Battle of Grenada

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Battle of Grenada
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Battle of Grenada mg 9372.jpg
Battle of Grenada, Jean-François Hue
Date6 July 1779
Location 12°03′N61°45′W / 12.05°N 61.75°W / 12.05; -61.75
Result French victory [1]
Belligerents
Royal Standard of the King of France.svg  France Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Kingdom of France (1814-1830).svg Charles Henri Hector Naval Ensign of Great Britain (1707-1800).svg John Byron
Strength
25 ships of the line 21 ships of the line
Casualties and losses
173 killed
773 wounded [2]
183 killed,
346 wounded [3]

The Battle of Grenada took place on 6 July 1779 during the American Revolutionary War in the West Indies between the British Royal Navy and the French Navy, just off the coast of Grenada. The British fleet of Admiral John Byron (the grandfather of Lord Byron) had sailed in an attempt to relieve Grenada, which the French forces of the Comte D'Estaing had just captured.

Contents

Incorrectly believing he had numerical superiority, Byron ordered a general chase to attack the French as they left their anchorage at Grenada. Because of the disorganized attack and the French superiority, the British fleet was badly mauled in the encounter, although no ships were lost on either side. Naval historian Alfred Thayer Mahan described the British loss as "the most disastrous ... that the British Navy had encountered since Beachy Head, in 1690." [4]

Background

Following the entry of France into the American War of Independence as an American ally in early 1778, French Admiral the Comte D'Estaing arrived in the West Indies in early December 1778 in command of a fleet consisting of 12 ships of the line and a number of smaller vessels. [5] At about the same time, a British fleet under Admiral William Hotham also arrived, augmenting the fleet of Admiral Samuel Barrington. [6] The British then captured French-held St. Lucia, despite d'Estaing's attempt at relief. The British used St. Lucia to monitor the major French base at Martinique, where d'Estaing was headquartered. [7]

The British fleet was further reinforced in January 1779 by ten ships of the line under Admiral John Byron, who assumed command of the British Leeward Islands station. [8] Throughout the first half of 1779, both fleets received further reinforcements, after which the French fleet was slightly superior to that of the British. [9] Furthermore, Byron departed St. Lucia on 6 June in order to provide escort services to British merchant ships gathering at St. Kitts for a convoy to Europe, leaving d'Estaing free to act. D'Estaing and Governor Bouillé seized the opportunity to begin a series of operations against nearby British possessions. [10]

Their first target, the isle of Saint Vincent, fell on 18 June, and d'Estaing turned his attention to other islands. He had hoped to capture the key British possession, Barbados, but after making no progress against the prevailing easterly trade winds, he turned his attention instead to Grenada. [11] The French fleet arrived off Grenada on 2 July, and stormed its main defences beginning late on 3 July. Terms of capitulation were agreed on 4 July. [12] On the way, the French squadron met the 50-gun Fier Rodrigue, under Chevalier de Montault, a letter of marque belonging to Beaumarchais and escorting a convoy. They commandeered Fier Rodrigue, and she took a place in the French line of battle. [13] [14]

Admiral Byron had been alerted to the French action at Saint Vincent, and was sailing with a force to recapture it. When news arrived that the French were at Grenada, he immediately changed course to meet them. [12] The British fleet consisted of 21 ships of the line and 1 frigate. Because he was escorting troop transports and was short of frigates, three ships of the line were assigned duty to escort the transports. Admiral d'Estaing was warned on July 5 of Byron's approach, and promptly reembarked most of his troops. His fleet consisted of 25 ships of the line and a large number of frigates and smaller vessels. [15] Admiral Byron was unaware of d'Estaing's full strength, since during his absence d'Estaing had been reinforced by a squadron from Europe under Lamotte-Picquet. [10]

Battle

The capture of the island of Grenada by the troops of D'Estaing Prise La Grenade juillet 1779.jpg
The capture of the island of Grenada by the troops of D'Estaing

The French were anchored off St. George's Town on the southwest of the island, and the British approached during the night. D'Estaing weighed anchor at 4:00 am when the British fleet was spotted, ordering his ships to form a line of battle in order of speed (that is, without regard to the usual sailing order), heading roughly northward. [16] This masked the true strength of the French fleet as each ship left the cluster at the anchorage. Believing his force to be superior, Byron gave the order for general chase, approaching the anchorage from the northeast. [17]

When Byron finally became aware of the full French strength, he attempted to reform a battle line. As a result, the British attack was disordered and confused. Fame, Lion and two other ships got separated from the main body and were very badly mauled. Lion was forced to run downwind to Jamaica to avoid capture. The French lost no ships and eventually hauled off. The British lost 183 killed and 346 wounded. Fame had four killed and nine wounded. The French lost 190 killed and 759 wounded.

Aftermath

D'Estaing returned to Grenada to make repairs while Byron made for St. Kitts to do the same. The French admiral failed to capitalise on his superior strength to launch further attacks in the West Indies. Byron returned home in August. D'Estaing, after co-operating unsuccessfully with the Americans in an attack on Savannah in September also returned to Europe.

