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Bataille navale de la Dominique et de Ste Lucie

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Je recherche des informations sur ces deux rencontres entre la flotte française commandée par l'un des meilleurs amiraux de la période, le compte Luc de Bouëxic de Guichen, et , son équivalent britannique Sir George Bridge Rodney, afin de réaliser des scénarios pour les jeux d’histoire Close  Action (COA) et Flying Colors (GMT Games).
La bataille de la Dominique,  17/04/1780 présente l'avantage d’être plutôt bien documentée : carte présentant les deux flottes respectives, le vent, la composition de la flotte française dans son intégralité. (Les sources Wikipédia, dictionnaires  des batailles franco-anglaises, 3deckers), mais si la liste de la flotte anglaise est bien connue, je n’ai pas l’ordre précis des vaisseaux de ligne pendant la bataille.
La bataille de Sainte-Lucie, action du 15, 17 et 19/05/1780 est le parent pauvre des sites d’histoires…
Elle est à peine citée, et encore... Seuls documents tangibles : dictionnaires  des batailles franco-anglaises, où la composition de la flotte française est décrite, pas de cartes de la bataille ni flotte anglaise….
Ma foi si un lecteur de ce forum pouvait m’éclairer…

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Bravo pour ton initiative, et bon courage pour la suite de ces 2 batailles.

Les manoeuvres sont là ici, plutôt intéressantes et inédites...

Justement nous allons refaire du Naval / Ancien sur F.C. avec 3 / 4 joueurs au club parisien.

Tes scénarios seraient les bienvenus...


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Peut être que pour ces 2 affrontements il n'y a pas eu de réels combats sérieux, ni de décisifs.

- et surement pas d'abordages, car c'est là l'époque de 1780...
- bombardements que lointains, et de Ligne à Ligne, c'est bien pas possible ?
C'est pour ça qu'il n'y aurait pas eu beaucoup de sources écrites...
Cela arrivait quand même assez souvent à cette époque de Louis XVI.

Pour la Ligne anglaise de : La Dominique, une simple suggestion : frégates (si présentes) au 2 bouts de la Ligne et les vaisseaux les plus costaux au centre et au milieu des autres.

PS : Je viens d'avoir un très intéressant nouveau livre édité chez Perrin :
Histoire de la Marine française ; "la marine française à l'épreuve des faits".
524 pages très bien documentées et expliquées.

Je vais y jeter un oeil pour d'aider. A+


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"When Rodney arrived at Santa Lucia with his four ships of the line, on March 27, 1780, he found there a force of sixteen others, composed in about equal proportions of ships that had left England with Byron in the summer of 1778, and of a reinforcement brought by Rear-Admiral Rowley in the spring of 1779.

During the temporary command of Rear-Admiral Hyde Parker, between the departure of Byron and the arrival of Rodney, a smart affair had taken place between a detachment of the squadron and one from the French division, under La Motte-Picquet, then lying in Fort Royal, Martinique.

On the 18th of December, 1779, between 8 and 9 A.M., the British look-out ship, the Preston, 50, between Martinique and Santa Lucia made signal for a fleet to windward, which proved to be a body of French supply ships, twenty-six in number, under convoy of a frigate. Both the British and the French squadrons were in disarray, sails unbent, ships on the heel or partially disarmed, crews ashore for wood and water. In both, signals flew at once for certain ships to get under way, and in both the orders were executed [pg 129] with a rapidity gratifying to the two commanders, who also went out in person. The British, however, were outside first, with five sail of the line and a 50-gun ship. Nine of the supply vessels were captured by them, and four forced ashore. The French Rear-Admiral had by this time got out of Fort Royal with three ships of the line,—the Annibal, 74, Vengeur, 64, and Réfléchi, 64,—and, being to windward, covered the entrance of the remainder of the convoy. As the two hostile divisions were now near each other, with a fine working breeze, the British tried to beat up to the enemy; the Conqueror, 74, Captain Walter Griffith, being ahead and to windward of her consorts. Coming within range at 5, firing began between her and the French flagship, Annibal, 74, and subsequently between her and all the three vessels of the enemy. Towards sunset, the Albion, 74, had got close up with the Conqueror, and the other ships were within distant range; "but as they had worked not only well within the dangers of the shoals of the bay (Fort Royal), but within reach of the batteries, I called them off by night signal at a quarter before seven."75 In this chivalrous skirmish,—for it was little more, although the injury to the French in the loss of the convoy was notable,—Parker was equally delighted with his own squadron and with his enemy. "The steadiness and coolness with which on every tack the Conqueror received the fire of these three ships, and returned her own, working his ship with as much exactness as if he had been turning into Spithead, and on every board gaining on the enemy, gave me infinite pleasure. It was with inexpressible concern," he added, "that I heard that Captain Walter Griffith, of the Conqueror, was killed by the last broadside."76 Having occasion, a few days later, to exchange a flag of truce with the French Rear-Admiral, he wrote to him; "The conduct of your Excellency in the affair [pg 130] of the 18th of this month fully justifies the reputation which you enjoy among us, and I assure you that I could not witness without envy the skill you showed on that occasion. Our enmity is transient, depending upon our masters; but your merit has stamped upon my heart the greatest admiration for yourself." This was the officer who was commonly known in his time as "Vinegar" Parker; but these letters show that the epithet fitted the rind rather than the kernel.

