Battle of the Saintes

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Battle of the Saintes
Part of the American Revolutionary War [1]
Whitcombe, Battle of the Saints.jpg
The Battle of the Saintes, Thomas Whitcombe
Date9 April – 12 April 1782
15°47′N61°36′W / 15.783°N 61.600°W / 15.783; -61.600
Result Decisive British victory [2] [3]
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain Royal Standard of the King of France.svg  France
Commanders and leaders
British-Red-Ensign-1707.svg George Rodney
British-Red-Ensign-1707.svg Samuel Hood
Flag of the Kingdom of France (1814-1830).svg Comte de Grasse   White flag icon.svg
Flag of the Kingdom of France (1814-1830).svg Louis de Bougainville
36 ships of the line 33 ships of the line
Casualties and losses
243 killed
816 wounded [3]
4 ships of the line captured
1 ship of the line destroyed
3,000 killed or wounded [4]
5,000 captured [3]

The Battle of the Saintes (known to the French as the Bataille de la Dominique), or Battle of Dominica, was an important naval battle in the Caribbean between the British and the French that took place 9 April 1782 – 12 April 1782, during the American Revolutionary War. [1] The British fleet under Admiral Sir George Rodney defeated a French fleet under the Comte de Grasse, forcing the French and Spanish to abandon a planned invasion of Jamaica. [5]


The battle is named after the Saintes (or Saints), a group of islands between Guadeloupe and Dominica in the West Indies. The French fleet had the year before blockaded the British Army at Chesapeake Bay during the Siege of Yorktown and supported the eventual American victory in their revolution.

The French suffered heavy casualties at the Saintes and many were taken prisoner, including the admiral, Comte de Grasse. Four French ships of the line were captured (including the flagship) and one was destroyed. Rodney was credited with pioneering the tactic of "breaking the line" in the battle, though this is disputed. [5] [6]


In October 1781, Admiral Comte de Grasse, commander of the French fleet in the West Indies; Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis, General Bureau for the Spanish Indies; and Bernardo de Gálvez, court representative and aide to the Spanish Governor of Louisiana, developed a plan against British forces. The strategic objectives of the Franco-Spanish military forces in the West Indies in this plan were:

This plan became known as the "De Grasse – Saavedra Convention". The first objective was essentially met by the surrender of the British army under General Cornwallis at the Siege of Yorktown in September 1781. De Grasse and his fleet played a decisive part in that victory, after which they returned to the Caribbean. On arrival in Saint Domingue in November 1781, the admiral was notified to proceed with a plan for the conquest of Jamaica. [8]

Jamaica was the largest and most profitable British island in the Caribbean, mainly because of sugar; it was more valuable to the British economy than all of the thirteen American colonies. King George III wrote to Lord Sandwich, saying that he would risk protecting Britain's important Caribbean islands at the risk of Britain herself, and this was the strategy implemented in 1779. [9] Sugar made up 20% of all British imports and was worth five times as much as tobacco. [10] The French and Spanish were fighting to take over Jamaica in order to expel the British from the West Indies, and to strike a massive blow against the British economy. [11] The courts at Paris and Madrid perceived the invasion of Jamaica as an alternative to the Spanish and French attempts to take Gibraltar, which for two years had been a costly disaster. [12]

While de Grasse waited for reinforcements to undertake the Jamaica campaign, he captured St. Kitts in February 1782. The rest of the Windward Islands - Antigua, St Lucia, and Barbados - still remained under British control. Admiral George Rodney arrived in the Caribbean theatre the following month, bringing reinforcements. These included seventeen ships of the line and gave the British a slight numerical advantage. [13]

On 7 April 1782, de Grasse set out from Martinique with 35 ships of the line, including two 50-gun ships and a large convoy of more than 100 cargo ships, to meet with a Spanish fleet of 12 ships of the line. In addition, de Grasse was to rendezvous with 15,000 troops at Saint Domingue, who were earmarked for the conquest and intended to land on Jamaica's north coast. [13] Rodney, on learning of this, sailed from St Lucia in pursuit with 36 ships of the line the following day. [14]

The British hulls by this time had been given copper sheathing to protect them from marine growth and fouling, as well as salt water corrosion. This dramatically improved speed and sailing performance as a whole in good wind. [15]

The Lines

Plan of the early ship movements leading to the Battle of the Saintes April 1782 Plan of the early ship movements leading to the Battle of the Saintes April 1782.jpg
Plan of the early ship movements leading to the Battle of the Saintes April 1782

The British flagship was HMS Formidable under Admiral Rodney. Second in command was Admiral Samuel Hood and third was Vice Admiral Francis Samuel Drake. As was the convention of the day the fleet was split into three sections: Rodney had individual control as Admiral of the White of 12 ships flying the White Ensign; Drake had command of 12 ships flying the Blue Ensign as Admiral of the Blue; Hood was Admiral of the Red with 12 ships flying the Red Ensign. [16]

