The Battle of Cape Ortegal was the final action of the Trafalgar Campaign, and was fought between a squadron of the Royal Navy and a remnant of the fleet that had been destroyed earlier at the Battle of Trafalgar. It took place on 4 November 1805 off Cape Ortegal, in north-west Spain and saw Captain Sir Richard Strachan defeat and capture a French squadron under Rear-Admiral Pierre Dumanoir le Pelley. It is sometimes known as Strachan's Action.
The Trafalgar Campaign was a long and complicated series of fleet manoeuvres carried out by the combined French and Spanish fleets; and the opposing moves of the Royal Navy during much of 1805. These were the culmination of French plans to force a passage through the English Channel, and so achieve a successful invasion of the United Kingdom. The plans were extremely complicated and proved to be impractical. Much of the detail was due to the personal intervention of Napoleon, who as a soldier rather than a sailor failed to consider the effects of weather, difficulties in communication, and the Royal Navy. Despite limited successes in achieving some elements of the plan the French commanders were unable to follow the main objective through to execution. The campaign, which took place over thousands of miles of ocean, was marked by several naval engagements, most significantly at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October, where the combined fleet was decisively defeated, and from which the campaign takes its name. A final mopping up action at the Battle of Cape Ortegal on 4 November completed the destruction of the combined fleet, and secured the supremacy of the Royal Navy at sea.
The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.
The Battle of Trafalgar was a naval engagement fought by the British Royal Navy against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars (1796–1815).
Dumanoir had commanded the van of the line at Trafalgar, and had managed to escape the battle having suffered relatively little damage. He initially attempted to continue the fleet's mission and enter the Mediterranean, but fearful of encountering strong British forces, changed his mind and headed north to skirt round Spain and reach the French Atlantic ports. On his journey he encountered two British frigates but drove them off, but shortly afterwards came across a single British frigate and chased it. The frigate led Dumanoir within range of a British squadron under Strachan, who was patrolling the area in search of a different French squadron. Strachan immediately gave chase, while Dumanoir fled from the superior force he had been lured towards. Strachan's squadron took time to form up, but he was able to use the frigates attached to it to harass and slow the French, until his larger ships of the line could catch up.
There then followed several hours of fierce fighting, before Strachan was able to outmanoeuvre his opponent and double his line with frigates and ships of the line. The French ships were then overwhelmed and forced to surrender. All four ships were taken back to Britain as prizes and commissioned into the Navy. Strachan and his men were handsomely rewarded by a public who viewed the successful outcome as completing Nelson's victory at Trafalgar.
Four French ships of the line stationed towards the head of the combined fleet's line escaped the Battle of Trafalgar under Rear-Admiral Pierre Dumanoir le Pelley, and sailed southwards. Pelley's initial intention was to carry out Villeneuve's original orders, and make for Toulon.The day after the battle he changed his mind, remembering that a substantial British squadron under Rear-Admiral Thomas Louis was patrolling the straits. With a storm gathering in strength off the Spanish coast, Pelley sailed westwards to clear Cape St Vincent, prior to heading north-west, and then swinging eastwards across the Bay of Biscay, aiming to reach the French port at Rochefort. His squadron represented a still-considerable force, having suffered only slight damage at Trafalgar. [a] In escaping from Trafalgar Dumanoir's flagship, Formidable had jettisoned twelve 12-pounder guns from her quarterdeck in order to lighten her load and effect her escape. Dumanoir doubled Cape St Vincent on 29 October and made for Île-d'Aix, entering the Bay of Biscay on 2 November.
Vice-Admiral Count Pierre-Etienne-René-Marie Dumanoir Le Pelley was a French Navy officer, best known for commanding the vanguard of the French fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Toulon is a city in southern France and a large port on the Mediterranean coast, with a major French naval base. Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, Toulon is the capital of the Var department.
Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Louis, 1st Baronet was an officer of the Royal Navy who saw action during the American Revolutionary War and the French Revolutionary Wars. He was one of Horatio Nelson's "Band of Brothers" in the Mediterranean in 1798, commanding a ship at the Battle of the Nile. Later, he was second in command at the Battle of San Domingo, for which service he was made a baronet.