Shortly after de Guichen77 took command, in March, 1780, he arranged with the Marquis de Bouillé, Governor of Martinique, to make a combined attack upon some one of the British West India Islands. For this purpose three thousand troops were embarked in the fleet, which sailed on the night of the 13th of April, 1780, intending first to accompany a convoy for Santo Domingo, until it was safely out of reach of the British. Rodney, who was informed at once of the French departure, put to sea in chase with all his ships, twenty of the line, two of which were of 90 guns, and on the 16th came in sight of the enemy to leeward (westward) of Martinique, beating up against the north-east trade-winds, and intending to pass through the channel between that island and Dominica. "A general chase to the north-west followed, and at five in the evening we plainly discovered that they consisted of twenty-three sail of the line, and one 50 gun ship."78

As it fell dark Rodney formed his line of battle, standing still to the north-west, therefore on the starboard tack; and he was attentive to keep to windward of the enemy, whom his frigates watched diligently during the night. [pg 131] "Their manœuvres," he wrote, "indicated a wish to avoid battle," and he therefore was careful to counteract them. At daylight of April 17th, they were seen forming line of battle, on the port tack, four or five leagues to leeward,—that is, to the westward. The wind being east, or east by north, the French would be heading south-south-east (Fig. 1, aa). The British order now was rectified by signal from the irregularities of darkness, the ships being directed to keep two cables'79 lengths apart, and steering as before to the northward and westward. At 7 A.M., considering this line too extended, the Admiral closed the intervals to one cable (aa). The two fleets thus were passing on nearly parallel lines, but in opposite directions, which tended to bring the whole force of Rodney, whose line was better and more compact than the enemy's, abreast the latter's rear, upon which he intended to concentrate. At 8 A.M. he made general signal that this was his purpose; and at 8.30, to execute it, he signalled for the ships to form line abreast, bearing from each other south by east and north by west, and stood down at once upon the enemy (Fig. 1, bb). The object of the British being evident, de Guichen made his fleet wear together to the starboard tack (bb). The French rear thus became the van, and their former van, which was stretched too far for prompt assistance to the threatened rear, now headed to support it.

Rodney, baulked in his first spring, hauled at once to the wind on the port tack (Fig. 1, cc), again contrary to the French, standing thus once more along their line, for their new rear. The intervals were opened out again to two cables. The fleets thus were passing once more on parallel lines, each having reversed its order; but the British still retained the advantage, on whatever course and interval, [pg 132] that they were much more compact than the French, whose line, by Rodney's estimate, extended four leagues in length.80 The wariness of the two combatants, both trained in the school of the eighteenth century with its reverence for the line of battle, will appear to the careful reader. Rodney, although struggling through this chrysalis stage to the later vigor, and seriously bent on a deadly blow, still was constrained by the traditions of watchful fencing. Nor was his caution extravagant; conditions did not justify yet the apparent recklessness of Nelson's tactics. "The different movements of the enemy," he wrote, "obliged me to be very attentive, and watch every opportunity that offered of attacking them to advantage."

Rodney and De Guichen, April 17, 1780, Figures 1 and 2
The two fleets continued to stand on opposite parallel courses—the French north by west, the British south by east—until the flagship Sandwich, 90, (Fig. 2, S^1) was abreast the Couronne, 80, (C), the flagship of de Guichen. Then, at 10.10 A.M., the signal was made to wear together, forming on the same tack as the enemy. There being some delay in execution, this had to be repeated, and further enforced by the pennant of the Stirling Castle, which, as the rear ship, should begin the evolution. At half-past ten, apparently, the fleet was about (Fig. 2, aa), for an order was then given for rectifying the line, still at two cables. At 11 A.M. the Admiral made the signal to prepare for battle, "to convince the whole fleet I was determined to bring the enemy to an engagement,"81 and to this succeeded shortly the order to alter the course to port (bb), towards the enemy.82 Why he [pg 133] thought that any of the fleet should have required such assurance cannot certainly be said. Possibly, although he had so recently joined, he had already detected the ill-will, or the slackness, of which he afterwards complained; possibly he feared that the wariness of his tactics might lead men to believe that he did not mean to exceed the lukewarm and indecisive action of days scarce yet passed away, which had led Suffren to stigmatize tactics as a mere veil, behind which timidity thinks to hide its nakedness.

