quarters of an hour. The "President" was observed to have a fire onboard and drew away.

The "President" then returned, and asked if Bingham had struck. Bingham replied that he had not, and the "President" again withdrew. A messenger was sent out to the damaged "Little Belt" by Rodgers the following morning, lamenting the 'unfortunate affair', and insisting that he would not have attacked, had "Little Belt" not fired first. Bingham denied this, and turned down Rodger's offer of putting into an American port for repairs, instead making for Halifax, hampered by a gale on the second day of the voyage which caused leaks in the already damaged ship. "Little Belt" had nine killed outright, and had 23 wounded, some mortally. Two died the day after the battle. Rodgers claimed that the British ship had been mistaken for a larger frigate, and continued to claim that Bingham had fired first. The Admiralty expressed their confidence in Bingham, and promoted him to Post-Captain on 7 February 1812. The "Little Belt" was paid off shortly after the battle and was sold at Deptford.

References

Further reading

*Colledge
*cite book|url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=TFyLOUrdGFwC|title=Crucible of Power: A History of American Foreign Relations to 1913|author=Howard Jones|date=2002|accessdate=2008-07-03|isbn=0842029168

External links

* [http://www.ageofnelson.org/MichaelPhillips/info.php?ref=1345 HMS Little Belt at Ships of the Old Navy]


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