The Formidable was accompanied by three 98-gun ships: HMS Barfleur (commanded by Hood), HMS Prince George and HMS Duke plus the 90-gun HMS Namur. The remaining 31 ships ranged from 64-gun to 74-gun. In total the British fleet had 2620 guns compared to the French total of 2526. Most of the British fleet was equipped with carronades on the upper decks, which had a major advantage of flexibility, and were a great advantage at close quarters. [16]

In March 1782, Formidable was stationed at Gros Islet Bay between the island of St. Lucia in the West Indies and Pigeon Island. It was under the command of Admiral Admiral Rodney, serving as his flagship at the head of 36 ship of the line. Meanwhile the French admiral, De Grasse, headed 34 ship of the line at Fort Royal Bay in Martinique. Rodney had been dispatched from Britain with 12 well-fitted ships to rescue the West Indies from a series of attacks from the French which had already resulted in the loss of several islands. They joined 24 ships on St Lucia which had already seen action against the French and were undergoing repairs. [16]

The French had allies in the Spanish, who had 13 ship of the line at Cape Haitien in San Domingo. Together with transport ships the Spanish had a considerable force of 24,000 men. They awaited the arrival of a further 10,000 French troops dispatched from Brest, under escort of five men-of-war, to further boost their strength. The plan was that de Grasse's fleet, with at least 5000 further troops, would unite with the Spanish at Cape Haitien, and from there would attack and capture the island of Jamaica with their conjoined armada of some 60 ships and some 40,000 troops.

Rodney had been in communication with De Grasse during March organising the exchange of prisoners, which were conveyed by HMS Alert under Captain Vashon. The two officers had much mutual respect. Rodney's task was to intercept the French fleet en route to Cape Haitien.

De Grasse's vice admiral at the time was Louis-Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil. Third in command was Louis Antoine de Bougainville. The French flagship was the huge 104-gun Ville de Paris. The troops were under the command of the Marquis de Bouille. The French fleet was also split into three squadrons: De Grasse led the "Cornette Blanche"; Bougainville led the "Escadre Bleu"; de Vaudreuil as a second-in-command flew the mixed blue and white colours of the "Blanche et Bleu". [16]

Other British commanders included Lord Robert Manners of HMS Resolution. Admiral William Cornwallis was in command of HMS Canada. HMS Monarch was under the command of Captain Reynolds. Other aristocrats present included Captain Lord Cranstoun on the Formidable. Sir Charles Douglas, a nephew of Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry, was Captain of the Fleet. Sir James Wallace was also present. Other commanders included Captains Inglefield, Parry, Dumaresq, Buckner, Graves, Blair, Burnett, Savage, Symons, Charrington, Inglis, Cornish, Truscott, Saumarez, Knight, Wilson, Williams and Wilkinson. [17]

A look-out squadron, a line of frigates headed by Captain George Anson Byron on HMS Andromache, reported all of de Grasse's movements at Fort Royal. This squadron included the speedy HMS Agamemnon and also HMS Magnificent. [18]

Pre-Battle Movements

Naval Commanders

On 3 April it was signalled that the repairs on the French fleet were complete. On 5 April it was reported that the French troops were boarding the ships. At 8am on Sunday 8 April it was reported that the French fleet were leaving Fort Royal. Rodney's fleet called all men to join their ships and ships began leaving Gros Islet Bay at 10.30am. [19]

The total French armada comprised 35 ship of the line, 10 frigates, and over 100 smaller ships. The smaller ships moved in advance of the men-of-war, heading for St Pierre. [19]

Just past 4pm HMS Barfleur (under Hood) at the head of the British fleet espied 5 sails ahead which she presumed to be part of the French fleet. These came into view of the Formidable around two hours later, just before sunset. They pursued the French through the night. At 2am on 9 April HMS St Albans dropped alongside Formidable, reporting that she, along with HMS Valiant, had located the French fleet in the darkness. Rodney rested for the remainder of the night.

The sun rose at 5.30am. The French fleet extended from 6 miles to 12 miles distant, navigating the waters between Dominica and Guadeloupe. The majority of the warships lay off Prince Rupert's Bay.

Due to a dead calm from 3am until 7am neither fleet could move. The initial wind only reached the Barfleur and its eight support ships, causing it to detach ahead of the main fleet, which lay in the lee of Dominica. De Grasse saw the opportunity to cripple this advanced section and wheeled to begin the first attack.


