Action of 8 March 1795
|Action of 8 March 1795|
|Part of the French Revolutionary Wars|
|French Republic||Great Britain|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Lieutenant Lejoille (WIA)||Captain Adam Littlejohn †|
|Frigate Alceste||74-gun HMS Berwick (partly disabled)|
|Casualties and losses|
|8 wounded||4 wounded
The Action of 8 March 1795 was a minor naval engagement of the French Revolutionary Wars, fought mostly between the British 74-gun HMS Berwick and the French frigate Alceste, with later the assistance of the frigate Vestale and the 74-gun Duquesne.
The 74-gun HMS Berwick, equipped with the rigging of a frigate after an accident had destroyed her own, and mounting only 64 guns, met a French fleet bound for Corsica. Two French 74-guns and three frigates sailed to intercept Berwick, but the frigate Alceste arrived first on the scene, and most of the action occurred between the partly disabled British 74-gun and the French frigate.
Berwick suffered a further handicap when her captain was killed at the beginning of the battle. The arrival of a second frigate on the scene forced Berwick to surrender.
On 2 March 1795, the French squadron based in Toulon, under Rear-Admiral Martin, sailed for Corsica. It comprised fifteen ships of the line (one 120-gun, two 80-gun and the rest 74-guns), seven frigates and five smaller warships. Political oversight was assured by Représentant en mission Letourneur.
The mission of the French fleet is unclear: the various theories suggest a landing in Corsica, mentioned in Letourneur's correspondence and suggested by numerous troopships in Toulon; however, the troopships and ships of the line armed en flûte, loaded with troops and equipment, did not leave Toulon harbour. In Histoire de la revolution française, Adolphe Thiers proposes that the objective was a demonstration of force on Rome following the lynching of Ambassador Bassville. The report of the Committee of Public Safety to the National Convention states that the fleet was at sea to secure shipping lines in the Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, in San Fiorenzo Bay, Corsica, Berwick had been refitting, when her lower masts, stripped of rigging, rolled over the side and were lost. A hasty court martial found that the proper precautions to secure the masts had not been taken and dismissed Berwick's captain, William Smith, her first lieutenant, and her master from the ship. After fitting a jury rig, Berwick, under Captain Adam Littlejohn, sailed to join the British fleet at Leghorn. She carried only 64 of her maximum 82-gun armament, and had the rigging of a frigate.
Due to weak and adverse winds, the French fleet arrived off the North of Corsica no sooner than 8 March. Around 8 in the morning, the fleet's frigate screen spotted a ship of the line near the land. Under a south-western wind, the Duquesne and Censeur were ordered to give chase, supported by the frigates Alceste and Minerve; the frigate Vestale also joined in on her own accord.
Alceste, under Lieutenant Lejoille, was the first of overhaul Berwick, and immediately launched an aggressive attack, passing to leeward and opening fire within musket-shot on Berwick's lee bow at 11 am.
The exchange of fire killed Captain Littlejohn, decapitated by a cannon shot from Alceste, while Lejoille was severely wounded at the right arm and leg. In the ensuing duel, Alceste lost her foremast, and by noon, Berwick's rigging was cut to pieces and every sail was in ribbons.
Soon, Vestale hauled within range and took up position on Berwick's quarter, firing a broadside at Berwick. On Berwick, command had devolved upon Lieutenant Nesbit Palmer, who consulted with the other officers. Palmer decided that as Berwick was unable to escape in her disabled state and that all further resistance was useless. Berwick struck her colours at Vestale's second broadside.
Next, Duquesne arrived on the scene and, not having noticed Berwick's surrender, also fired a broadside. A prize crew took possession of Berwick, the British officers and crew were dispersed into the French ships, and she was sent to Toulon.
As soon as the French sortie came to the attention of Vice-Admiral Hotham, he departed Livorno with fourteen ships of the line, including four first rates. The fleet came in contact on the morning of the 11 March, lost each other in the fog, and re-located each other on 13 March. The next day, they measured each other in the Battle of Genoa, where the British captured Ça Ira and Censeur.
Berwick was added to the French Navy under her original name. She would serve until the Battle of Trafalgar, in which she would be captured and later wrecked. Lejoille was credited with the capture of Berwick and was appointed to command the prize, but his wound left him bed-stricken on the flagship Sans-Culottes, and later convalescing in Genoa for eight months, during which he was promoted to Commodore.
Order of Battle
|Rear-Admiral Martin's squadron|
|Ça Ira||80||Captain Coudé||-||-||-|
|Alcide||74||Captain Leblond Saint-Hilaire||-||-||-|
|Peuple Souverain||74||Captain Charbonnier||-||-||-|
|Friponne||Captain Trullet (?)||-||-||-|
|? [note 1]||?||?||-||-||-|
|Hazard||18||Lieutenant Le Duc||-||-||-|
|Sources: Troude, vol.2 p. 424-425|
Sources and references
- Troude lists a frigate Diane, but no frigate of this name was in commission between 1780 and 1796
- Troude, p.424
- Troude, p.425.
- Thiers, Histoire de la Révolution, vol.7.
- Gossett (1986), p.7.
- James. The Naval History of Great Britain, Volume 1. p. 254.
- Troude, p.426
- Fonds Marine, p.81
- James. The Naval History of Great Britain, Volume 1. p. 255.
- Lecomte, p.234
- Hennequin, Biographie maritime
- Fonds Marine, p.131
- Fonds Marin, p.133
- Fonds Marin, p.136
- Fonds Marin, p.134
- Fonds Marin, p.80
- Roche, p.88
- Fonds Marin, p.81
- Fonds Marin, p.132
- Roche, p.238
- Roche, p.408
- Levot, Prosper (1866). Les gloires maritimes de la France: notices biographiques sur les plus célèbres marins (in French). Bertrand. p. 300.
- James, William (2002) . The Naval History of Great Britain, Volume 2, 1797–1799. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-906-9.
- Lecomte, Jules (1836). Chroniques de la marine française: de 1789 à 1830, d'après les documents officiels (in French) 1. H. Souverain.
- Roche, Jean-Michel (2005). Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours 1. Group Retozel-Maury Millau. ISBN 978-2-9525917-0-6. OCLC 165892922.
- Thiers, Adolphe (2004) [First published in 1840]. Histoire de la Révolution française (in French) 7. Project Gutenberg. "Le gouvernement avait imaginé un coup de main ridicule sur Rome. Voulant venger l'assassinat de Basseville, il avait mis dix mille hommes sur l'escadre de Toulon, réparée entièrement par les soins de l'ancien comité de salut public; il voulait les envoyer à l'embouchure du Tibre, pour aller frapper une contribution sur la cité papale, et revenir promptement ensuite sur leurs vaisseaux. Heureusement un combat naval livré contre lord Hotam, après lequel les deux escadres s'étaient retirées également maltraitées, empêcha l'exécution de ce projet."
- Troude, Onésime-Joachim (1867). Batailles navales de la France (in French) 2. Challamel ainé.
- Fonds Marine. Campagnes (opérations ; divisions et stations navales ; missions diverses). Inventaire de la sous-série Marine BB4. Tome premier : BB4 1 à 482 (1790-1826)