At 11.50 A.M. the decisive signal was made "for every ship to bear down, and steer for her opposite in the enemy's line, agreeable to the 21st article of the Additional Fighting Instructions." Five minutes later, when the ships, presumably, had altered their course for the enemy, the signal for battle was made, followed by the message that the Admiral's intention was to engage closely; he expecting, naturally, that every ship would follow the example he purposed to set. The captain of the ship which in the formation (aa) had been the leader, upon whose action depended that of those near her, unfortunately understood Rodney's signal to mean that he was to attack the enemy's leader, not the ship opposite to him at the moment of bearing away. This ship, therefore, diverged markedly from the Admiral's course, drawing after her many of the van. A few minutes before 1 P.M., one of the headmost ships began to engage at long range; but it was not till some time after 1 P.M. that the Sandwich, having received several broadsides, came into close action (S^2) with the second vessel astern from the French Admiral, the Actionnaire, 64. The latter was soon beat out of the line by the superiority of the Sandwich's battery, and the same lot befell the ship astern of her,—probably the Intrépide, 74,—which came up to close the gap. Towards 2.30 P.M., the Sandwich, either by her own efforts to close, or by her immediate opponents' keeping [pg 134] away, was found to be to leeward (S^3) of the enemy's line; the Couronne (C) being on her weather bow. The fact was pointed out by Rodney to the captain of the ship, Walter Young, who was then in the lee gangway. Young, going over to look for himself, saw that it was so, and that the Yarmouth, 64, had hauled off to windward, where she lay with her main and mizzen topsails aback. Signals were then made to her, and to the Cornwall, 74, to come to closer engagement, they both being on the weather bow of the flagship.

De Guichen, recognising this state of affairs, then or a little later, attributed it to the deliberate purpose of the British Admiral to break his line. It does not appear that Rodney so intended. His tactical idea was to concentrate his whole fleet on the French rear and centre, but there is no indication that he now aimed at breaking the line. De Guichen so construing it, however, gave the signal to wear together, away from the British line. The effect of this, in any event, would have been to carry his fleet somewhat to leeward; but with ships more or less crippled, taking therefore greater room to manœuvre, and with the exigency of re-forming the line upon them, the tendency was exaggerated. The movement which the French called wearing together was therefore differently interpreted by Rodney. "The action in the centre continued till 4.15 P.M., when M. de Guichen, in the Couronne, the Triomphant, and the Fendant, after engaging the Sandwich for an hour and a half, bore away. The superiority of fire from the Sandwich, and the gallant behavior of the officers and men, enabled her to sustain so unequal a combat; though before attacked by them, she had beat three ships out of their line of battle, had entirely broke it, and was to leeward of the French Admiral." Possibly the French accounts, if they were not so very meagre, might dispute this prowess of the flagship; but there can be no [pg 135] doubt that Rodney had set an example, which, had it been followed by all, would have made this engagement memorable, if not decisive. He reported that the captains, with very few exceptions, had placed their ships improperly (cc). The Sandwich had eighty shot in her hull, had lost her foremast and mainyard, and had fired 3288 rounds, an average of 73 to each gun of the broadside engaged. Three of her hits being below the water line, she was kept afloat with difficulty during the next twenty-four hours. With the wearing of the French the battle ceased.

