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The USS Wasp: From the War of 1812 to NOLA Navy Week

When the celebration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 begins with NOLA Navy Week next month on April 17, the massive military ship, the USS Wasp (LHD-1), will visit New Orleans. The USS Wasp’s origins go back to the 1700s and the ship continues to be used by the Navy today. LHD-1 is the tenth ship to bear the name Wasp.

The USS Wasp NOLA Navy Week

USS Wasp (LHD-1) at sea, with six MV-22B Osprey aircraft visible on deck. (Wikimedia Commons)

The first USS Wasp was a merchant schooner acquired by the Continental Navy in 1775. She ran aground and exploded while engaging a British squadron off the Delaware coast in 1777. The next ship to be commissioned with the name Wasp was a sloop of war built at the Washington Navy Yard in 1806. The Wasp’s mission was coastal patrol, and she was based at the ports of Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, through 1811. In 1811, she was ordered to Hampton Roads, Virginia, to join a squadron consisting of the Wasp, the brig Nautilus, and two frigates, Congress and United States. Commodore Stephen Decatur was in command of this squadron.

The USS Wasp NOLA Navy Week

USS Wasp defeats HMS Frolic, October 15, 1812 (Image courtesy of Smithsonian Institution)

When war between the U.S. and Great Britain broke out in 1812, the Wasp was detached for independent service, where sloops of its size were best-suited. While in American service, the Wasp had 16 32-pounder cannons and two 12-pounder “chase guns.” These smaller cannons could be moved from the bow to the stern of the ship to fire “chase” at ships in front or behind the Wasp, hoping to engage larger ships and damage them before having to close to exchange a broadside. The Wasp was commanded by Master Commandant Jacob Jones during the war. Master Commandant was the American rank equivalent to the RN’s “Master and Commander.” Jones took the Wasp into two major actions. On October 13, 1812, Jones and Wasp captured the Royal Naval brig Dolphin, 12.

Commodore Jacob Jones War of 1812

Commodore Jacob Jones, who commanded the Wasp as a Master Commandant in 1812 (Wikimedia Commons)

On October 15, 1812, Wasp moved to intercept a British convoy. Upon encountering the convoy, he discovered HMS Frolic, 22, another sloop. Jones engaged the Frolic, in a brief but deadly confrontation. Both ships were dismasted from the exchange of broadsides, but Wasp prevailed, boarding Frolic and compelling her surrender. Unfortunately, the largest ship in the British squadron, Poictiers, 74, closed on Wasp. Knowing his crew would never survive a broadside from the two-decker ship of the line, Jones surrendered. The Wasp was taken into the Royal Navy as HMS Peacock, servicing His Majesty until she sunk off the Virginia Capes in 1814.

In between the second USS Wasp and LHD-1, eight vessels bore the name. The last two before the current Wasp were World War II-era aircraft carriers. CV-7, constructed in 1936, was sunk by the Japanese in 1932. CV-18 was commissioned in 1943, and fought with distinction through the rest of WWII. It served in the Cold War Navy, and was the backup recovery ship (to the USS Hornet) for many of NASA’s spaceflights in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights. CV-18 was decommissioned and scrapped in 1972.

USS Wasp War of 1812 NOLA Navy Week

The USS Wasp that will visit New Orleans is an amphibious assault vessel, with a crew of 1075 naval officers and enlisted. She can carry up to 2,200 marines, and deliver them via the ship’s complement of ten MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. Additionally, Wasp carries six AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft and 23 helicopters. She is also involved in testing the F-35B Lightning II, as a SVTOL replacement for the Harrier.

The current USS Wasp is a far cry larger and more sophisticated than the sloop of the War of 1812, but both ships are a source of pride for the United States Navy.

Edward Branley is the author of New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans.  His latest book, Maison Blanche Department Stores, in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, is available at bookstores in the city and online. He is owner of Yatmedia LLC (Social Media for Social Justice), and is @Yatpundit on Twitter.