On 9 April 1782, the copper-sheathed British fleet caught up with the French, who were surprised by their speed. [20] Admiral de Grasse ordered the French convoy to head into Guadeloupe for repair, forcing him to escort two fifty-gun ships (Fier and Experiment), and placing his fleet in line of battle in order to cover the retreat. [21]

First encounters

Hood's section of the fleet, headed by HMS Barfleur, braced for the first attack. HMS Alfred taunted the 18 French ships under de Vaudreuil which approached, as the first action, by exposing her broadside to the approaching French but without consequence. The British patiently awaited the formal signal from Rodney on the Formidable, some six miles behind, and eventually received a red flag signal telling them to "engage the enemy". As the wind rose around noon it enabled most of the French fleet and part of the British fleet (including Rodney in the Formidable) joined the melee. At this point the French outnumbered the British two to one. [22] Captain William Bayne on the Alfred was killed during this action. [23]

After an inconclusive encounter in which both sides suffered damage, Grasse realised that the remainder of the British fleet would soon be upon them. He broke off the engagement to withdraw a safe distance. [13] Grasse moved his ships to the Saintes islands to the north (south of Gaudeloupe. Meanwhile Rodney reversed the order of his line to bring Drake's thus far undamaged ships to the front, and allow Hood to undertake repairs in the rear lines. [24]

On 10 April the French began 10 miles distant but did not turn to engage, but instead continued on their original course. By nightfall that increased their separation to 15 miles. This appears partly due to a wrong presumption on Rodney's part that the French were going to turn to engage. [24]

On Wednesday 11 April two French ships (the Zélé and the Magnanime) which had accidentally collided, and had fallen behind the main French fleet, came into view around noon. Rodney decided that attacking these two ships would cause de Grasse to return to protect them. This tactic worked and a large section of the French fleet turned to protect the pair. These movements were done without any physical attacks. [24]

Main engagement

Main stages of the battle Battle of the Saintes plan.jpg
Main stages of the battle

On 12 April, the French were ranged from 6 miles to 12 miles distant and were not in formation, as the two fleets manoeuvred between the northern end of Dominica and the Saintes, in what is known as the Saintes Passage. The unfortunate Zélé had had a second collision during the night with one of its rescuers, the Ville de Paris. It was now being towed to Basse Terre in Guadeloupe by Astrée (with General de Bouille on board. They was chased by four British ships: Monarch, Valiant, Centaur and Belliqueux. De Grasse made for Guadeloupe and bore up with his fleet to protect the ship and at the same time Rodney recalled his chasing ships and made the signal for line of battle. [25]

Rear-Admiral Hood's van division were still making repairs from the action three days earlier, so he directed his rear division, under Rear Admiral Francis S. Drake, to take the lead. At 7:40, HMS Marlborough, under Captain Taylor Penny, led the British line and opened battle when he approached the centre of the French line. [15] Having remained parallel with the French, the ships of Drake's division passed the remaining length of de Grasse's line and the two sides exchanged broadsides, a typical naval engagement of this time. [13]

Initial attack

HMS Marlborough under Captain Taylor Penny of Dorset headed the British attack. [26]

As the battle progressed, the strong winds of the previous day and night began to temper and became more variable. As the French line passed down the British line, the sudden shift of wind let Rodney's flagship HMS Formidable and several other ships, including HMS Duke and HMS Bedford, sail toward the French line. [27]

At 8 am, Formidable raised the red flag to permit the Marlborough to open fire and engage the French. At this point the Marlborough was opposite the Dauphin Royal who received her full broadside. [26] Sixteen ships in line separated the Marlborough from the Formidable and each stood 200 metres apart. As each circled passed the French they fired a broadside against the French. Second, behind Marlborough was HMS Arrogant which had been recently re-equipped, managed three broadsides against one from the French as they passed. Third in line was HMS Alcide under Captain Charles Thomson. Then followed HMS Nonsuch under Captain Truscott then HMS Conqueror under Captain George Balfour. [26]

Next in line was Admiral Drake on HMS Princessa who was in command of the first twelve vessels and was followed by HMS Prince George under Captain Williams. Then came the hundred year old HMS Torbay under Captain Keppel and the year-old HMS Anson under Captain William Blair, who being on the main deck was struck by round shot at waist level and horrifically sliced in two. The blue squadron was then completed by HMS Fame and HMS Russell under Captain James Saumarez. [28]

The white squadron under Rodney followed in exact formation after the blue. This was headed by HMS America under Captain Thompson. HMS Hercules under Captain Henry Savage followed. Then came HMS Prothee under Captain Buckner and HMS Resolution under Captain Robert Manners. The 24-year-old Manners was the first casualty on his ship, and was severely injured in both legs and right arm and later died of these wounds. [29] Resolution was followed by HMS Duke under Captain Alan Gardner. [29]