In the advantage offered by the enemy, whose order was too greatly extended, and in his own plan of attack, Rodney always considered this action of April 17th, 1780, to have been the great opportunity of his life; and his wrath was bitter against those by whose misconduct he conceived it had been frustrated. "The French admiral, who appeared to me to be a brave and gallant officer, had the honour to be nobly supported during the whole action. It is with concern inexpressible, mixed with indignation, that the duty I owe my sovereign and my country obliges me to acquaint your Lordships that during the action between the French fleet, on the 17th inst, and his Majesty's, the British flag was not properly supported." Divided as the Navy was then into factions, with their hands at each other's throats or at the throat of the Admiralty, the latter thought it more discreet to suppress this paragraph, allowing to appear only the negative stigma of the encomium upon the French officers, unaccompanied by any upon his own. Rodney, however, in public and private letters did not conceal his feelings; and the censure found its way to the ears of those concerned. Subsequently, three months after the action, in a public letter, he bore testimony to the excellent conduct of five of the captains, Walter Young, of the flagship, George Bowyer of the Albion, John Douglas of the Terrible, John Houlton [pg 136] of the Montagu, and A.J.P. Molloy83 of the Trident. "To them I have given certificates, under my hand," "free and unsolicited." Beyond these, "no consideration in life would induce" him to go; and the two junior flag-officers were implicitly condemned in the words, "to inattention to signals, both in the van and rear divisions, is to be attributed the loss of that glorious opportunity (perhaps never to be recovered) of terminating the naval contest in these seas." These junior admirals were Hyde Parker and Rowley; the latter the same who had behaved, not only so gallantly, but with such unusual initiative, in Byron's engagement. A singular incident in this case led him to a like independence of action, which displeased Rodney. The Montagu, of his division, when closing the French line, wore against the helm, and could only be brought into action on the wrong (port) tack. Immediately upon this, part of the French rear also wore, and Rowley followed them of his own motion. Being called to account by Rodney, he stated the facts, justifying the act by the order that "the greatest impression was to be made on the enemy's rear." Both parties soon wore back.

Hyde Parker went home in a rage a few weeks later. The certificates to Bowyer and Douglas, certainly, and probably to Molloy, all of Parker's division, bore the stinging words that these officers "meant well, and would have done their duty had they been permitted." It is stated that their ships, which were the rear of the van division, were going down to engage close, following Rodney's example, when Parker made them a signal to keep the line. If this be so, as Parker's courage was beyond all doubt, it was simply a recurrence of the old superstition of the line, aggravated by a misunderstanding [pg 137] of Rodney's later signals. These must be discussed, for the whole incident is part of the history of the British Navy, far more important than many an indecisive though bloody encounter.

One of the captains more expressly blamed, Carkett of the Stirling Castle, which had been the leading ship at the time the signal to alter the course toward the enemy was made, wrote to Rodney that he understood that his name had been mentioned, unfavourably of course, in the public letter. Rodney's reply makes perfectly apparent the point at issue, his own plan, the ideas running in his head as he made his successive signals, the misconceptions of the juniors, and the consequent fiasco. It must be said, however, that, granting the facts as they seem certainly to have occurred, no misunderstanding, no technical verbal allegation, can justify a military stupidity so great as that of which he complained. There are occasions in which not only is literal disobedience permissible, but literal obedience, flying in the face of the evident conditions, becomes a crime.

At 8 in the morning, Rodney had made a general signal of his purpose to attack the enemy's rear. This, having been understood and answered, was hauled down; all juniors had been acquainted with a general purpose, to which the subsequent manœuvres were to lead. How he meant to carry out his intention was evidenced by the consecutive course of action while on that tack,—the starboard; when the time came, the fleet bore up together, in line abreast, standing for the French rear. This attempt, being balked then by de Guichen's wearing, was renewed two hours later; only in place of the signal to form line abreast, was made one to alter the course to port,—towards the enemy. As this followed immediately upon that to prepare for battle, it indicated almost beyond question, that Rodney wished, for reasons of the moment, to run down at first in a slanting [pg 138] direction,—not in line abreast, as before,—ships taking course and interval from the flagship. Later again, at 11.50, the signal was made, "agreeable to the 21st Article of the Additional Fighting Instructions, for every ship to steer for her opposite in the enemy's line;" and here the trouble began. Rodney meant the ship opposite when the signal was hauled down. He had steered slanting, till he had gained as nearly as possible the position he wanted, probably till within long range; then it was desirable to cover the remaining ground as rapidly and orderly as possible, for which purpose the enemy's ship then abreast gave each of his fleet its convenient point of direction. He conceived that his signalled purpose to attack the enemy's rear, never having been altered, remained imperative; and further, that the signal for two cables' length interval should govern all ships, and would tie them to him, and to his movements, in the centre. Carkett construed "opposite" to mean opposite in numerical order, British van ship against French van ship, wherever the latter was. Rodney states—in his letter to Carkett—that the French van was then two leagues away. "You led to the van ship, notwithstanding you had answered my signals signifying that it was my intention to attack the enemy's rear; which signal I had never altered.... Your leading in the manner you did, induced others to follow so bad an example; and thereby, forgetting that the signal for the line was only at two cables' length distance from each other, the van division was led by you to more than two leagues' distance from the centre division, which was thereby not properly supported."84

