Jean Jacques Étienne Lucas

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Lucas, by Antoine Maurin

Jean Jacques Étienne Lucas (28 April 1764 – 29 May 1819) was a French Navy officer, famous for his role in the Battle of Trafalgar.

Career[edit]

Born in Marennes, he joined the French Navy at the age of 15. From 1779 to 1782 he sailed on the Hermione. During this period, he fought at the battle off Cape Breton (July 21, 1781), part of the American Revolutionary War.[1]

The Battle of Trafalgar[edit]

Main article: Battle of Trafalgar

He is primarily remembered for his role in the Battle of Trafalgar. By 1805, Lucas was a capitaine de vaisseau, the French title for captain. He commanded the French ship of the line Redoutable.

A map of the positioning of the two Navies during the Battle of Trafalgar. Note the Redoutable dead-center in the Franco-Spanish navy.

During the Trafalgar conflict (21 October 1805), the Redoutable was located just off the port side of the Bucentaure, the command ship of Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve. As a result of this positioning, Lucas and his crew found themselves between the two columns of British ships commanded by Admiral Nelson and in the heat of battle from very early on in the conflict. They engaged HMS Victory, Nelson's ship, and through use of heavy artillery they came astern of HMS Victory and sought to board her.

The conflict aboard the Victory was bloody, costing both sides many lives and ultimately resulting in stalemate. Admiral Nelson himself was mortally wounded by a musket shot fired from atop one of the masts of the Redoutable, but before the boarding was successful, HMS Temeraire intervened and opened fire on the Redoutable starboard side, resulting in the deaths of over two hundred French marines.

At 2:30 p.m., the Redoutable surrendered to HMS Temeraire after having lost 522 men out of their total 643. Of this number, 300 were killed and 222 were wounded. Lucas himself was injured, and the ship had suffered damage which had led to the hold taking on several feet of water. The masts had been broken and there was substantial damage to the rest of the ship, including the artillery.

HMS Swiftsure sent a party to take Lucas and two other officers off the ship into captivity the following morning. The Redoutable, however, was still taking on water, and despite the efforts of rescue boats sent over the course of the day, only 119 marines were saved before the ship sank with the dead and wounded still on board.

Lucas was received in England with great courtesy.[2] After his release from capture, he was personally awarded the rank of Commandeur of the Legion of Honour by Napoleon for his role during the battle.[3][4]

Battle of the Basque Roads[edit]

Upon his release from captivity and return to France, Lucas was personally awarded the cross of the Légion d'honneur by Napoleon in recognition of his ship's service.

The Régulus stranded on the shoals of Les Palles, 12 April 1809.

In 1809, he was in command of the Régulus, a Téméraire class 74-gun ship of the line part of admiral Zacharie Allemand's squadron. The French squadron was at first blockaded, and then attacked on April 11, 1809 by a British fleet, near Île-d'Aix, in what would become known as the battle of the Basque Roads.

After breaching the boom that defended the anchored French fleet, the British sent in fireships, the Régulus being the first to be hit. The French ship cut its anchor cables and managed to escape from one of the fireships, after a half-hour struggle. The Régulus ran aground and it was in danger of capsizing. Trying to save his ship, Lucas had to throw overboard most of his cannons, keeping only 16 of them, together with ammunition and supplies for one month.[5] He managed to refloat his ship, but it ran aground a second time, on the shoals of Les Palles. On April 13, several smaller British ships tried to destroy the grounded French vessel, as they had done to several others, but after a six-hour fight Lucas repelled them. On the 20th, the British tried again, only to be repulsed a second time. During the next fight, on April 24, not being able to bear his guns on the enemy because of the Régulus' list, Lucas cut new portholes in the hull for six of his cannons and managed to drive away the British vessels after an 8 and a half hours fight.[5]

After being grounded for two weeks, repelling four attacks, being bombarded and firing almost 1.400 cannon shots, the Régulus was in a bad shape,[5] but on the night of April 25 the British retreated after having destroyed four ships of the line, one frigate and severely damaged the other French ships.

Four days later, on the 29th of April, Lucas managed to patch and refloat his ship, which entered in Rochefort to the cheers of the Frenchmen.

Later life and death[edit]

During the Hundred Days, he was faithful to Napoleon. After the second Restoration of the Bourbons, Lucas retired from the navy, in 1816, and died on 29 May 1819, in Brest.

Notes[edit]

External links[edit]