As Formidable was in the centre of the British line it took her almost an hour to reach the centre of the action. All ships had to maintain a steady speed and a she passed de Grasse's flagship, Ville de Paris of 104 guns the two met for the first time. The Ville de Paris was already damaged by the fifteen ships ahead of Formidable in the line. Although it was a sunny day the smoke of the battle was like a dense fog. [30] Formidable entered the smoke and approached the Ville de Paris at 8.40am. [31]

The counter movement of the fleets brought a series of ships opposite the Formidable in sequence behind the Ville de Paris, the movements bringing about a different pairing of enemies every five minutes. Next was Couronne, followed by Éveillé under Le Gardeur de Tilly then the Sceptre under the command of de Vaudreuil. [31]

Breaking the Line

Within an hour, the wind had shifted to the south, forcing the French line to separate and bear to the west, as it could not hold its course into the wind. This allowed the British to use their guns on both sides of their ships without any fear of return fire from the front and rear of the French ships they were passing between. The effect was greater with the use of carronades, with which the British had just equipped nearly half their fleet; this relatively new short-range weapon was quicker to reload and more of them could be carried. Glorieux moving in the wake of the Ville de Paris under command of Captain D'Escars was the next victim; virtually a sitting duck due to damage in the previous ten minutes from HMS Duke, she was quickly pounded and dismasted by intense fire. In the confusion, four French ships beginning with Diadem broke out of sequence (partly due to the uncontrollable speed of the mastless Glorieux). Formidable turned to starboard and brought her port guns to bear on them. [13] As a result, Formidable sailed through the gap, breaking the French line. This breach was further followed through by five other British ships. [14] The breach was later recorded by Charles Dashwood who was a midshipman on the Formidable on the day. [32]

Lord Rodney's flagship Formidable breaking through the French line at the battle of the Saintes, 12th 1782; painted by William Elliott Battle-of-the-Saintes-12th-April-1782-William-Elliott-1784-871.jpg
Lord Rodney’s flagship Formidable breaking through the French line at the battle of the Saintes, 12th 1782; painted by William Elliott

Although the concept of "breaking the line" was born here, the concept is logically of mixed blessings, since in breaking the enemy line, one breaks one's own line. Whilst the movement has the advantage that guns can be fired on both port and starboard sides, it also exposes the ship to attack on both sides. The advantage in this instance was that many of the French gunners left their post, in fear of the Formidables three tiers of guns bearing down on them. [33]

The Diadem appears to have fully withdrawn from the battle at this stage, and many presumed her to be sunk. The Formidable was followed by HMS Namur under Captain Fanshawe, then HMS St Albans under Captain Inglis. These were followed by the deadly HMS Canada under Captain William Cornwallis, HMS Repulse under Captain Thomas Dumaresq, and HMS Ajax under Captain Nicholas Charrington. Each of these fired further upon the hapless and already crippled Glorieux. [34]

Simultaneously, by accident of the smoke, Commodore Edmund Affleck on HMS Bedford, the hindmost ship of the central white squadron, accidentally sailed through the confused French line, between Cesar and Hector, only discovering this error when no enemy lay on his starboard side in the clearing smoke. [35]

The Bedford was followed by Hood's red squadron and this broke the French line into three sections. In the confusion the two leading ships of the rear red squadron, HMS Prince William and HMS Magnificent had somehow passed the Bedford, who was now third in line within the red squadron, completely detached from its own white squadron. [35] The whole red squadron then passed between Cesar and Hector, causing each to be crippled. The final ship of the red squadron, HMS Royal Oak, passed the stern of the Cesar and delivered a final blow a few minutes after 11am. Both fleets then drifted apart for some time and became temporarily becalmed. [35]

Around noon, to the horror of both fleets, it was spotted that the waters were teaming with sharks attracted by the noise and blood. French casualties were greatly increased due to the high number of troops packed onto the lower decks: a minimum of 900 per ship and no less than 1300 on the Ville de Paris. In order to lessen the confusion the French had been throwing the dead (and perhaps the near dead) overboard, and this was a rich feast for the sharks. [35]

French retreat

Battle of the Saintes April 1782 by Nicholas Pocock The Battle of the Saints, 12 April 1782 RMG BHC0444.tiff
Battle of the Saintes April 1782 by Nicholas Pocock

The French now lay totally to the leeward of the British fleet and the fleet stood between them and their destination. They had little option on the re-emergence of the wind but to sail west with the wind, and try to escape. At 1pm the frigate Richemont, under command of Captain De Mortemart but with Denis Decrès in charge of the marines, was sent to join a towing cable to the heavily crippled Glorieux. Souverain moved alongside to provide covering fire. However the British, with both wind and cannon-power in their favour, moved a number of ships up to block this movement. The captain of the Glorieux was already dead, and she was under command of the senior officer remaining: Lieutenant Trogoff de Kerlessi. Souverain and Richmond retreated under heavy fire and Kerlessi had little option but to tear the flag from the mast and surrender, which was done to the Royal Oak. Captain Burnett used this opportunity to restock his depleted powder supplies. Meanwhile HMS Monarch stood alongside HMS Andromache who was acting as a supply ship to the British fleet, and forty barrels of powder were exchanged. [36]