[pg 139]
Carkett was the oldest captain in the fleet, his post commission being dated March 12th, 1758. How far he may have been excusable in construing as he did Fighting Instructions, which originated in the inane conception that the supreme duty of a Commander-in-Chief was to oppose ship to ship, and that a fleet action was only an agglomeration of naval duels, is not very material, though historically interesting. There certainly was that in the past history of the British Navy which extenuated the offence of a man who must have been well on in middle life. But since the Fighting Instructions had been first issued there had been the courts-martial, also instructive, on Mathews, Lestock, Byng, Keppel, and Palliser, all of which turned more or less on the constraint of the line of battle, and the duty of supporting ships engaged,—above all, an engaged Commander-in-Chief. Rodney perhaps underestimated the weight of the Fighting Instructions upon a dull man; but he was justified in claiming that his previous signals, and the prescription of distance, created [pg 140] at the least a conflict of orders, a doubt, to which there should have been but one solution, namely: to support the ships engaged, and to close down upon the enemy, as near as possible to the Commander-in-Chief. And in moments of actual perplexity such will always be the truth. It is like marching towards the sound of guns, or, to use Nelson's words, "In case signals cannot be understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy." The "In Case," however, needs also to be kept in mind; and that it was Nelson who said it. Utterances of to-day, like utterances of all time, show how few are the men who can hold both sides of a truth firmly, without exaggeration or defect. Judicial impartiality can be had, and positive convictions too; but their combination is rare. A two-sided man is apt also to be double-minded.

The loss of men in this sharp encounter was: British, killed, 120, wounded, 354; French, killed, 222, wounded, 537.85 This gives three French hit for every two British, from which, and from the much greater damage received aloft by the latter, it may be inferred that both followed their usual custom of aiming, the British at the hull, the French at the spars. To the latter conduced also the lee-gage, which the French had. The British, as the attacking party, suffered likewise a raking fire as they bore down.

Rodney repaired damages at sea, and pursued, taking care to keep between Martinique and the French. The latter going into Guadeloupe, he reconnoitred them there under the batteries, and then took his station off Fort Royal. "The only chance of bringing them to action," he wrote to the Admiralty on the 26th of April, "was to be off that port before them, where the fleet now is, in daily expectation of [pg 141] their arrival." The French represent that he avoided them, but as they assert that they came out best on the 17th, and yet admit that he appeared off Guadeloupe, the claim is not tenable. Rodney here showed thorough tenacity of purpose. De Guichen's orders were "to keep the sea, so far as the force maintained by England in the Windward Islands would permit, without too far compromising the fleet intrusted to him."86 With such instructions, he naturally and consistently shrunk from decisive engagement. After landing his wounded and refitting in Guadeloupe, he again put to sea, with the intention of proceeding to Santa Lucia, resuming against that island the project which both he and De Bouillé continuously entertained. The latter and his troops remained with the fleet.

Rodney meantime had felt compelled to return momentarily to Santa Lucia. "The fleet continued before Fort Royal till the condition of many of the ships under my command, and the lee currents,87 rendered it necessary to anchor in Choque Bay (Anse du Choc), St. Lucie, in order to put the wounded and sick men on shore, and to water and refit the fleet, frigates having been detached both to leeward and to windward of every island, in order to gain intelligence of the motions of the enemy, and timely notice of their approach towards Martinique, the only place they could refit at in these seas." In this last clause is seen the strategic idea of the British Admiral: the French must come back to Martinique.

From the vigilance of his frigates it resulted that when the look-outs of de Guichen, who passed to windward of Martinique on the 7th of May, came in sight of Gros Ilet on the 9th, it was simply to find the British getting under way to meet the enemy. During the five following days both fleets were [pg 142] engaged in constant movements, upon the character of which the writers of each nation put different constructions. Both are agreed, however, that the French were to windward throughout, except for a brief hour on the 15th, when a fleeting change of wind gave the British that advantage, only to lose it soon again. They at once used it to force action. As the windward position carries the power to attack, and as the French were twenty-three to the British twenty, it is probably not a strained inference to say that the latter were chasing to windward, and the former avoiding action, in favour, perhaps, of that ulterior motive, the conquest of Santa Lucia, for which they had sailed. Rodney states in his letter that, when the two fleets parted on the 20th of May, they were forty leagues to windward (eastward) of Martinique, in sight of which they had been on the 10th.

During these days de Guichen, whose fleet, according to Rodney, sailed the better, and certainly sufficiently well to preserve the advantage of the wind, bore down more than once, generally in the afternoon, when the breeze is steadiest, to within distant range of the British. Upon this movement, the French base the statement that the British Admiral was avoiding an encounter; it is equally open to the interpretation that he would not throw away ammunition until sure of effective distance. Both admirals showed much skill and mastery of their profession, great wariness also, and quickness of eye; but it is wholly untenable to claim that a fleet having the weather-gage for five days, in the trade-winds, was unable to bring its enemy to action, especially when it is admitted that the latter closed the instant the wind permitted him to do so.

