Raid on Lorient
|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the French Wikipedia. (July 2012)|
The Raid on Lorient took place in September 1746 during the War of the Austrian Succession when British troops landed on the French coast with the intention of capturing the town of Lorient. However, due to a number of factors, the force never attempted to take the town, and withdrew, despite the very poor defences of Lorient.
Following the capture of Louisbourg in 1745, the British government contemplated launching an attack on Quebec which would hand Britain control over Canada. The Duke of Bedford was the leading political supporter of a campaign. A force was prepared for this with troops under Lieutenant General James St Clair, to be escorted by a naval force under Admiral Richard Lestock. It was ready to sail by June 1746.
However, it was decided that it was too late in the year for an Atlantic crossing and operations up the St Lawrence River and the British were alarmed by the sudden departure of a French fleet under d'Anville (which met with its own failure in attempting the retaking of Louisbourg). Instead the force was ordered to launch a raid on the headquarters of the French East India Company in the town of Lorient in southern Brittany. It was hoped this would distract the French from their campaign in the Low Countries where they had overrun Austrian territory and captured Brussels.
The expedition sailed in September, reaching the French Atlantic coast shortly afterwards. The two commanders were distinctly uncomfortable with their orders, as they believed the equinoctial gales would make the operation extremely risky, and they lacked any firm intelligence about Lorient and its defences.
The troops were landed on 20 September, and advanced towards the town. They reached its outer defences and came under fire – which led to their withdrawal. St Clair reboarded his troops and the expedition sailed back to England. In fact the townspeople had been about to surrender, so lightly defended was Lorient, and the lack of sea defences meant that Lestock could have sailed his ships into the harbour and landed them on the quayside.
The concept of Naval Descents, such as Lorient, became fashionable again in the 1750s during the Seven Years War when Britain launched a number of raids against towns and islands along the French coast in a bid to destabilise the French war effort in Germany. Britain launched raids on Rochefort, Cherbourg and St Malo during the war.
- Dull 2005, p.15.
- Rodger 2006, p.248.
- Rodger 2006, p.248–249.