Battle of Saint Cast

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Battle of Saint Cast
Part of the Seven Years' War
Bataille de Saint Cast 1758 par Ozanne.jpg
British attack on Saint-Cast in 1758 during the Seven Years' War.
Date 11 September 1758
Location near Saint-Cast, France
Result French victory
Belligerents
 Great Britain  France[1]
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Great Britain Thomas Bligh
Kingdom of Great Britain George Anson
Kingdom of Great Britain Richard Howe
Kingdom of France Richelieu, duc d’Aiguillon
Strength
Total: 42,500
32,500 sailors and 10,000 land troops
7,000 and militiamen[2]
Casualties and losses
3,000[3][4]
including 800 prisoners[5]
300

The Battle of Saint Cast was a military engagement during the Seven Years' War on the French coast between British naval and land expeditionary forces and French coastal defence forces. Fought September 11, 1758, it was won by the French.

During the Seven Years' War, Britain mounted numerous amphibious expeditions against France and French possessions around the world. In 1758 a number of expeditions, then called Descents, were made against the northern coast of France. The military objectives of the descents were to capture and destroy French ports, divert French land forces from Germany, suppress privateers and spread panic and confusion in France. The battle of Saint Cast was the final engagement of a descent in force that ended in disaster for the British.

Background[edit]

The expedition contained sizable naval and land forces.[6] The naval forces were two squadrons consisting of: Admiral Anson's 22 ships of the line with 9 frigates crewed by 15,500 men[7] and Commodore Howe's 1 ship of the line of 64 guns, 4 of 50 guns, 10 frigates, 5 sloops, 2 fire-ships, 2 bomb ketches,[8] 6,000 sailors, 6,000 marines, 100 transports, 20 tenders, 10 store-ships and 10 cutters with crews totaling some 5,000 merchant seamen. The land forces were four infantry brigades consisting of: the Guards Brigade made up of the 1st battalions of the 1st, Coldstream and 3rd Foot Guards and three brigades made up of the 5th, 24th, 30th, 33rd, 34th, 36th, 38th,[9] 67th, 68th and 72nd[10] Regiments of Foot, as well as an artillery train of 60 cannon with 400 artillerymen[11] and a few hundred Light Dragoon cavalry, totaling over 10,000 soldiers.[12]

Admiral Lord Anson

Britain’s naval forces were under the command of Admiral Lord Anson, seconded by Commodore Howe. Britain’s land forces were commanded by Lieutenant-General Thomas Bligh. Against this the French had numerous garrison troops and militia spread thinly over the northern coast of France that would have to be concentrated at whichever place the British landed.[13]

Initially the expedition met with considerable success capturing the port of Cherbourg. The British destroyed the port, the docks and the ships harbored there, carrying off or destroying considerable war material and goods.[14] French troops from various places began moving on Cherbourg and the British expedition re-embarked to move against Saint Malo on September 5 but it was found to be too well defended. The weather now turned against the British as well and it was decided it would be safer to re-embark the land forces further west in the bay of Saint Cast near the small village of Saint Cast and the towns of Le Guildo and Matignon. The fleet sailed ahead while the army marched overland on September 7, engaging in skirmishes on the 7th, 8th and 9th. On September 10 the Coldstream Guards were sent ahead to Saint Cast to collect provisions and convoy them back to the army. Lieutenant-General Bligh with the army camped at Matignon some 3 miles from Saint Cast.[15]

Colors of the French Regiment Penthièvre

During this time Richelieu, duc d’Aiguillon, military commander of Brittany, had gathered some 12[16] regular line infantry battalions, including the Regiments of Royal Vaisseaux, Volontaire Étranger, Bourbon, Bresse, Quercy, Penthièvre and Marmande, from the garrison of Saint Malo a brigade of the Regiments of Fontenay-le-Comte, Brie and Boulonnais; six squadrons of cavalry, some companies of costal militia, and several artillery batteries. The French army amounting to 8,000 or 9,000 men, under the field command of Marquis d'Aubigné, was fast marching on Saint Cast from Brest by way of the town of Lamballe and from the town of Dinan.[17]

The battle[edit]

Bligh broke camp by 3 in the morning of the 11th and reached the beach at Saint Cast before 9 but the embarcation went very slowly. The transports stood well off shore and the flat-bottomed landing boats used to carry some 70 men each[18] were initially employed loading supplies, artillery, livestock and horses.[19] Hardly any soldiers had embarked when the French appeared and began a cannonade of the beach.[20]

