Action of 17 August 1779

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Action of 17 August 1779
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Combat du 17 aout 1779.png
Combat des frégates françaises la Junon et la Gentille contre le vaisseau anglais Ardent et la frégate anglaise Fox, 17 août 1779, Auguste-Louis de Rossel de Cercy
Date17 August 1779
Location
Result Franco-Spanish victory
Belligerents
Royal Standard of the King of France.svg  France
Bandera de Espana 1748-1785.svg Spain
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Kingdom of France (1814-1830).svg Charles de Bernard de Marigny British-Red-Ensign-1707.svg Phillip Boteler
Strength
1 ship of the line
4 frigates
2 frigates
Casualties and losses
Light 1 ship of the line captured

The Action of 17 August 1779 was a naval battle between a French and a British squadron in the English Channel on 17 August 1779.

In June 1779, Spain followed France declaring war on Britain and together formed a combined fleet aiming for British Isles' invasion. On 14 August, the fleet was off the Lizard and on 16 August it were off Plymouth with some of the enemy frigates anchored in the Cawsand Bay. [1]

In meantime, HMS Ardent was recommissioned under the command of Captain Phillip Boteler, and sailed from Plymouth on 14 August to join Sir Charles Hardy watching the much superior Franco-Spanish forces in the English Channel. [1] According to the ship's logs, as many as 45 of the crew were landmen, and neither Boteler nor the captain of HMS Marlborough, in whose company Ardent was sailing, were aware that a French fleet had put to sea. Ardent encountered this fleet two days after sailing, and after receiving the correct replies to the coded signal, both ships ran down to meet them assuming they were British. Instead, the fleet they encountered was French and Spanish, in possession of a Royal Navy signal codebook that permitted the correct response of Ardent's "who are you?" question. [2]

With Ardent within range, the French frigate Junon fired two broadsides before raising her colours. In response, Ardent offered sporadic and inaccurate return fire and after three further French frigates and a Spanish ship of the line, Princesa joined the action, she struck her colours. In the meantime, Marlborough sailed away from the action and escaped back to Britain unscathed. [1]

At his subsequent court martial Captain Boteler blamed his failure to return fire on an inadequate supply of gunpowder for Ardent's cannon, a statement denied by the ship's gunner. Archibald Macintyre provided evidence that there was enough powder for fifty minutes of engagement. The court martial rejected Boteler's appeals, finding instead that the inexperience of the crew was the principal cause of the Ardent's capture, and he was expelled from the Navy for his failure to adequately defend his ship. [2]

Ardent was, nevertheless, recaptured by the British on 14 April 1782 following the Battle of the Saintes and recommissioned that month under Captain Richard Lucas. On 28 August 1783 the ship was renamed Tiger and was sold out of the service in June 1784.

Notes

  1. 1 2 3 Ships of the Old Navy, Ardent.
  2. 1 2 Cole 2009, pages 286-287

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