On the afternoon of May 15th, about the usual hour, Rodney "made a great deal of sail upon the wind." The French, inferring that he was trying to get off, which he meant them to do, approached somewhat closer than on the [pg 143] previous days. Their van ship had come within long range, abreast the centre of the British, who were on the port tack standing to the south-south-east, with the wind at east (aa, aa). Here the breeze suddenly hauled to south-southeast (wind b). The heads of all the ships in both fleets were thus knocked off to south-west (s, s), on the port tack, but the shift left the British rear, which on that tack led the fleet, to windward of the French van. Rodney's signal flew at once, to tack in succession and keep the wind of the enemy; the latter, unwilling to yield the advantage, wore all together (w), hauling to the wind on the starboard tack, and to use Rodney's words, "fled with a crowd of sail" (a', a').

Rodney and De Guichen, May 15, 1780
The British fleet tacking in succession after their leaders, (t, t), the immediate result was that both were now standing on the starboard tack,—to the eastward,—the British having a slight advantage of the wind, but well abaft the beam of the French (bb, bb). The result, had the wind held, would have been a trial of speed and weatherliness. "His Majesty's fleet," wrote Rodney, "by this manœuvre had gained the wind, and would have forced the enemy to battle, had it not at once changed six points (back to east, its former direction,) when near the enemy, and enabled them to recover that advantage." When the wind thus shifted again, de Guichen tacked his ships together and stood across the bows of the advancing enemy (cc, cc). The British leader struck the French line behind the centre, and ran along to leeward, the British van exchanging a close cannonade with the enemy's rear. Such an engagement, two lines passing on opposite tacks, is usually indecisive, even when the entire fleets are engaged, as at Ushant; but where, as in this case, the engagement is but partial, the result is naturally less. The French van and centre, having passed the head of the enemy, diverged at that point farther and farther from the track of the on-coming British ships, which from [pg 144] the centre rearwards did not fire. "As the enemy were under a press of sail, none but the van of our fleet could come in for any part of the action without wasting his Majesty's powder and shot, the enemy wantonly expending theirs at such a distance as to have no effect." Here again the French were evidently taking the chance of disabling the distant enemy in his spars. The British loss in the action of May 15th was 21 killed and 100 wounded.

Comte de Guichen George Brydges, Lord Rodney
The fleets continued their respective movements, each acting as before, until the 19th, when another encounter took place, of exactly the same character as the last, although without the same preliminary manœuvring. On that occasion the British, who in the interim had been reinforced by one 74 and one 50-gun ship, lost 47 killed and 113 wounded. The result was equally indecisive, tactically considered; but both by this time had exhausted their staying powers. The French, having been absent from Martinique since the 13th of April, had now but six days' provisions.88 Rodney found the Conqueror, Cornwall, and Boyne so shattered that he sent them before the wind to Santa Lucia, while he himself with the rest of the fleet stood for Barbados, where he arrived on the 22d. The French anchored on the same day at Fort Royal. "The English," says Chevalier, "stood on upon the starboard tack, to the southward, after the action of the 19th, and the next day were not to be seen." "The enemy," reported Rodney, "stood to the northward with all the sail they could possibly press, and were out of sight the 21st inst. The condition of his Majesty's ships was such as not to allow a longer pursuit."

By their dexterity and vigilance each admiral had thwarted the other's aims. Rodney, by a pronounced, if cautious, offensive effort, had absolutely prevented the "ulterior object" of the French, which he clearly understood to be Santa Lucia. [pg 145] De Guichen had been successful in avoiding decisive action, and he had momentarily so crippled a few of the British ships that the fleet must await their repairs before again taking the sea. The tactical gain was his, the strategic victory rested with his opponent; but that his ships also had been much maltreated is shown by the fact that half a dozen could not put to sea three weeks later. The French admiral broke down under the strain, to which was added the grief of losing a son, killed in the recent engagements. He asked for his recall. "The command of so large a fleet," he wrote, "is infinitely beyond my capacity in all respects. My health cannot endure such continual fatigue and anxiety." Certainly this seems a tacit testimony to Rodney's skill, persistence, and offensive purpose. The latter wrote to his wife: "For fourteen days and nights the fleets were so near each other that neither officers nor men could be said to sleep. Nothing but the goodness of the weather and climate would have enabled us to endure so continual a fatigue. Had it been in Europe, half the people must have sunk under it. For my part, it did me good."

