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Ville de Milan Cleopatre Caussé PU5687.jpg
Battle between Ville de Milan and HMS Cleopatra, depicted in a contemporary print
Career (France) French Navy Ensign
Name: Ville de Milan
Builder: Lorient
Laid down: January 1803
Launched: 15 November 1803
Completed: By February 1804
Captured: 23 February 1805, by the Royal Navy
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Milan
Acquired: 23 February 1805
Fate: Broken up in December 1815
General characteristics
Class and type: 38-gun fifth rate frigate
Tons burthen: 1,085 91/94 bm
Length: 153 ft 1 in (46.7 m) (overall)
128 ft 8 in (39.2 m) (keel)
Beam: 39 ft 10.5 in (12.2 m)
Depth of hold: 12 ft 10 in (3.91 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Complement: 300 (later 315)
  • Upper deck: 28 x 18pdrs
  • Quarter deck: 12 x 32pdr carronades
  • Forecastle: 2 x 9pdrs + 2 x 32pdr carronades.

HMS Milan was a 38-gun fifth rate frigate of the Royal Navy. She had previously been the Ville de Milan, a 40-gun frigate of the French Navy, but served for only a year before being chased down and engaged by the smaller 32-gun frigate HMS Cleopatra. The Ville de Milan defeated and captured her opponent, but suffered so much damage that she was forced to surrender without a fight several days later when both ships were located by another British frigate HMS Leander. She went on to serve with the Royal Navy for another ten years, before being broken up after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars.


Construction and French career

Ville de Milan was built at Lorient to a one-off design by Antoine Geoffroy.[1] She was originally to be named Hermione, but was renamed before her launch on 15 November 1803 and had been completed for service by February 1804.[1] She was assigned to the West Indies and sailed from Martinique on 28 January under Captain Jean-Marie Renaud, bound for France with important despatches.[2]

On 16 February the Ville de Milan was spotted off Bermuda by the 32-gun HMS Cleopatra, under Captain Sir Robert Laurie. Laurie ordered a chase, while Renaud, who had orders to avoid combat, pressed on sail in an attempt to escape.[2] The chase covered 180 miles and lasted until the following morning, when it became clear to Renaud that he was being overhauled and would be forced to fight. He reluctantly prepared to meet the Cleopatra, with the ships exhanging fire, the Cleopatra from her bowchasers, the Ville de Milan from her stern battery.[3] The engagement began in earnest at 2.30pm, and a heavy cannonade was maintained between the two frigates until 5pm. The Cleopatra had suffered heavy damage to her rigging, and now tried to manoeuvre across the Frenchman's bows to rake her. While doing so she had her wheel shot away and her rudder jammed.[3] The Ville de Milan approached from windward and ran aboard the Cleopatra, jamming her bowsprit over the quarterdeck of the British ship and raked her decks with musket fire. The British resisted one attempt to board, but on being unable to break free, were forced to surrender to a second boarding party.[4] The Cleopatra had 22 killed and 36 wounded, with the loss of her foremast, mainmast and bowsprit.[1] The Ville de Milan had probably about 30 killed and wounded, with Captain Renaud among the dead. She also lost her mainmast and mizzenmast.[4] Though wounded, the Ville de Milan's second officer, Capitaine de frégate Pierre Guillet took command. Three days were spent transferring a prize crew and prisoners, and patching up the ships, before the two got underway on 21 February.[4]

The chase of Ville de Milan by HMS Cleopatra

However on 23 February they were discovered by the 50-gun HMS Leander, under Captain John Talbot. The two vessels came together for support, but when Leander ran up to them, they hoisted French colours and separated. Talbot chased Cleopatra, brought her to with a shot and took possession. The freed crew reported the situation to Talbot, and left him to pursue the fleeing Ville de Milan. Talbot soon overtook her and she surrendered without a fight.[1][5][6] Both were taken back to Halifax, where the Ville de Milan was taken into service as HMS Milan, with Laurie as her captain.[6] Laurie's engagement with the superior opponent had initially cost him his ship, but had rendered her easy prey to any other Royal Navy frigate in the vicinity.[6] Had he not brought her to battle, the Ville de Milan could have easily outsailed the Leander or even engaged her on fairly equal terms. Instead the damage and losses incurred in breaking down the Cleopatra had left her helpless to resist.[4]

British career

Milan was refitted at Portsmouth between 12 March and 4 April 1806 and commissioned that year under Sir Robert Laurie, who would command her for the next four years.[1] She returned to the Halifax station for much of this time, but by 1812 was laid up in ordinary at Portsmouth. The conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars led to her being broken up at Chatham Dockyard in December 1815.[1][5][7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail. p. 166.  
  2. ^ a b Henderson. Frigates, Sloops and Brigs. p. 82.  
  3. ^ a b Henderson. Frigates, Sloops and Brigs. p. 83.  
  4. ^ a b c d Henderson. Frigates, Sloops and Brigs. p. 84.  
  5. ^ a b Colledge. Ships of the Royal Navy. p. 226.  
  6. ^ a b c Henderson. Frigates, Sloops and Brigs. p. 85.  
  7. ^ Gardiner. Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars. p. 29.  




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