Battle of Fort Royal

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Battle of Fort Royal
Part of the Anglo-French War
Bataille de Fort Royal de la Martinique 29 avril 1781.jpg
Date29 April and 30 April 1781
Location 14°36′N61°15′W / 14.600°N 61.250°W / 14.600; -61.250
Result French victory [1]
Belligerents
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain Royal Standard of the King of France.svg  France
Commanders and leaders
Hood Grasse
Strength
18 ships of the line 24 ships of the line
Casualties and losses
39 killed
162 wounded [2]
Reports vary [2]

The Battle of Fort Royal was a naval battle fought off Fort Royal, Martinique in the West Indies during the Anglo-French War on 29 April 1781, between fleets of the British Royal Navy and the French Navy. After an engagement lasting four hours, the British squadron under Admiral Samuel Hood broke off and retreated. Admiral de Grasse offered a desultory chase before seeing the French convoys safe to port.

Contents

Background

In March 1781, a large French fleet under the command of Grasse left the port of Brest. Most of this fleet was headed for the West Indies. Of the 26 ships of the line, one was sent to North America, and five, under the command of the Suffren, were destined for India. The remaining twenty arrived off to Martinique on 28 April.

On 17 April, Grasse had detached a cutter which arrived at Martinique on 26 to inform Bouillé of his arrival. [3] Before sailing to the lee (western) side of the island, Grasse anchored the fleet and sent someone ashore to gather news and bring orders to Albert de Saint-Hippolyte, commander of a 4-ship division that a British fleet of 17 ships of the line under Samuel Hood had been blockading at Fort Royal for 50 days. [3] The division comprised the 74-gun Victoire, under Saint-Hippolyte, and the 64-gun Caton, under Framond, Réfléchi, under Cillart de Suville, and Solitaire, under Cicé-Champion. [4]

Hood was under orders from the fleet's station commander, Admiral George Brydges Rodney, to maintain the blockade of the port on the lee side, despite his protests that this would put him at a disadvantage should any other fleet arrive. Though disadvantaged by his position and his inferior firepower, the fact that all of his ships had copper bottoms, which required little maintenance compared to the alternative, and that he was not burdened with the responsibility of escorting a convoy both allowed him to focus his efforts on maintaining the blockade.

Battle

Grasse ordered his fleet to prepare for action on the morning of 29 April, and sailed for Fort Royal with the convoy ships hugging the coast and the armed ships in battle line. [5] The French spotted Hood's fleet bearing towards them around 0800, but Grasse held the advantageous weather gauge from an East-North-East wind. [5] At about 0920, Hood was joined by the Prince William, a 64-gun ship that had been at St. Lucia.

The two fleets continued to push for advantageous positions, however Hood's leeward position meant he was unable to prevent Grasse from bringing the convoy to the harbour, and Grasse's fleet and the four blockaded ships soon met. Around 1100, Grasse's van began firing at long range, with no effect. Saint-Hippolyte's division then set sail, leaving the harbour of Fort-Royal and making their junction with Grasse. [4]

By 1230 the two fleets were aligned, but Grasse refused to take advantage of the weather gauge to close with Hood, despite Hood's efforts to bring the French to him, as doing so entailed risking his transports. [4] The fleets then exchanged cannonades and broadsides for the next hour; at long range, the damage incurred was modest, although Centaur, Russell and Intrepid required repairs. Centaur had her captain, first officer and 10 others killed, and 26 wounded. [4] [6] The French suffered mostly light damage to their rigging. [4]

From 1400, the French convoy slipped between the coast and Grasse's squadron, safely arriving at Martinique. [7]

Hood finally drew away toward Saint Lucia. On 30, Grasse, having successfully completed his convoy escort, was free to give chase, and he harassed the British for a couple of days, but Hood refused to be brought to action. In the chase, the disparity of sailing performance between the French ships scattered Grasse's squadron, to the point that by 1 May, Grasse had only 11 ships with him and was losing sight of the last ones. [8] He then returned to Fort-Royal, where he arrived on 6 May. [4]

Aftermath

Hood dispatched Russell, which had been holed below the waterline to St. Eustatius for repairs, and to bring news of the action to Admiral Rodney. Hood spent the next day in fruitless attempts to gain the windward and eventually made sail to the North. He met Rodney on 11 May between St. Kitts and Antigua, the latter having left Saint Eustatius on 5 May. Reports of French casualties vary from as few as 74 killed and wounded to more than 250. [2]

Order of battle

French fleet

Admiral de Grasse's fleet [9] [10] [11]
DivisionShipGunsCommanderCasualtiesNotes
KilledWoundedTotal
Blue-and-White squadron, under Bougainville
3rd
Division
Languedoc 80 Arros d'Argelos Division flagship
Citoyen 74 Thy
1st
Division
Glorieux 74 Pérusse des Cars
Auguste 80 Bougainville (Chef d'escadre)
Castellan (flag captain) [12]
Division and Squadron flagship
2nd
Division
Souverain 74 Glandevès du Castellet
Diadème 74 Monteclerc
Signals Médée 32-gun frigate Girardin
White squadron, under Grasse
3rd
Division
Zélé 74 Gras-Préville
Scipion 74 Clavel
1st
Division
Northumberland 74 Briqueville
Ville de Paris 104 Grasse (Lieutenant général)
Vaugiraud (Major general)
Cresp de Saint-Césaire (flag captain)
Division, Squadron and Fleet flagship
Sceptre 74 Louis de Rigaud de Vaudreuil
2nd Division Hector 74 Renaud d'Aleins
Magnanime 74 Le Bègue de Germiny
Signals Diligente 26-gun frigate Mortemart
Pandour 18-gun cutter Grasse-Limmermont
Blue squadron, under Chabert
3rd Division Bourgogne 74 Charitte
Vaillant 64 Bernard de Marigny
1st
Division
Marseillais 74 Castellane Majastre
César 74 Coriolis d'Espinouse
Saint-Esprit 80 Chabert-Cogolin Division and Squadron flagship
2nd Division Hercule 74 Turpin du Breuil
Pluton 74 Albert de Rions
Signals Aigrette 26-gun frigate Traversay
Alerte 18-gun cutter Gallien de Chabons [13]
Saint-Hippolyte's division [4]
DivisionShipGunsCommanderCasualtiesNotes
KilledWoundedTotal
Victoire 74 Albert de Saint-Hippolyte Division flagship
Caton 64 Framond
Réfléchi 64 Cillart de Suville

Solitaire

64 Cicé-Champion

British fleet

British order of battle as provided by Clowes, p. 482.

Sources and references

Notes

    References

    1. Castex (2004), p. 175-76.
    2. 1 2 3 Clowes (1898), p. 487.
    3. 1 2 Lacour-Gayet (1905), p. 392.
    4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Troude (1867), p. 102.
    5. 1 2 Troude (1867), p. 101.
    6. "John Neale Pleydell Nott". More than Nelson. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
    7. Lacour-Gayet (1905), p. 393.
    8. Lacour-Gayet (1905), p. 394.
    9. Kerguelen (1796), p. 182-183.
    10. Troude (1867), p. 100—101.
    11. Lacour-Gayet (1905), p. 648—649.
    12. Contenson (1934), p. 150.
    13. Kerguelen (1796), p. 224.

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