USS Constitution Defeats HMS Guerriere
19 August 1812
USS Constitution defeated and sank HMS Guerriere on this day in maritime history, 19 August 1812. The single ship action was part of the War of 1812 which pitted 85 Royal Navy vessels against a fledgling American navy with only 22 commissioned vessels. After the outbreak of war, USS Constitution took three weeks to collect a fresh crew and on putting out to sea the ship narrowly missed being captured in between ships of a British squadron. After resupplying in Boston and raiding British merchant ships in Halifax, USS Constitution turned south and made for Bermuda. On the way, however, she ran into one of the British ships that had almost captured her, HMS Guerriere.
The engagement favored the American ship which had larger guns and a thicker hull and, in the end, that is how it played out. HMS Guerriere sustained heavy damage before the ships’ masts became entangled and the two crews began firing muskets at one another. Eventually, the ships broke free but Guerriere’s foremast and mainmast both fell into the water, leaving the ship helpless and defeated, forcing the British to surrender. When the American Lieutenant boarded the Guerriere and asked if she was prepared to surrender, her captain responded “Well, Sir, I don’t know. Our mizzen mast is gone, our fore and main masts are gone - I think on the whole you might say we have struck our flag.” The American victory over the admittedly inferior French-built Guerriere still proved a boost to American morale early in the war.