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Battle of the Saintes

The Battle of the Saintes (known to the French as the Battle of Dominica) took place over 4 days, 9 April 178212 April 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, and was a victory of a British fleet under Admiral Sir George Rodney over a French fleet under the Comte de Grasse.

The battle is named after the Saintes (or Saints), a group of islands between Guadeloupe and Dominica in the West Indies. Interestingly, the French fleet defeated here by the Royal Navy was the same French fleet that had blockaded the British Army in at Yorktown, severing all hope of an evacuation for the vastly outnumbered troops trapped by a combined American-French army.

Origins

On April 7 1782, the Comte de Grasse set out from Martinique with 35 ships of the line, including 2 50-gun ships and a large convoy of more than 100 cargo ships, to meet with a Spanish fleet consisting of 12 ships of the line and 15,000 troops to capture the British island of Jamaica. He was pursued by Rodney with 36 ships of the line.

On 9 April 1782, De Grasse sent his convoy into Guadeloupe, escorted by his two fifty-gun ships. There was an initial inconclusive clash during which the French got the better of the van division of the British fleet which had become separated from the centre and rear divisions. Two French ships of the line were damaged.

Battle

On 12 April, De Grasse bore up with his fleet to protect a dismasted ship that was being chased by four British ships as he made for Guadaloupe. Rodney recalled his chasing ships and made the signal for line of battle. As the French line passed down the British line, a sudden shift of wind let Rodney’s flagship Formidable and several other ships, including the Duke and the Bedford, break through the French line, raking the ships as they did so. The resultant confusion in the French line and the severe damage to several of the French ships including De Grasse's flagship Ville de Paris, 104, led eventually to De Grasse’s surrender and the retreat of many of his ships in disorder. This action split the French battle line into two. A general chase ensued. In all, four French ships were captured and one, César, blew up after she was taken.

The British lost 243 killed and 816 wounded, and two captains out of 36 were killed. The French loss in killed and wounded has never been stated, but of captains alone, six were killed out of 30. It is estimated that the French loss may have been as much as 8,000. A total of over 5,000 French soldiers and sailors were captured. The large number shows what a considerable force the French were willing to put ashore with the invasion of Jamaica. Of the Ville de Paris' crew, over 400 had been killed and more than 700 were wounded

Aftermath

The battle frustrated French and Spanish hopes of capturing Jamaica from the British. Rodney was created a peer with £2,000 a year settled on the title in perpetuity for this victory.

The battle has caused controversy ever since, for three reasons:

  1. Rodney’s failure to follow up the victory by a pursuit was much criticised. Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood said that the 20 French ships would have been captured had the commander-in-chief chased. On 17 April, Hood was sent in pursuit of the enemy. He promptly captured two of the line in the Mona Passage.
  2. The battle is famous for the tactic of "breaking the line", in which the British ships passed though a gap in the French line, engaging the enemy from leeward and throwing them into disorder. But there is considerable controversy about whether the tactic was intentional, and, if so, who was responsible for the idea (Rodney, his Captain-of-the-Fleet Sir Charles Douglas, or John Clerk of Eldin).
  3. On the French side, de Grasse blamed his subordinates, Vaudreuil and Bougainville, for his defeat.

Ships involved

Britain

Agamemnon (64)- Capt. Benjamin Caldwell
Ajax (74)
Alcide (74) - Capt. Charles Thompson
Alfred (74)
Anson (64) - Capt. William Blair
America (64)
Arrogant (74)
Barfleur (90) - Flagship of Sir Samuel Hood
Bedford (74)
Belliqueux (64)
(74)
Centaur (74)
Conqueror (74) - George Balfour
Duke (98)
Fame (74) - Capt. Robert Barbor
(98) - Flagship of Admiral Rodney, Capt. Sir Charles Douglas
Hercules (74)
Magnificent (74)
Marlborough (74)
Monarch (74)
Montagu (74)
Namur (90)
Nonsuch (64)
(98)
Prince William (64)
Princessa (70) - 3rd flag of Samuel Drake
Prothée (64)
Repulse (64)
Resolution (74) - Lord Robert Manners
Royal Oak (74)
Russell (74) - Capt. James Saumarez
St Albans (64) - William Cornwallis
Torbay (74)
Warrior (74)
Yarmouth (64)
Valiant (74)

France

Ardent (64) - (formerly British - captured)
Auguste (80) - Bougainville
Bourgogne (74)
Brave (74)
César (74) - (captured, but burnt)
Citoyen (74)
Conquérant (74)
Couronne (80) - Mithon de Genouilly
Dauphin Royal (70)
Destin (74)
Diadème (74)
Duc de Bourgogne (80)
Eveillé (64)
Glorieux (74) - (captured)
Hector (74) - (captured)
Hercule (74)
Languedoc (80)
Magnanime (74)
Magnifique (74)
Marseillais (74)
Neptune (74)
Northumberland (74)
Palmier (74)
Pluton (74)
Refléchi (64)
Richmond (frigate) - Montemart
Sceptre (74)
Scipion (74)
Souverain (74)
Le Triomphant (80) - La Pérouse
Ville de Paris (104) - flagship of Amiral de Grasse (captured)

References

  • Douglas, General Howard, Naval Evolutions: A Memoir (1830)
  • Fullom, S.W., Life of General Sir Howard Douglas, Bart. (1865)
  • Mahan, A.T., Major Operations of the Navies in the War of Independence (1913)
  • Mahan, A.T., Types of Naval Officers, Drawn from the History of the British Navy (1901)
  • Mundy, Major-General, The Life and Correspondence of the Late Admiral Lord Rodney (1830)
  • Playfair, John. “On the Naval Tactics of the Late John Clerk, Esq. of Eldin.” The Works of John Playfair, Vol. III (1822)
  • “Rodney’s Battle of 12th April, 1782: A Statement of Some Important Facts, Supported by Authentic Documents, Relating to the Operation of Breaking the Enemy’s Line, as Practiced for the First Time in the Celebrated Battle of 12th April, 1782.” Quarterly Review, vol. XLII, no. LXXXIII, January & March, 1830
  • Trew, Peter, Rodney and the Breaking of the Line (2006)

See also

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