Rodney stated also in his home letters that the action of his subordinates in the last affairs had been efficient; but he gave them little credit for it. "As I had given public notice to all my captains, etc., that I expected implicit obedience to every signal made, under the certain penalty of being instantly superseded, it had an admirable effect; as they were all convinced, after their late gross behaviour, that they had nothing to expect at my hands but instant punishment to those who neglected their duty. My eye on them had more dread than the enemy's fire, and they knew it would be fatal. No regard was paid to rank: admirals as well as captains, if out of their station, were instantly reprimanded by signals, or messages sent by frigates; and, in spite of themselves, I taught them to be, what they had never [pg 146] been before,—officers." Rodney told his officers also that he would shift his flag into a frigate, if necessary, to watch them better. It is by no means obligatory to accept these gross aspersions as significant of anything worse than the suspiciousness prevalent throughout the Navy, traceable ultimately to a corrupt administration of the Admiralty. The latter, like the government of 1756, was open to censure through political maladministration; every one feared that blame would be shifted on to him, as it had been on to Byng,—who deserved it; and not only so, but that blame would be pushed on to ruin, as in his case. The Navy was honeycombed with distrust, falling little short of panic. In this state of apprehension and doubt, the tradition of the line of battle, resting upon men who did not stop to study facts or analyse impressions, and who had seen officers censured, cashiered, and shot, for errors of judgment or of action, naturally produced hesitations and misunderstandings. An order of battle is a good thing, necessary to insure mutual support and to develop a plan. The error of the century, not then exploded, was to observe it in the letter rather than in the spirit; to regard the order as an end rather than a means; and to seek in it not merely efficiency, which admits broad construction in positions, but preciseness, which is as narrowing as a brace of handcuffs. Rodney himself, Tory though he was, found fault with the administration. With all his severity and hauteur, he did not lose sight of justice, as is shown by a sentence in his letter to Carkett. "Could I have imagined your conduct and inattention to signals had proceeded from anything but error in judgment, I had certainly superseded you, but God forbid I should do so for error in judgment only,"—again an illusion, not obscure, to Byng's fate.

In Barbados, Rodney received certain information that a Spanish squadron of twelve ships of the line, with a large [pg 147] convoy of ten thousand troops, had sailed from Cadiz on April 28th for the West Indies. The vessel bringing the news had fallen in with them on the way. Rodney spread a line of frigates "to windward, from Barbados to Barbuda," to obtain timely warning, and with the fleet put to sea on the 7th of June, to cruise to the eastward of Martinique to intercept the enemy. The latter had been discovered on the 5th by a frigate, fifty leagues east of the island, steering for it; but the Spanish admiral, seeing that he would be reported, changed his course, and passed north of Guadeloupe. On the 9th he was joined in that neighbourhood by de Guichen, who was able to bring with him only fifteen sail,—a fact which shows that he had suffered in the late brushes quite as severely as Rodney, who had with him seventeen of his twenty.

Having evaded the British, the allies anchored at Fort Royal; but the Spanish admiral absolutely refused to join in any undertaking against the enemy's fleet or possessions. Not only so, but he insisted on being accompanied to leeward. The Spanish squadron was ravaged by an epidemic, due to unsanitary conditions of the ships and the uncleanliness of the crews, and the disease was communicated to their allies. De Guichen had already orders to leave the Windward Islands when winter approached. He decided now to anticipate that time, and on the 5th of July sailed from Fort Royal with the Spaniards. Having accompanied the latter to the east end of Cuba, he went to Cap François, in Haïti, then a principal French station. The Spaniards continued on to Havana.

At Cap François, de Guichen found urgent entreaties from the French Minister to the United States, and from Lafayette, to carry his fleet to the continent, where the clear-sighted genius of Washington had recognised already that the issue of the contest depended upon the navies. The French admiral declined to comply, as contrary to his [pg 148] instructions, and on the 16th of August sailed for Europe, with nineteen sail of the line, leaving ten at Cap François. Sealed orders, opened at sea, directed him to proceed to Cadiz, where he anchored on the 24th of October. His arrival raised the allied force there assembled to fifty-one sail of the line, besides the ninety-five sugar and coffee ships which he had convoyed from Haïti. It is significant of the weakness of Great Britain in the Mediterranean at that time, that these extremely valuable merchant ships were sent on to Toulon, instead of to the more convenient Atlantic ports, only five ships of the line accompanying them past Gibraltar. The French government had feared to trust them to Brest, even with de Guichen's nineteen sail.

