Battle of the Saintes

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Battle of the Saintes
Part of the American War of Independence
The battle of the Saints 12 avril 1782.jpg
The Battle of the Saintes, 12 April 1782: surrender of the Ville de Paris by Thomas Whitcombe, painted 1783, shows Hood's HMS Barfleur, centre, attacking the French flagship Ville de Paris, right.
Date 9 April 1782 – 12 April 1782
Location Off Dominica, West Indies
Result Decisive British victory[1]
Belligerents
 Great Britain  France
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Great Britain Sir George Rodney Kingdom of France Comte de Grasse  (POW)
Strength
36 ships of the line 33 ships of the line
Casualties and losses
243 dead,
816 wounded[2]
4 ships of the line captured,
1 destroyed
3,000 dead or wounded,[3]
5,000 captured[2]

The Battle of the Saintes (known to the French as the Bataille de la Dominique, or Battle of Dominica) took place over 4 days, 9 April 1782 – 12 April 1782, during the American War of Independence, and was a victory of a British fleet under Admiral Sir George Rodney over a French fleet under the Comte de Grasse forcing the French and Spanish to abandon a planned invasion of Jamaica.[4]

The battle is named after the Saintes (or Saints), a group of islands between Guadeloupe and Dominica in the West Indies. The French fleet defeated here by the Royal Navy was the same French fleet that had blockaded the British Army during the Siege of Yorktown. The British are sometimes credited with pioneering the tactic of "breaking the line" in the battle, though this is disputed.[5]

Origins[edit]

On 7 April 1782, the Comte 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 consisting of 12 ships of the line and 15,000 troops for the purpose of capturing the British island of Jamaica. He was pursued by Rodney with 36 ships of the line.[6]

On 9 April 1782, De Grasse sent his convoy into Guadeloupe, escorted by two fifty-gun ships (Fier and Experiment). There was an initial inconclusive clash during which the French got the better of the van division of the British fleet that had become separated from the centre and rear divisions. Two French ships of the line were damaged.[6]

Battle[edit]

On 12 April, De Grasse bore up with his fleet to protect a dismasted ship (Zélé'', 74 guns) that was being chased by four British ships as he made for Guadeloupe. Rodney recalled his chasing ships and made the signal for line of battle. As the French line passed down the British line, a sudden shift of wind let Rodney's flagship Formidable and several other ships, including the Duke and the Bedford, break through the French line, raking the ships as they did so.[7]

The resultant confusion in the French line and the severe damage to several of the French ships including De Grasse's flagship Ville de Paris, of 104 guns, led eventually to De Grasse’s surrender and the retreat of many of his ships in disorder.[8] This action split the French battle line into two. A general chase ensued. In all, four French ships were captured and one, César, blew up after she was taken.[6]

A 1785 engraving of de Grasse surrendering to Rodney.

The British lost 243 killed and 816 wounded, and two captains out of 36 were killed. The French loss in killed and wounded has never been stated, but of captains alone, six were killed out of 30. It is estimated that the French loss may have been as much as 3,000 and more than 5,000 French soldiers and sailors were captured.[9] The large number shows what a considerable force the French were willing to put ashore with the invasion of Jamaica. Of the Ville de Paris' crew, over 400 were killed and more than 700 were wounded more than the entire casualties of the British fleet.[2] The magazine aboard the César exploded, killing over 400 French and 50 British sailors.[3]

Aftermath[edit]

The battle frustrated French and Spanish hopes of capturing Jamaica from the British. Rodney was created a peer with £2,000 a year settled on the title in perpetuity for this victory. Rear-Admiral Samuel Hood was elevated to the peerage as well.[8]

The battle has caused controversy ever since, for three reasons:

  • Rodney’s failure to follow up the victory by a pursuit was much criticised. Samuel Hood said that the 20 French ships would have been captured had the commander-in-chief maintained the chase. On 17 April, Hood was sent in pursuit of the enemy. He 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.[3] One hundred and twenty years later, the Navy Records Society published the Dispatches and Letters Relating to the Blockading of Brest. In the introduction they include a small biography of Admiral William Cornwallis who commanded the Canada at the Saintes. A poem purportedly written by him includes the lines:

Had a chief worthy Britain commanded our fleet,
Twenty-five good French ships had been laid at our feet.
[10]

  • The battle is famous for the innovative tactic of "breaking the line", in which the British ships passed though a gap in the French line, engaging the enemy from leeward and throwing them into disorder.[4] But there is considerable controversy about whether the tactic was intentional, and, if so, who was responsible for the idea (Rodney, his Captain-of-the-Fleet Sir Charles Douglas, or John Clerk of Eldin), or even if this was the first case of such a tactic. Dano–Norwegian admiral Niels Juel did this in the Battle of Køge Bay more than a hundred years earlier and even earlier the Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter used it for the first time in the last day of the Four Days' Battle in 1666 (and again in the Battle of Schooneveld and the Battle of Texel of 1673).[citation needed]
  • On the French side, de Grasse blamed his subordinates, Vaudreuil and Bougainville, for his defeat.
  • Following the Franco-American victory at Yorktown the previous year, peace negotiations between Britain, the American colonies, France and Spain had begun in early 1782. The Battle of the Saintes in April 1782 transferred the strategic initiative to the British, with the most likely further military action being an attack on the French sugar islands,and the French, in particular, were consequently inclined to ameliorate their terms. It also became clear to the Americans that they could look forward to less French support in the future. The lifting of the Siege of Gibraltar in February 1783 exacerbated this, and initial articles of peace were signed in July, with a full treaty in September 1783.

Order of battle[edit]

Britain[edit]

Admiral Sir George Rodney's fleet
Van
Ship Rate Guns Commander Casualties Notes
Killed Wounded Total
HMS Royal Oak Third rate 74 Captain Thomas Burnett
8
30
38
HMS Alfred Third rate 74 Captain William Bayne  
12
40
52
Bayne killed on 9 April
HMS Montagu Third rate 74 Captain George Bowen
14
29
43
HMS Yarmouth Third rate 64 Captain Anthony Parrey
14
33
47
HMS Valiant Third rate 74 Captain Samuel Granston Goodall
10
28
38
HMS Barfleur Second rate 98 Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood
Captain John Knight
10
37
47
Flagship of van
HMS Monarch Third rate 74 Captain Francis Reynolds
16
33
49
HMS Warrior Third rate 74 Captain Sir James Wallace
5
21
26
HMS Belliqueux Third rate 64 Captain Andrew Sutherland
4
10
14
HMS Centaur Third rate 74 Captain John Nicholson Inglefield
?
?
?
No casualty returns made
HMS Magnificent Third rate 74 Captain Robert Linzee
6
11
17
HMS Prince William Third rate 64 Captain George Wilkinson
0
0
0
Centre
HMS Bedford Third rate 74 Commodore Edmund Affleck
Captain Thomas Graves
0
17
17
HMS Ajax Third rate 74 Captain Nicholas Charrington
9
40
49
HMS Repulse Third rate 64 Captain Thomas Dumaresq
3
11
14
HMS Canada Third rate 74 Captain William Cornwallis
12
23
35
HMS St Albans Third rate 64 Captain Charles Inglis
0
6
6
HMS Namur Second rate 90 Captain Robert Fanshawe
6
25
31
HMS Formidable Second rate 98 Admiral Sir George Rodney
Captain Sir Charles Douglas
2nd Captain Charles Symons
15
39
53
Flagship of centre
HMS Duke Second rate 90 Captain Alan Gardner
13
60
73
HMS Agamemnon Third rate 64 Captain Benjamin Caldwell
15
23
38
HMS Resolution Third rate 74 Captain Lord Robert Manners
4
34
38
HMS Prothee Third rate 64 Captain Charles Buckner
5
25
30
HMS Hercules Third rate 74 Captain Henry Savage
6
19
25
Captain Savage wounded
HMS America Third rate 64 Captain Samuel Thompson
1
1
2
Rear
HMS Russell Third rate 74 Captain James Saumarez
10
29
39
HMS Fame Third rate 74 Captain Robert Barbor
3
12
15
HMS Anson Third rate 64 Captain William Blair  
3
13
16
HMS Torbay Third rate 74 Captain John Lewis Gidoin
10
25
35
HMS Prince George Second rate 98 Captain James Williams
9
24
33
HMS Princessa Third rate 70 Rear-Admiral Francis Samuel Drake
Captain Charles Knatchbull
3
22
25
Flagship of rear
HMS Conqueror Third rate 74 Captain George Balfour
7
23
30
HMS Nonsuch Third rate 64 Captain William Truscott
3
3
6
HMS Alcide Third rate 74 Captain Charles Thompson
?
?
?
No casualty returns made
HMS Arrogant Third rate 74 Captain Samuel Pitchford Cornish
0
0
0
HMS Marlborough Third rate 74 Captain Taylor Penny
3
16
19
Total recorded casualties: 239 killed, 762 wounded (casualties for two ships unknown)
Source: The London Gazette, 12 December 1782.[11]