The action was a stepping stone into a career in the Navy for Ganteaume, then 22, who served as an auxiliary officer on Fier Rodrigue, who eventually rose to Vice Admiral. [18]

Order of battle

French fleet

Admiral d'Estaing' fleet [19] [20]
DivisionShipTypeCommanderCasualtiesNotes
KilledWoundedTotal
Escadre blanche et bleue (vanguard)
Zélé 74 Captain Jacques-Melchior Saint-Laurent, Comte de Barras
Fantasque 64 Captain Pierre André de Suffren 224365First officer Campredon killed. [2]
Magnifique 74 Captain François-Louis de Brach
Tonnant 80 Lieutenant-General Pierre-Claude Haudeneau de Breugnon
Captain Bruyères-Chalabre
Division and Squadron flagship
Protecteur 74 Captain Étienne de Grasse-Limermont
Fier 74 Captain Jean-Baptiste Turpin du Breuil
Provence 64 Captain Victor-Louis Desmichels de Champorcin   Joseph-François-Félix Garnier de Saint-Antonin assumed command [21]
Escadre blanche (centre)
Fendant 74 Captain Louis-Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil
Artésien 64 Captain Antoine de Thomassin de Peynier
Fier-Rodrigue 50Captain Montault 
Hector 74 Captain Pierre de Moriès-Castellet
Languedoc 80 Vice-Admiral Charles Henri Hector d'Estaing
Captain Henri-Louis de Boulainvilliers de Croy
Division, Squadron and Fleet flagship
Robuste 74 Chef d'Escadre François Joseph Paul de Grasse
Vaillant 64 Captain Joseph-Bernard de Chabert-Cogolin
Sagittaire 50Captain François Hector d'Albert de Rions
Guerrier 74 Captain Louis Antoine de Bougainville
Escadre bleue (rear)
Sphinx 64 Captain Claude-René Pâris de Soulanges
Diadème 74 Captain Charles Picot de Dampierre  ( WIA )
Amphion 50Captain Ferron de Quengo 
Marseillais 74 Captain Louis-Armand de La Poype de Vertrieux
César 74 Chef d'Escadre Jean-Joseph de Rafélis de Broves
Captain Jean-Baptiste de Moriès de Castellet  ( WIA )
Division and Squadron flag
Vengeur 64 Captain Jean-Georges du Croiset de Retz  ( WIA )
Réfléchi 64 Captain Armand-François Cillart de Suville  ( WIA )
Annibal 74 Chef d'Escadre Toussaint-Guillaume Picquet de la Motte 5990149
Reconnaissance and signals
Alcmène 26Captain Pierre-René-Bénigne-Mériadec de Bonneval
Aimable 26Captain Antoine-Stanislas de Curières de Castelnau Saint-Cosme Sainte-Eulalie
Total losses: 173 killed, 773 wounded, 949 total [2]

British fleet

Admiral Byron's fleet [3]
ShipGunsCommanderCasualtiesNotes
KilledWoundedTotal
Van
Suffolk 74 Rear-Admiral Joshua Rowley
Captain Hugh Cloberry Christian
72532
Boyne 70Captain Herbert Sawyer 123042
Royal Oak 74 Captain Thomas Fitzherbert 41216
Prince of Wales 74 Vice-Admiral Samuel Barrington
Captain Benjamin Hill
264672
Magnificent 74 Captain John Elphinstone 81119
Trident 64 Captain Anthony James Pye Molloy 369
Medway 60Captain William Affleck 044
Centre
Fame 74 Captain John Butchart 4913
Nonsuch 64 Captain Walter Griffith 000
Sultan 74 Captain Alan Gardner 163955
Princess Royal 90Vice-Admiral John Byron
Captain William Blair
369Fleet flagship
Albion 74 Captain George Bowyer 022
Stirling Castle 64 Captain Robert Carkett 268
Elizabeth 74 Captain William Truscott 123
Rear
Yarmouth 64 Captain Nathaniel Bateman 000
Lion 64 Captain William Cornwallis 213051
Vigilant 64 Captain Sir Digby Dent 000
Conqueror 74 Rear-Admiral Hyde Parker
Captain Harry Harmood
000
Cornwall 74 Captain Timothy Edwards 162743
Monmouth 64 Captain Robert Fanshawe 252853
Grafton 74 Captain Thomas Collingwood 356398
Reconnaissance and signals
Ariadne 20Captain Thomas Pringle 000
Casualties: 183 killed, 346 wounded, 529 total

Sources and references

Notes

    Citations

    1. Castex (2004), pp. 196-99
    2. 1 2 3 Lacour-Gayet (1905), p. 205.
    3. 1 2 Clowes (1898), p. 434.
    4. Mahan, pp. 438–439
    5. Mahan, pp. 429–431
    6. Mahan, p. 429
    7. Mahan, pp. 429–432
    8. Colomb, p. 388
    9. Colomb, pp. 388–389
    10. 1 2 Colomb, p. 389
    11. Colomb, p. 390
    12. 1 2 Colomb, p. 391
    13. Humble (2019), p. 72.
    14. Balch (1972), p. 49.
    15. Mahan, pp. 434–435
    16. Mahan, p. 435
    17. Mahan, pp. 435, 437
    18. Taillemite (2002), p. 201.
    19. Troude (1867), p. 39.
    20. Lacour-Gayet (1905), p. 629.
    21. Contenson (1934), p. 255.

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