Richelieu, duc d'Aiguillon

Bligh had formed the 1st Foot Guards and the grenadier companies of the line regiments into a rear guard of about 1500 men[21] under the command of the Guards Brigade commander, Major-General Dury, to cover the withdrawal of the army from behind some dunes along the beach. A great deal of confusion and panic set in among the British in the hurry to get off the beach.[22] The French forces moved down a covered way to the beach and deployed three brigades into line with a fourth in reserve. The five frigates and the bomb ketches tried to cover the British embarkation and their fire disordered and drove back the French line for a while. The French artillery batteries were well positioned on higher ground commanding the beach and the bay. They exchanged shots with the ships of the fleet, and sank three landing boats[23] full of soldiers; other landing boats were damaged on the beach.[24][25] When the British troops remaining ashore were some 3,000, the French closed in. Under fire from the British fleet, the French advanced against the final British position led by a battalion of 300 men of combined grenadier companies[26] in a bayonet charge commanded by the Marquis de Cussi and Comte de Montaigu. The rear guard under Dury attempted a counter-attack in which he was fatally wounded and the 1st Foot Guards and line grenadiers broke and fled[27] into the sea with 800 killed and over 700 taken prisoner.[28] The French infantry pursued the stragglers into waist-deep water until the fleet ceased fire, at which point they attended to the British wounded, having suffered about 300 casualties themselves.[29]

Aftermath[edit]

While the British continued such expeditions against French colonies and islands beyond the reach of the French land forces, this was the last attempt by an amphibious expedition in force against the coast of France during the Seven Years' War. The fiasco of the descent on Saint Cast helped convince British Prime Minister Pitt to send military aid and troops to fight with Ferdinand and Frederick the Great on the continent of Europe.[30] The potential for another disaster and overall expense of expeditions this size was considered to outweigh the temporary gain of the raids.[31]

The French had this to say about their own performance:

"si les Bretons s'étaient couverts de gloire, le petit Duc (d'Aiguillon) s'était couvert de farine." (though the Bretons were covered with glory, the little duke was covered with flour.) This refers to the location of the headquarters at the mill of Moulin d'Anne, where it is rumoured that the duke was entertained by the miller.[32]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ George Ripley, Charles Anderson Dana, The American Cyclopaedia, New York, 1874, p. 250, "...the standard of France was white, sprinkled with golden fleur de lis...". *[1] The original Banner of France was strewn with fleurs-de-lis. *[2]:on the reverse of this plate it says: "Le pavillon royal était véritablement le drapeau national au dix-huitième siecle...Vue du chateau d'arrière d'un vaisseau de guerre de haut rang portant le pavillon royal (blanc, avec les armes de France)."
  2. ^ Revue anglo-française, Tome Quatrième, Poitiers, 1836, pp. 45–46 gives 8,000–9,000; English sources generally estimate 10,000 French.
  3. ^ Revue anglo-française, Tome Quatrième, Poitiers, 1836, p. 47, " De trois mille hommes qui restaient encore à terre losque l'action commença, la moitié trouva la mort sur la champ de bataille, huit cents se noyérent, sept cents furent faits prisonniers: pas seul ne rejoignit la flotte." – "Of 3000 men ashore at the start of the action.... most found their death on the field, 800 drowned and 700 were taken prisoner..."
  4. ^ A soldier’s journal containing a particular description of the several descents on the coast of France last war; with an entertaining account of the islands of Guadaloupe Dominique, &c. and also of the isles of Wight and Jersey. To which are annexed, Observations on the present state of the army of Great Britain., London, Printed for E. and C. Dilly, 1770, p.40, "are more valuable to some than the lives of eight hundred grenadiers."
  5. ^ Accounts vary of the number of prisoners from 400–800 including four named sea captains, the earliest French count mentioned in the Origins and services of the Coldstream Guards is 639 and Smollett in History of England, Vol III, p. 503 mentions that the French provide a list of the prisoners and mentions the four sea captains, as does Barrow in Life of George, Lord Anson, while other French accounts mention a very specific 732 prisoners which may be drawn from the list.
  6. ^ Robert Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, London, 1804, Appendix pp.170, 176, 191, 193, returns for the year show that 10,000 men is over 20% of Britain's land forces and nearly the size of the Louisbourg expedition mounted that same year. Detailed lists of ships and regiments and commanders are given pp.191–193. Montagu Burrows Life of Edward, Lord Hawke, London, 1883, p. 356 states there were "19,000 troops (including 6,000 marines) that formed the invading force." If the Hawke account is accurate then the size of this land force is equal to that of Louisbourg and represents 25% of Britain's total land forces in 1758.
  7. ^ Robert Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, London, 1804, Vol. III, p.201
  8. ^ Barrow, Sir John,The Life of George, Lord Anson, London, 1889, p.309.
  9. ^ An Authentic Account of our last attempt on the Coast of France by an Officer who miraculously escaped being cut to pieces, by Swimming to a Boat at a considerable distance from the shore., London, 1758. Appendix lists casualties to the 38th Foot.
  10. ^ Most British regiments consisted of one battalion on campaign, interesting to note that the 67th, 68th and 72nd Regiments are all initially the second battalions of the 20th, 23rd (present at the first descent), and 33rd Regiments, respectively, renumbered at this time. Additionally the 34th's second battalion is the 73rd, and the 36th's is the 74th, not on this expedition. The Guards regiments all have second and third battalions elsewhere.
  11. ^ Duncan, Major Francis.History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, London, 1879, Vol. 1, p.190
  12. ^ Beatson, Robert. Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, Vol. II p. 165, Gives 14,000 for the 5 brigades at Isle of Wight at the start of the expedition, one brigade was sent to the continent before St. Cast.
  13. ^ Revue anglo-française, Tome Quatrième, Poitiers, 1836, p. 46.
  14. ^ Robert Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, London, 1804, Appendix p.194, gives a minutely detailed inventory of the booty taken at Cherbourg which stands in stark contrast with the lack of detail about British losses prevalent throughout British sources.
  15. ^ Beatson, Robert. Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, Vol. II p. 179.
  16. ^ Robert Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, London, 1804, Vol. II, p.179, Beatson gives slightly different numbers.
  17. ^ Revue anglo-française, Tome Quatrième, Poitiers, 1836, p. 46.
  18. ^ Daniel Mackinnon, Origin and services of the Coldstream Guards, London 1883, Vol.1, p.395.
  19. ^ Robert Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, London, 1804, Vol. II, p.180.
  20. ^ A soldier’s journal containing a particular description of the several descents on the coast of France last war; with an entertaining account of the islands of Guadaloupe Dominique, &c. and also of the isles of Wight and Jersey. To which are annexed, Observations on the present state of the army of Great Britain., London, Printed for E. and C. Dilly, 1770, p.39, "very few men were embarked when the French army appeared and...began to cannonade us."
  21. ^ Daniel Mackinnon, Origin and services of the Coldstream Guards, London 1883, Vol.1, p.400 and p.401 footnote containing a French account published in Paris September 22, 1758, 11 days after the battle gives 1900 left on beach.
  22. ^ A soldier’s journal containing a particular description of the several descents on the coast of France last war; with an entertaining account of the islands of Guadaloupe Dominique, &c. and also of the isles of Wight and Jersey. To which are annexed, Observations on the present state of the army of Great Britain., London, Printed for E. and C. Dilly, 1770, p.39-40, "...every boat made to the first ship they could reach..."
  23. ^ Daniel Mackinnon, Origin and services of the Coldstream Guards, London 1883, Vol.1, p.401, "Three boats full of their soldiers were sunk, many more killed in boats on their way to the fleet." and p.400 "...this fire sank several boats."
  24. ^ Lieutenant-General F.W.Hamilton, Origin and History of the First or Grenadier Guards, London, 1874, Vol. II. p.165, "some got on board, but a battery knocked many of the boats to pieces..." stranding the remaining Guards at the end of the battle.
  25. ^ J.W. Fortescue,A History of the British Army, MacMillan, London, 1899, Vol. II. p.344, "So many of the boats were destroyed that the sailors shrank from approaching the shore."
  26. ^ Revue anglo-française, Tome Quatrième, Poitiers, 1836, p. 47. French battalions on average were much smaller than British battalions during the Seven Years' War with the French being around 300–500 and the British around 600–700. Beatson, p. 165, mentions that the 5th, 20th, 24th, 25th, 30th were all "completed to 700 men" in 1757. Beatson, p. 180 yields an average of 503 men for each of the 4 line battalions at Louisburg, including sick and wounded.
  27. ^ Tobias Smollett, History of England, The Revolution, Death of George the Second. Designed as a Continuation of Mr, Hume's History., Vol.III, London, 1848. p.500, "...they fled in the utmost confusion...". An Authentic Account of our last attempt on the Coast of France by an Officer who miraculously escaped being cut to pieces, by Swimming to a Boat at a considerable distance from the shore., London, 1758. Appendix account: "...the English Guards gave way the Grenadiers soon followed..."
  28. ^ J.W. Fortescue,A History of the British Army, MacMillan, London, 1899, Vol. II. p.345, According to Fortescue, of the 1400 men that he cites in the rear guard: "...750 officers and men were killed and wounded...the rest of the rear guard were taken prisoner."
  29. ^ Revue anglo-française, Tome Quatrième, Poitiers, 1836, p. 47.
  30. ^ Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War, New York, 2000, p. 303. ISBN 0-375-40642-5.
  31. ^ Mackinnon, Daniel. Origin and services of the Coldstream Guards, London 1883, Vol.1, p. 402.
  32. ^ Revue anglo-française, Tome Quatrième, Poitiers, 1836, p. 47. Translates as: though the Bretons were covered with glory, the little duke was covered with flour.