France[edit]

Admiral the Comte de Grasse's fleet
Ship Guns Commander Fate
Ardent 64 de Gouzillon captured
Auguste 80 de Castellan
Chef d'escadre Louis Antoine de Bougainville
van flag
Bourgogne 74
Brave 74
César 74 captured, but burnt
Citoyen 74
Conquérant 74
Couronne 80 Claude Mithon de Genouilly
Dauphin Royal 70 Pierre, comte de Roquefeuil
Destin 74
Diadème 74
Duc de Bourgogne 80
Éveillé 64
Glorieux 74 captured
Hector 74 captured
Hercule 74 Jean Isaac Chadeau de la Clocheterie
Languedoc 80
Magnanime 74
Magnifique 74
Marseillais 74
Neptune 74
Northumberland 74
Palmier 74
Pluton 74
Réfléchi 64
Richemond frigate Montemart
Sceptre 74
Scipion 74
Souverain 74
Triomphant 80 Jean-François Du Cheyron  
Ville de Paris 104 François Joseph Paul de Grasse captured
Rodney, with French captive ships after the Battle by Domic Serres

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Black, Jeremy (1999). Warfare in the Eighteenth Century. London: Cassell. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-304-35245-6. 
  2. ^ a b c Valin p. 58
  3. ^ a b c Navies and the American Revolution, 1775−1783. Robert Gardiner, ed. Chatham Publishing, 1997, p.123-127. ISBN 1-55750-623-X
  4. ^ a b O'Shaughnessy p. 314
  5. ^ O'Shaughnessy - p. 314 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
  6. ^ a b c Mahan. p. 205−226
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ a b Mahan p. 194−221
  9. ^ Trew 158
  10. ^ Leyland, John (1899). Dispatches and letters relating to the blockade of Brest, 1803-1805. Printed for the Navy Records Society. p. xx. 
  11. ^ The London Gazette: no. 12396. pp. 3–4. 1782-10-12. Retrieved 2010-04-08.

Further reading[edit]

  • Douglas, Major-General Sir Howard; Christopher J. Valin (2010-18-32). Naval Evolutions: A Memoir. Fireship Press. ISBN 1-935585-27-4. 
  • Crossman, Mark World military leaders: a biographical dictionary Facts on File Inc (2006) ISBN 978-0-8160-4732-1
  • Fullom, S.W., Life of General Sir Howard Douglas, Bart. (1865)
  • Mahan, A.T., Major Operations of the Navies in the War of Independence (1913)
  • Mahan, A.T., Types of Naval Officers, Drawn from the History of the British Navy (1901)
  • Mundy, Major-General Godfrey Basil, The Life and Correspondence of the Late Admiral Lord Rodney (1830)
  • O'Shaughnessy, Andrew (2013). The Men Who Lost America: British Command during the Revolutionary War and the Preservation of the Empire. Oneworld Publications. ISBN 9781780742465. 
  • Playfair, John. “On the Naval Tactics of the Late John Clerk, Esq. of Eldin.” The Works of John Playfair, Vol. III (1822)
  • “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, vol. XLII, no. LXXXIII, January & March, 1830
  • Trew, Peter, Rodney and the Breaking of the Line (2006)
  • Valin, Christopher J. (2009). Fortune's Favorite: Sir Charles Douglas and the Breaking of the Line. Fireship Press. ISBN 1-934757-72-1. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 15°47′N 61°36′W / 15.783°N 61.600°W / 15.783; -61.600