The allied operations in the Windward Islands for the season of 1780 had thus ended in nothing, notwithstanding an incontestable inferiority of the British to the French alone, of which Rodney strongly complained. It was, however, contrary to the intentions of the Admiralty that things so happened. Orders had been sent to Vice-Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot, at New York, to detach ships to Rodney; but the vessel carrying them was driven by weather to the Bahamas, and her captain neglected to notify Arbuthnot of his whereabouts, or of his dispatches. A detachment of five ships of the line under Commodore the Hon. Robert Boyle Walsingham was detained three months in England, wind-bound. They consequently did not join till July 12th. The dispositions at once made by Rodney afford a very good illustration of the kind of duties that a British Admiral had then to discharge. He detailed five ships of the line to remain with Hotham at Santa Lucia, for the protection of the Windward Islands. On the 17th, taking with him a large merchant convoy, he put to sea with the fleet for St. Kitts, where the Leeward Islands "trade" was collecting for England. On the way he received precise information [pg 149] as to the route and force of the Franco-Spanish fleet under de Guichen, of the sickness on board it, and of the dissension between the allies. From St. Kitts the July "trade" was sent home with two ships of the line. Three others, he wrote to the Admiralty, would accompany the September fleet, "and the remainder of the ships on this station, which are in want of great repair and are not copper-bottomed, shall proceed with them or with the convoy which their Lordships have been pleased to order shall sail from hence in October next." If these arrived before winter, he argued, they would be available by spring as a reinforcement for the Channel fleet, and would enable the Admiralty to send him an equivalent number for the winter work on his station."

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Merci Léonidas... et Fred 59
Je vais tenter de les réaliser au mieux; en fonction des infos qui me seront transmises..
Quant au livre sur l'histoire de la marine de chez Perrin, je me suis rendu chez le libraire, et ma déception fut grande, il s'agit d'un livre généraliste dont ma bibliothèque est déjà pas mal pourvue.
La réflexion selon laquelle les combats ne furent pas des plus décisifs, est un peu sévère. Guichen est l'un des meilleurs officiers de marine de la période, (en comparaison avec de Grasse et Suffren), il mit en échec Rodney, le meilleur amiral de la période côté Anglais. Ces combats ont montré ses très grande qualité manœuvrière, secondé par d'excellent capitaine, la flotte française est peut être à son plus haut niveau. On est très loin de l'état de la flotte sous la république et l'empire..

Mahan s'invite dans ce dossier...dois reconnaître ma surprise de voir qu'il existe une carte de la bataille de Sainte Lucie. Merci encore pour les infos.

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Un grand coup de chapeau à Fredo ! pour son énorme travail ! thumbs up ... thumbs up

Ah je n'ai pas dis que les combats n'avaient pas été sérieux ni décisifs, mais devant le peu de textes et de récits que nous avions de ces 2 engagements, (très peu connus) je pensais qu'il y aurait peut être pu y avoir, que des canonnades lointaines. Pas de prises de bateaux ou de gros dégâts.
Je me serais donc trompé !

Donc, encore bravo au Comte De Guichen ! pour ses brillantes manoeuvres ! ...cheers
...ou ses manoeuvres brillantes Smile   face à un redoutable adversaire.
Rodney lui, est bien connu.


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Les escadres françaises, selon la Gazette du 11 juillet 1780 :

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Le récit des événements, selon la Gazette du 11 juillet 1780 :

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Et, enfin, l'état des tués et blessés, toujours dans la Gazette du 11 juillet 1780.
(A noter : les noms des régiments d'infanterie)

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Reste à trouver la composition de la flotte Anglaise...
Mais peut-être l'as tu déjà ?

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La voilà le 17 avril (identique en Mai, mais avec les vaisseaux endommagés en moins, et quelques frégates peut-être en plus):
Source = Naval review 1925

Dernière édition par Fred59 le Lun 12 Sep 2016 - 15:06, édité 1 fois

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Et voilà la composition de la flotte française le 17 avril (identique en Mai, mais avec les vaisseaux endommagés en moins, et quelques frégates en plus):
Source = Naval review 1925

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La disposition des flottes le 17 avril (presque complètement montrée) :

Vers 12:00

Vers 13:00

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Je reconnais, ma bibliothèque navale semble bien pauvre... J'ai les infos sur la flotte française, et aussi anglaise.. mais pas l'ordre de bataille anglais... avec ces documents, je crois pouvoir arriver au but... Merci encore...

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De rien.
Cela m'a rappelé les recherches effectuées pour la Guerre de Sept Ans... Smile

J'espère que tu nous feras profiter sur ce forum de tes conclusions sur ces trois combats.
Ils semblent très intéressants.

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