In the next action, around 1.30, HMS Centaur and HMS Bedford attacked the stricken César, captained by Bernard de Marigny. Marigny refused to surrender and was seriously wounded in the first five minutes. Command then fell to his captain, Captain Paul. [36]

Depiction of the battle by Francois Aime Louis Dumoulin Combat naval 12 avril 1782-Dumoulin-IMG 5486.JPG
Depiction of the battle by François Aimé Louis Dumoulin

With their formation shattered and many of their ships severely damaged, the French fell away to the southwest in small groups. [13] Rodney attempted to redeploy and make repairs before pursuing the French. [4] By 2pm, the wind had freshened and a general chase ensued. As the British pressed south, Ardent. After taking possession of Glorieux they caught up with the French rear at around 3pm. Admiral de Grasse signalled other ships to protect the Ville de Paris, but this was only partially fulfilled. Nine ships from de Vaudreuil's squadron came to his aid. The British fleet bore down on this small group. In succession, Rodney's ships isolated the other three ships. César, which was soon totally dismasted and in flames, was captured by Centaur. [37] Soon after 5pm the Hector having been flanked by HMS Canada and HMS Alcide and soon became a complete dismasted wreck. Following the mortal wounding of its captain, De la Vicomte, his first lieutenant De Beaumanoir, lowered the ship's flag and surrendered to the Alcide. [38]

Louis Antoine de Bougainville, who commanded Auguste, had ordered eight ships of his own division [13] to aid Ville de Paris but only the Ardent had proceeded and its isolation caused it to be flanked by HMS Belliqueux and HMS Prince William and this soon led to its capture. [39]

At 5.30 pm, de Grasse with Ville de Paris, stood practically alone and had Barfleur in close pursuit, and Formidable close behind. Five ships from de Vaudreuil's squadron were trying to protect her, but none in close formation. These were Triumphante (Vaudreuil's flagship), Bourgogne (under De La Charette), Magnifique (Macarty Macteigne), Pluton (De Rion) and Marseillais (De Castellane-Majastre). Three ships from De Grasse's squadron also still remained: Languedoc, Couronne and Sceptre. [39]

De Grasse's closest protector the Couronne, moved away at the approach of HMS Canada, which began the final attack on the Ville de Paris. With little support and suffering huge losses in men, made another attempt to signal the fleet and gave the order "to build the line on the starboard tack", but again this was not done. [14] By this time, most of the French fleet, apart from those ships that were surrounded, had retreated.

End of the battle

HMS Canada swept passed the Ville de Paris doing damage to the spars and slowing her further. HMS Russell under Captain Saumarez then moved diagonally along the stern of the flagship and fired a broadside which ripped the entire length of the ship. The Russell then moved to the leeward side to hamper the ship's retreat, whilst HMS Barfleur moved onto the opposite side. The Languedoc attempted to approach to give aid but was beaten back by HMS Duke. [40]

The Ville de Paris was in desperate condition with all masts damaged and the rudder shot away. At least 300 men were dead or injured in the cockpit. Around 6pm, being overwhelmed and suffering terrible losses, the Ville de Paris eventually struck her colours, signalling surrender. [41] Hood approached on the Barfleur, which de Grasse had indicated was his preferred method of surrender. In an ungentlemanly act Hood ordered one final broadside at close quarters, when de Grasse had already indicated surrender. [40]

The boarding crew, which included the British fleet surgeon Gilbert Blane, were horrified at the carnage; [lower-alpha 1] Remarkably Admiral de Grasse appeared not to have a scratch on him, whilst every one of his officers had either been killed or wounded. Only three men were unwounded. Rodney boarded soon after, and Hood presented Grasse to him. [13] With his surrender, the battle had effectively ended, except for a few long-range desultory shots and the retreat of many of the French ships in disorder. [14]

The Comte de Vaudreuil in Sceptre, seeing Grasse's fate through his telescope, took command of the remaining scattered French naval fleet. On 13 April, he had ten ships with him and sailed toward Cap-Français. [13] Rodney signalled his fleet not to pursue the remaining ships. The battle was therefore over. [43]

Later that night, around 9pm, a fire begun by the entrapped French crew on the lower decks, breaking into the liquor store. By 10.30pm, and now out of control, the magazine aboard the César exploded, killing more than 400 French and 58 British sailors, plus the lieutenant in charge, all from HMS Centaur, although many men jumped overboard trying to avoid the disaster. [4] Those jumping overboard met a more horrible fate, due to the sharks below. Captain Marigny, who was confined to his cabin, was one of the many killed. None of the British prize crew survived. [44]