There were a number of British ships and squadrons already in the bay, and on the lookout for French ships. Zacharie Allemand, commander of the Rochefort squadron, had sailed from the port in July 1805, and was currently cruising in the Atlantic, raiding British shipping.One of the British ships sent out on patrol was the 36-gun HMS Phoenix, under the command of Captain Thomas Baker. Baker had orders to patrol west of the Scilly Isles, but in late October he received news from several neutral merchants that Allemand's squadron had been sighted in the Bay of Biscay. Baker immediately left his station and sailed southwards, reaching the latitude of Cape Finisterre on 2 November, just as Dumanoir was entering the bay. Baker sighted four ships steering north-north-west at 11 o'clock, and immediately gave chase. The ships, which Baker presumed to be part of the Rochefort squadron, but were actually Dumanoir's ships, bore up at noon and began to chase Phoenix, which fled south. In doing so Baker hoped to lure the French onto a British squadron under Captain Sir Richard Strachan that he knew to be in the area. [c]
Allemand's expedition of 1805, often referred to as the Escadre invisible in French sources, was an important French naval expedition during the Napoleonic Wars, which formed a major diversion to the ongoing Trafalgar Campaign in the Atlantic Ocean. With the French Mediterranean Fleet at sea, Emperor Napoleon I hoped to unite it with the French Atlantic Fleet and together form a force powerful enough to temporarily displace the British Royal Navy Channel Fleet for long enough to allow an invasion force to cross the English Channel and land in Britain. In support of this plan, the French squadron based at Rochefort put to sea in July 1805, initially with the intention that they would join the Atlantic Fleet from Brest. When this fleet failed to put to sea, the Rochefort squadron, under Contre-Admiral Zacharie Allemand, went on an extended raiding cruise across the Atlantic, both to intercept British trade left lightly defended by the concentration of British forces in European waters and with the intention of eventually combining with the French Mediterranean Fleet then blockaded in Spanish harbours.
HMS Phoenix was a 36-gun Perseverance-class fifth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy. The shipbuilder George Parsons built her at Bursledon and launched her on 15 July 1783. She served in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and was instrumental in the events leading up to the battle of Trafalgar. Phoenix was involved in several single-ship actions, the most notable occurring on 10 August 1805 when she captured the French frigate Didon, which was more heavily armed than her. She was wrecked, without loss of life, off Smyrna in 1816.
Sir Thomas Baker KCB, KWN was an officer of the Royal Navy, who saw service during the American War of Independence, and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He had obtained his own command during the French Revolutionary Wars and was to play a part in bringing about three of the battles of the Napoleonic Wars, the Battle of Copenhagen, the Battle of Trafalgar, and the Battle of Cape Ortegal. He only directly participated in the third, but his actions there, and the capture of the French frigate Didon (1805) beforehand brought him honours and rewards. While towing the Didon to a British port, he and another vessel were sighted by the combined Franco-Spanish fleet under Pierre-Charles Villeneuve, and mistaken as scouts for the Channel Fleet. He therefore turned south to Cadiz, leading to the abandonment of the planned invasion of England, and the destruction of the French fleet at Trafalgar by Horatio Nelson some months later. He rose through the ranks after the end of the wars with France, and was commander of the South America Station during Charles Darwin's voyage aboard HMS Beagle. He eventually died with the rank of vice-admiral in 1845 after a long and distinguished career.
Baker kept ahead of the pursuing French, and at 3 o'clock that afternoon he sighted four sails heading south. Boadicea under Captain John Maitland, and the 36-gun HMS Dryad under Captain Adam Drummond. Boadicea and Dryad sighted Phoenix and the four sails to the south at 8.45 that evening, and made signals to them. Baker was suspicious of the new sails, standing between him and the French ships, and so did not stand towards them, instead continuing on to the sails in the south. By now it was clear on Boadicea and Dryad that a substantial force was gathering, as Phoenix closed with four ships of the line, and three other sails were also sighted in the vicinity. They eventually drew to within two miles of the weather-most ship, the 80-gun HMS Caesar, but received no reply to their signals, and drew away at 10.30pm, where after they lost sight of both the French and British ships, and took no further part in the battle.Dumanoir's forces also saw them, and stood to the east, while Baker, no longer pursued, kept the French sails under observation. Having ascertained the strength and disposition of the French ships, Baker resumed sailing to the south-east, firing guns and signalling to the four ships he had seen and supposed to be British. Dumanoir's forces had already had a run-in with the British, having been chased by two frigates, the 38-gun HMS
HMS Boadicea was a frigate of the Royal Navy. She served in the Channel and in the East Indies during which service she captured many prizes. She participated in one action for which the Admiralty awarded the Naval General Service Medal. She was broken up in 1858.
John Maitland was an officer of the Royal Navy, who saw service during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, eventually rising to the rank of Rear-Admiral.