Bibliography[edit]

  • A soldier’s journal containing a particular description of the several descents on the coast of France last war; with an entertaining account of the islands of Guadaloupe Dominique, &c. and also of the isles of Wight and Jersey. To which are annexed, Observations on the present state of the army of Great Britain., London, Printed for E. and C. Dilly, 1770. First hand account written by a private of the 68th Foot.
  • A genuine narrative of the enterprise against the stores and shipping at St. Maloes, from the letters of a person of distinction in the service ... London, Printed for J. Staples, 1758.
  • An Authentic Account of our last attempt on the Coast of France by an Officer who miraculously escaped being cut to pieces, by Swimming to a Boat at a considerable distance from the shore., London, 1758. Containing two first hand accounts of the battle.
  • An Impartial Narrative of the Last Expedition to the Coast of France by an Eyewitness. London, 1758.
  • Revue anglo-française, Tome Quatrième, Poitiers, 1836.
  • Crucible of War, Anderson, Fred. New York, 2000, p. 303. ISBN 0-375-40642-5.
  • History of England, The Revolution, Death of George the Second. Designed as a Continuation of Mr, Hume's History. T, Smollett,M.D. Vol.III, London, 1848.
  • Origin and services of the Coldstream Guards, Daniel Mackinnon. London 1883, Vol.I.
  • Origin and History of the First or Grenadier Guards, Lieutenant-General F.W.Hamilton, London, 1874, Vol. II.
  • Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, Vol II and Vol. III, Appendix, London, 1804, Robert Beatson.
  • A History of the British Army, Fortescue J. W., MacMillan, London, 1899, Vol. II.
  • The Seven Years War, Daniel Marsten, Osprey, Oxford, 2001, ISBN 1-84176-191-5
  • The Military Experience in the Age of Reason, Duffy, Christopher, 1998, Wordsworth Editions Ltd., Hertfordshire, ISBN 1-85326-690-6
  • History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, Duncan, Major Francis, London, 1879, Vol. 1.
  • The Life of George, Lord Anson, Barrow, Sir John, London, 1889.

External links[edit]

  • [3] French Fleur-De-Lis:Prior to the French Revolution, there was no national flag which represented France. A variety of flags were used by troops, different types of ships and for other purposes. From 1590–1790 this flag is one of four that was used on warships and fortresses.
  • [4] French Fleur-De-Lis:This flag and this design with the coat of arms of France in the center are most commonly associated with ceremonial occasions from 1590–1790.
  • [5]:on the reverse of this plate it says: "Le pavillon royal était véritablement le drapeau national au dix-huitième siecle...Vue du chateau d'arrière d'un vaisseau de guerre de haut rang portant le pavillon royal (blanc, avec les armes de France)."
  • [6]: reverse of Flag plate in New York Public Library.

Coordinates: 48°37′48″N 2°15′24″W / 48.6300°N 2.2567°W / 48.6300; -2.2567