The damaged British fleet sailed with Rodney to Port Royal, Jamaica arriving on 29 April. It took nine weeks to repair the fleet. [45]

The British lost 243 killed and 816 wounded, and two captains of 36 were killed, whilst no ships were lost. The highest casualties were on HMS Duke with 73 killed or wounded. [46] The total French casualties have never been stated, but six captains out of 30 were killed. In terms of soldiers and sailors however, estimates range from 3,000 killed or wounded and 5,000 captured [47] , to as many as around 3,000 dead, 6,000 wounded [48] and 6,000 captured. [49] In addition to several French ships captured, others were severely damaged. The high number of men demonstrates the considerable force the French committed to achieve the invasion of Jamaica. [46] Of the Ville de Paris' crew alone, over 400 were killed and more than 700 were wounded – more than the casualties of the entire British fleet. [3]

The monetary loss to the French was huge; on the Ville de Paris alone 36 chests of money were found worth at least £500,000 this being payment for the troops. [50] The defeat along with the loss of the Ville de Paris was a devastating blow to French King Louis XVI. He nevertheless promised to build more ships after new taxes were levied. [51]

On 17 April, Hood was sent in pursuit of the French, and promptly captured two 64-gun ships of the line (Jason and Caton) and two smaller warships in the Battle of the Mona Passage on 19 April. [4]

Soon after the defeat, the French fleet reached Cap Francois in several waves; the main contingent, under Vaudreuil, arrived on 25 April; Marseillois, along with Hercule, Pluton and Éveillé, arrived on 11 May. [52]

In May, all French ships from the battle arrived from Martinique, then numbering twenty-six ships, and were soon joined by twelve Spanish ships. Disease took a hold of the French forces, in particular the soldiers, of whom thousands died. The allies hesitated, and indecision soon led to the abandonment of the attack on Jamaica. [13]

The battle has been controversial, for three reasons:

Had a chief worthy Britain commanded our fleet,
Twenty-five good French ships had been laid at our feet. [53]

France and Spain's plan to invade Jamaica was ruined, and it remained safely a British colony, as indeed did Barbados, St Lucia and Antigua. [3] Rodney was feted as a hero. He presented the Comte De Grasse personally to the King as a prisoner, and was created a peer with £2,000 a year settled on the title in perpetuity. Hood was also elevated to the peerage, while Drake and Affleck were made baronets. [25]

Following the Franco-American victory at Yorktown the previous year, and the change of Government in England, peace negotiations among Britain, the American colonies, France, and Spain had begun in early 1782. The Battle of the Saintes transferred the strategic initiative to the British. The most likely next military action would be an attack on the French sugar islands. The French were consequently inclined to ameliorate their terms. Britain's dominance at sea was reasserted. The Americans realized they were unlikely to have much French support in the future. Richard Howe gained relief of the Siege of Gibraltar by defeating the huge Franco-Spanish assault; the siege was subsequently lifted in February 1783. [14] Initial articles of peace were signed in July, with a full treaty following in September 1783.

As a result of the battle, British naval tactics changed. The old method involved the attacking fleet spreading itself along the entire enemy line. In the five formal fleet actions involving the Royal Navy between the Battle of the Saintes and Trafalgar, all were victories for the British, which were achieved by the creation of localised numerical superiority. [56]


A huge ornate monument to the three captains lost in the battle - William Blair, William Bayne and Robert Manners - was erected to their memory in Westminster Abbey. [57]