HMS Dryad was a fifth-rate sailing frigate of the Royal Navy that served for 64 years, at first during the Napoleonic Wars and then in the suppression of slavery. She fought in a notable single-ship action in 1805 when she captured the French frigate Proserpine, an action that would later earn her crew the Naval General Service Medal. Dryad was broken up at Portsmouth in 1860.
By 11pm Baker had finally reached the ships, and passing under the stern of Caesar received confirmation that the ships were Strachan's squadron, as he had initially surmised.Baker informed Strachan that he had sighted a part of the Rochefort squadron to leeward, and Strachan immediately determined to seek an engagement. Strachan's squadron was however badly scattered by this stage, and after setting sail to intercept the French, sent Baker to round up the remaining ships and order them on to support him. Strachan's squadron consisted at this time of the 80-gun Caesar, the 74-gun Hero, Courageux, Namur and Bellona, and the frigates the 36-gun Santa Margarita and 32-gun Aeolus. Strachan began the chase with only Caesar, Hero, Courageux and Aeolus, and chased the French, who were by now pressing on sail for the north west, until losing them in hazy weather at 1.30 in the morning. They then shortened sail to await the rest of the squadron, and were joined at daylight on 3 November by Santa Margarita. The chase began again in earnest, and at 7.30 am Cape Ortegal was sighted, 36 miles to the southeast. The French ships were again sighted at 9am, and at 11am the lead British ships sighted Namur and Phoenix astern, and hurrying to catch up. With them was another frigate, the 38-gun HMS Révolutionnaire, under Captain Hon. Henry Hotham, who had stumbled across the chase. The chase continued throughout the day and into the night, by which time the faster Santa Margarita and Phoenix were well ahead of the main British force. The Bellona had been unable to rejoin the squadron, and took no part in the battle.
HMS Caesar, also Cæsar, was an 80-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 16 November 1793 at Plymouth. She was designed by Sir Edward Hunt, and was the only ship built to her draught. She was also one of only two British-built 80-gun ships of the period, the other being HMS Foundroyant.
HMS Hero was a 74-gun third rate of the Royal Navy, launched on 18 August 1803 at Blackwall Yard.
HMS Courageux was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 26 March 1800 at Deptford. She was designed by Sir John Henslow as one of the large class 74-gun ships, and was the only ship built to her draught. Unlike the middling and common class 74-gun ships, which carried 18-pounder long guns, as a large 74-gun ship, Courageux carried 24-pounders on her upper gun deck.
The battle began at 5.45 on the morning of 4 November, when Santa Margarita closed on the stern of the rear-most French ship, Scipion, and opened fire, being joined by Phoenix at 9.30. 's heels. Strachan was about six miles behind the French with Caesar, Hero and Courageux, accompanied by Aeolus, while Namur and Révolutionnaire were some way astern of them. The British continued to overhaul the French, while Scipion exchanged fire with the harassing frigates from her stern-chasers. At 11.45 with an action now unavoidable Dumanoir ordered his ships to form line ahead on the starboard tack, as Strachan likewise lined his ships up and approached from windward on the French ships' starboard side.At this stage the French were sailing roughly in line abreast, with Phoenix and Santa Margarita snapping at Scipion
Scipion was a 74-gun French ship of the line, built at Lorient to a design by Jacques Noel Sane. She was launched as Orient in late 1798, and renamed Scipion in 1801. She was first commissioned in 1802 and joined the French Mediterranean fleet based at Toulon, in the squadron of Admiral Leissègues. Consequently she was one of the ships afloat in that port when war with England reopened in May 1803. She participated in the Battle of Cape Finisterre and the Battle of Trafalgar. The British captured her in the subsequent Battle of Cape Ortegal. In 1810 she participated in the Java campaign, which in 1847 earned her surviving crew the Naval General Service Medal. She participated in the blockade of Toulon in 1813 and was paid off in 1814. She was broken up in 1819.
By noon all four British frigates were in action, harassing Scipion on the port side, while Namur had nearly joined the ships of the line, who were firing on the rear-most French ships' starboard side.Dumanoir had ordered his ships to tack in succession in 11.30, and so bring his leading ship, Duguay-Trouin into the action to support his centre. The Duguay-Trouin made no move to obey the signal until 12.15, and the French line began to turn towards the British ships of the line, and to pass down alongside them. Dumanoir had planned to carry out this manoeuvre at 8 that morning, but had cancelled it before it could be carried out. The two lines passed alongside each other, with Dumanoir finding that Strachan had doubled his line, with frigates on one side and ships of the line on the other. His ships suffered heavy damage as the two British lines and the French one passed by on opposite tacks, with Dumanoir aiming to isolate Namur before she could join the British line.