Order of battle


Admiral Sir George Rodney's fleet
Ship Rate GunsCommanderCasualtiesNotes
HMS Royal Oak Third rate 74Captain Thomas Burnett
HMS Alfred Third rate 74Captain William Bayne  
Bayne killed on 9 April
HMS Montagu Third rate 74Captain George Bowen
HMS Yarmouth Third rate 64Captain Anthony Parrey
HMS Valiant Third rate 74Captain Samuel Granston Goodall
HMS Barfleur Second rate 98Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood
Captain John Knight
Flagship of van
HMS Monarch Third rate 74Captain Francis Reynolds
HMS Warrior Third rate 74Captain Sir James Wallace
HMS Belliqueux Third rate 64Captain Andrew Sutherland (mariner)
HMS Centaur Third rate 74Captain John Nicholson Inglefield
No casualty returns made
HMS Magnificent Third rate 74Captain Robert Linzee
HMS Prince William Third rate 64Captain George Wilkinson
HMS Bedford Third rate 74Commodore Edmund Affleck
Captain Thomas Graves
HMS Ajax Third rate 74Captain Nicholas Charrington
HMS Repulse Third rate 64Captain Thomas Dumaresq
HMS Canada Third rate 74Captain William Cornwallis
HMS St Albans Third rate 64Captain Charles Inglis
HMS Namur Second rate 90Captain Robert Fanshawe
HMS Formidable Second rate 98Admiral Sir George Rodney
Captain Sir Charles Douglas
2nd Captain Charles Symons
Flagship of centre
HMS Duke Second rate 98Captain Alan Gardner
HMS Agamemnon Third rate 64Captain Benjamin Caldwell
HMS Resolution Third rate 74Captain Lord Robert Manners
HMS Prothee Third rate 64Captain Charles Buckner
HMS Hercules Third rate 74Captain Henry Savage
Captain Savage wounded
HMS America Third rate 64Captain Samuel Thompson
HMS Russell Third rate 74Captain James Saumarez
HMS Fame Third rate 74Captain Robert Barbor
HMS Anson Third rate 64Captain William Blair  
HMS Torbay Third rate 74Captain John Lewis Gidoin
HMS Prince George Second rate 98Captain James Williams
HMS Princessa Third rate 70Rear-Admiral Francis Samuel Drake
Captain Charles Knatchbull
Flagship of rear
HMS Conqueror Third rate 74Captain George Balfour
HMS Nonsuch Third rate 64Captain William Truscott
HMS Alcide Third rate 74Captain Charles Thompson
No casualty returns made
HMS Arrogant Third rate 74Captain Samuel Pitchford Cornish
HMS Marlborough Third rate 74Captain Taylor Penny
Total recorded casualties: 239 killed, 762 wounded (casualties for two ships unknown)
Source: The London Gazette , 12 December 1782. [58]


Admiral de Grasse's fleet
Escadre bleue (Chef d'Escadre de Bougainville) [59] [60]
Hercule 74 Chadeau de la Clocheterie   First officer Poulpiquet de Coatlès assumed command [61]
Neptune 74 Renaud d'Aleins [61]
Souverain 74 Glandevès du Castellet
Palmier 74 Martelly-Chautard [62]
Northumberland 74 Cresp de Saint-Césaire [63]   [64] First officer Le Saige de La Mettrie killed. Ensign Gombaud de Roquebrune assumed command. [64]
Auguste 80 Bougainville (Chef d'escadre)
Castellan (flag captain) [65]
Ardent 64 Gouzillon  ( WIA ) [66] captured
Scipion 74 Clavel
Brave 74 Renart d'Amblimont [67]
Citoyen 74 Thy  ( WIA ) [68]
Escadre blanche (Lieutenant-Général de Grasse)
Hector 74 Chauchouart de Lavicomté   [64] [69] captured. First officer de Beaumanoir assumed command. [64]
César 74 Bernard de Marigny [70]   [61] captured but destroyed. First officer Laub assumed command. [61]
Dauphin Royal 70 Roquefeuil-Montpéroux
Languedoc 80 Arros d'Argelos
Ville de Paris 104 Grasse (Lieutenant général)
Lavilléon (flag captain)
Couronne 74 Mithon de Genouilly
Éveillé 64 Le Gardeur de Tilly
Sceptre 74 Louis de Rigaud de Vaudreuil [71] Malet de Puyvallier served aboard. [72]
Glorieux 74 Pérusse des Cars [65]   [73] [61] captured. Lieutenant Trogoff de Kerlessy assumed command. [61] [74]
Escadre blanche et bleue (Chef d'Escadre d'Espinouse) [59] [60]
Diadème 74 Monteclerc [75]
Destin 74 Dumaitz de Goimpy [76]
Magnanime 74 Le Bègue de Germiny  ( WIA ) [77]
Réfléchi 64 Médine [78]
Conquérant 74 La Grandière [79]
Magnifique 74 Macarty Macteigue
Triomphant 80 Marquis de Vaudreuil (chef d'escadre)
Cheyron du Pavillon (flag captain)   (DOW) [80]
Bourgogne 74 Charitte [61]
Duc de Bourgogne 80 Champmartin (flag captain)  ( WIA ) [81]
Coriolis d'Espinouse (chef d'escadre) [61]
Marseillais 74 Castellane Majastre [61]
Pluton 74 Albert de Rions [82] [64]

Not in line: frigates Richemont (Mortemart   ) [64] , Amazone (Ensign Bourgarel de Martignan, acting captain replacing Montguyot), Aimable (Lieutenant de Suzannet), Galathée (Lieutenant de Roquart); corvette Cérès (Lieutenant de Paroy); cutter Clairvoyant (Ensign de Daché); [83] [84] cutter Pandour (Grasse-Limermont). [85]

The Battle of the Saintes is the subject of the title track on No Grave But the Sea, the 2017 album by the Scottish "pirate metal" band Alestorm. The lyrics mention De Grasse, the British ships HMS Duke and Bedford, and the tactic of "breaking the line". [86]

The Battle of the Saintes was the climax of the first written Richard Bolitho novel by Alexander Kent. [87]

The Battle of the Saintes is featured in 'Le Dernier Panache', a show in the Puy du Fou; where the show's main character, François de Charette, fights in the Battle of the Saintes. In the show and in reality he fought the battle as a lieutenant de vaisseau.