The damage his ships had sustained rendered them slow and unmanoeuvrable, and Strachan was able to order his ships to tack themselves, to keep them alongside the French, while adding Namur to his line.Under heavy fire from the frigates on the starboard side and the ships of the line on their port, the French ships were worn down and by 3.10 Scipion and Formidable had been forced to strike their colours. Seeing their fate Mont Blanc and Duguay-Trouin attempted to escape but were chased down by Hero and Caesar and battered into submission by 3.35.
Strachan's triumph completed the rout of the French that Nelson had begun at Trafalgar. With the four ships taken at Cape Ortegal only five ships remained of the French portion of the combined fleet, and they were bottled up at Cadiz. Implacable. The British crews who had fought at Cape Ortegal were included in the large scale rewards made for the victory at Trafalgar. Captain Sir Richard Strachan was promoted to rear-admiral of the blue, while all first-lieutenants were advanced to commander. In addition Strachan was admitted to the Order of the Bath and his captains received gold medals.All four captured ships were taken back to Britain and commissioned into the Royal Navy, with their crew transferred to prison camps. One of the ships, the former Duguay-Trouin served with the British for the next 144 years under the name HMS
Dumanoir was less fortunate than his opponent. He and other French officers were quartered at Tiverton, where they were given considerable freedom, only required to be within the turnpike gates by 8pm in summer and 4pm in winter.While there he wrote to The Times to protest against unflattering comments made about his conduct at Trafalgar. He was released from captivity in 1809 and returned to France, where he faced not one but two courts of enquiry, one for his conduct at Trafalgar, and another for his defeat at Cape Ortegal. In the first he was accused of disobeying Villeneuve's instructions, not doing enough to support his admiral, and then fleeing the battle instead of fighting on. After the examination of various pieces of evidence, Dumanoir was acquitted of all charges. At the second court of enquiry Dumanoir was convicted of having failed to engage Strachan's squadron while it was still disorganised on the morning of 4 November, of having allowed the British frigates to harass his rear without trying to engage them, and for only turning to engage Strachan as his rear was being overwhelmed. The court concluded that he had been too indecisive. The verdict was passed to the Minister of Marine, Denis Decrès, in January 1810 but Decrès hesitated to order a court-martial. Napoleon wanted Dumanoir to be made an example of, but Decrès attempted to shield Dumanoir, and when he finally convened a court-martial at Napoleon's insistence, its orders were vague and it eventually acquitted Dumanoir and the surviving captains.
|Captain Strachan's squadron|
|HMS Caesar||Third rate||80||Captain Sir Richard Strachan||4||25||29|
|HMS Hero||Third rate||74||Captain Hon. Alan Gardner||10||51||61|
|HMS Courageux||Third rate||74||Captain Richard Lee||1||13||14|
|HMS Namur||Third rate||74||Captain Lawrence Halsted||4||8||12|
|HMS Santa Margarita||Fifth rate||36||Captain Wilson Rathbone||1||1||2|
|HMS Aeolus||Fifth rate||32||Captain Lord William FitzRoy||0||3||3|
|HMS Phoenix||Fifth rate||36||Captain Thomas Baker||2||4||6|
|HMS Révolutionnaire||Fifth rate||38||Captain Hon. Henry Hotham||2||6||8|
|Casualties: 24 Killed, 111 Wounded, 135 Total|
|Rear-Admiral Dumanoir le Pelley's Squadron|
|Formidable||Third rate||80 [b]||Rear-Admiral Pierre Dumanoir le Pelley||-||-||c. 200||Captured, commissioned as HMS Brave|
|Scipion||Third rate||74||Captain Charles Berrenger||-||-||c. 200||Captured, commissioned as HMS Scipion|
|Duguay-Trouin||Third rate||74||Captain Claude Touffet †||-||-||c. 150||Captured, commissioned as HMS Implacable|
|Mont Blanc||Third rate||74||Captain Guillaume-Jean-Noël de Lavillegris||-||-||c. 180||Captured, commissioned as HMS Mont Blanc|
|Casualties: 730 killed and wounded|
|Sources: Adkin, p. 535; Fremont-Barnes, p. 86|
a. ^ Formidable is recorded as shipping water, and having three guns dismounted, while Duguay-Trouin suffered one man killed and three wounded. The damage was probably inflicted by one or both of HMS Minotaur and HMS Spartiate.
b. ^ Nominal armament, by the time of the battle she probably only mounted 65 guns, having had three guns dismounted at Trafalgar, and having jettisoned twelve during her escape.
c. ^ Strachan was serving in the post of commodore at the time, but held the rank of captain, and is referred to as 'Captain Strachan' in the sources.