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  1. Blane noted, "When boarded, Ville de Paris presented a scene of complete horror. The numbers killed were so great that the surviving, either from want of leisure, or through dismay, had not thrown the bodies of the killed overboard, so that the decks were covered with the blood and mangled limbs of the dead, as well as the wounded and dying". [42]
  2. According to dramatist Richard Cumberland, Rodney discussed breaking the line over dinner at Lord George Germain's country residence at Stoneland. He used cherry stones to represent two battle lines and declared to pierce the enemy's fleet. [5]
  3. Charles Dashwood a seventeen-year-old aide-de-camp to both men, wrote, "Sir Charles was (heading to Sir George's cabin when he) met with Rodney, who was coming from the cabin … Sir Charles bowed and said: ‘Sir George, I give you the joy of victory!’ ‘Poh!’ said Rodney ‘the day is not half won yet.’ ‘Break the line, Sir George!’ said your father, ‘the day is your own, and I shall insure you the victory.’ ‘No’ said the Admiral, ‘I will not break my line.’ After another request and refusal, Sir Charles ordered the helmsman to put to port; Sir Rodney countermanded the order and said, ‘starboard.’ He then said, ‘Remember, Sir Charles that I am Commander-in Chief – starboard, sir (to the helmsman).’ A couple of minutes later, Sir Charles addressed him again – ‘only break the line Sir George, and the day is your own.’ Rodney then said, ‘Well, well, do as you like,’ turned around, and walked into the aft cabin. I was then ordered below to give necessary directions for opening the fire on the larboard side. On my return to the quarterdeck (from below), I found the Formidable passing between two French ships, each nearly touching us. [54]
  1. 1 2 Wallenfeldt p. 78
  2. Black, Jeremy (1999). Warfare in the Eighteenth Century. London: Cassell. p. 141. ISBN   978-0-304-35245-6.
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  27. Tanstall, Brian. Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail: the Evolution of Fighting Tactics 1680—1815. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1990. p. 308. ISBN   1-55750-601-9
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  48. Lendrum, John (1836). History of the American Revolution: With a Summary Review of the State and Character of the British Colonies of North America, Volume 2. J. and B. Williams. p. 173.
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  53. Leyland, John (1899). Dispatches and letters relating to the blockade of Brest, 1803–1805. Printed for the Navy Records Society. p. xx.
  54. "Rodney's Battle of 12 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 12 April 1782". Quarterly Review. XLII (LXXXIII): 64. 1830.
  55. Valin p. 67-68
  56. Willis, Sam (2008). Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. pp. 130–131. ISBN   978 1 84383 367 3.
  57. Famous Fighters of the Fleet, Edward Fraser, 1904, p.111
  58. "No. 12396". The London Gazette . 12 October 1782. pp. 3–4.
  59. 1 2 Troude (1867), p. 140.
  60. 1 2 Lacour-Gayet (1910), p. 648.
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  62. Gardiner (1905), p. 143.
  63. Naval History Division (1964), p. 499.
  64. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Guérin (1863), p. 149.
  65. 1 2 Contenson (1934), p. 150.
  66. Contenson (1934), p. 185.
  67. Vergé-Franceschi (2002), p. 45.
  68. Contenson (1934), p. 270-271.
  69. Marley (1998), p. 522.
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  71. Contenson (1934), p. 276.
  72. Etat nominatif des pensions sur le trésor royal, troisième classe, en annexe de la séance du 21 avril 1790. 1882. p. 488. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  73. Gardiner (1905), p. 142.
  74. Contenson (1934), p. 193.
  75. Contenson (1934), p. 228.
  76. Contenson (1934), p. 219.
  77. Contenson (1934), p. 211.
  78. Contenson (1934), p. 222.
  79. Contenson (1934), p. 199.
  80. Contenson (1934), p. 241.
  81. Contenson (1934), p. 155.
  82. Gardiner (1905), p. 127.
  83. Troude (1867), p. 141.
  84. Marley (1998), p. 141.
  85. Contenson (1934), p. 187.
  86. "Alestorm – No Grave but the Sea". Song Meanings.
  87. Kent, Alexander (February 2006). To Glory We Steer. Chapters 17 & 18: Arrow. ISBN   9780099493877.CS1 maint: location (link)