Twelve vessels of the French Navy have been named Duguay-Trouin in honour of René Duguay-Trouin.
Formidable was an 80-gun Tonnant class ship of the line of the French Navy, laid down in August 1794 and given the name Formidable, on 5 October, but renamed Figuieres on 4 December 1794, although the name was restored to Formidable on 31 May 1795 after she was launched at Toulon on 17 March 1795. She participated in the Battle of Algeciras, the Battle of Cape Finisterre and several other actions before the British captured her at the Battle of Cape Ortegal on 4 November 1805. The British took her into service as HMS Brave. She was sold to be broken up in April 1816.
HMS Elephant was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She was built by George Parsons in Bursledon, Hampshire, and launched on 24 August 1786.
HMS Implacable was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She was originally the French Navy's Téméraire-class ship of the line Duguay-Trouin, launched in 1800.
Mont-Blanc was a Téméraire class 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the French Navy. In the course of her career, she was renamed no less than four times, reflecting the tides of politics with the French Revolution.
Neptune was a Bucentaure-class 80-gun ship of the line of the French Navy. Built during the last years of the French Revolutionary Wars she was launched at the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars. Her brief career with the French included several major battles, though she spent the last 12 years of her life under the Spanish flag.
The Atlantic campaign of 1806 was one of the most important and complex naval campaigns of the post-Trafalgar Napoleonic Wars. Seeking to take advantage of the withdrawal of British forces from the Atlantic in the aftermath of the Battle of Trafalgar, Emperor Napoleon ordered two battle squadrons to sea from the fleet stationed at Brest, during December 1805. Escaping deep into the Atlantic, these squadrons succeeded in disrupting British convoys, evading pursuit by British battle squadrons and reinforcing the French garrison at Santo Domingo. The period of French success was brief: on 6 February 1806 one of the squadrons, under Vice-Admiral Corentin Urbain Leissègues, was intercepted by a British squadron at the Battle of San Domingo and destroyed, losing all five of its ships of the line.
Sir Lawrence William Halsted GCB was an officer of the Royal Navy who served during the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
Furet was an Abeille-class 16-gun brig of the French Navy, launched in 1801. HMS Hydra captured her on 27 February 1806, off Cadiz.
Captain Claude Touffet was a French Navy officer.
Neptuno was an 80-gun Montañes-class ship of the line of the Spanish Navy. She was built in 1795 and took part in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. She fought with the Franco-Spanish fleet in the battle of Trafalgar, and was wrecked in its aftermath.
The Action of 5 May 1794 was a minor naval engagement fought in the Indian Ocean during the French Revolutionary Wars. A British squadron had been blockading the French island of Isle de France since early in the year, and early on 5 May discovered two ships approaching their position. As the strange vessels came closer, they were recognised as the French frigate Duguay Trouin, which had been captured from the East India Company the year before, and a small brig. Making use of a favourable wind, the British squadron gave chase to the new arrivals, which fled. The chase was short, as Duguay Trouin was a poor sailor with many of the crew sick and unable to report for duty. The British frigate HMS Orpheus was the first to arrive, and soon completely disabled the French frigate, successfully raking the wallowing ship. After an hour and twenty minutes the French captain surrendered, Captain Henry Newcome of Orpheus taking over the captured ship and bringing his prize back to port in India.
HMS Aeolus was a 32-gun Amphion-class fifth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy. She was launched in 1801 and served in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812.
The Blockade of Saint-Domingue was a naval campaign fought during the first months of the Napoleonic Wars, in which a series of British Royal Navy squadrons blockaded the French-held ports of Cap Français and Môle-Saint-Nicolas on the Northern coast of the French colony of Saint-Domingue, shortly to become Haiti following the conclusion of the Haitian Revolution on 1 January 1804. In the summer of 1803, when war broke out between the United Kingdom and the French Consulate, Saint-Domingue had been almost completely overrun by Haitian forces under the command of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. In the north of the country, the French forces were isolated in the two large ports of Cap Français and Môle-Saint-Nicolas and a few smaller settlements, all supplied by a French naval force based primarily at Cap Français.