Battle of Toulon (1744)
|Battle of Toulon|
|Part of the War of the Austrian Succession|
Engraving of the Battle (1796) Naval museum of Madrid.
| Kingdom of Spain
|Commanders and leaders|
| Juan José Navarro
de Court de La Bruyere
| Thomas Mathews
|27 ships of the line
|30 ships of the line
|Casualties and losses|
616 killed or wounded
338 killed or wounded
The naval Battle of Toulon or Battle of Cape Sicié took place on 22 February 1744 in the Mediterranean off the coast of Toulon, France. A combined Franco-Spanish fleet fought off Britain's Mediterranean fleet. The French fleet, not officially at war with Great Britain, only joined the fighting late, when it was clear that the greatly outnumbered Spanish fleet had gained the advantage over its foe. With the French intervention, the British fleet was forced to withdraw.
In Britain the battle was regarded as the most mortifying defeat; the Franco-Spanish fleet successfully ended the British blockade and inflicted considerably more damage to the British than they received, causing the British to withdraw to Minorca in need of heavy repairs. The retreat of Admiral Mathews' fleet left the Mediterranean Sea temporarily under Spanish control, allowing the Spanish navy to deliver troops and supplies to the Spanish army in Italy, decisively swinging the war there in their favour.
Thomas Mathews was tried by court-martial in 1746 on charges of having brought the fleet into action in a disorganised manner, of having fled the enemy, and of having failed to bring the enemy to action when the conditions were advantageous. He was one of seven ship captains dismissed from service.
The outbreak of war with Spain and the imminent threat of war with France during the early stages of the War of the Austrian Succession led to Mathews' return to active service after seven years of effective retirement, with a promotion directly to vice-admiral of the red on 13 March 1741. He was given a command in the Mediterranean, and made plenipotentiary to Charles Emmanuel III, king of Sardinia, and the other courts of Italy. The appointment was somewhat unexpected, Mathews was not especially distinguished, and had not served in the navy for a number of years. His second in command in the Mediterranean was Rear-Admiral Richard Lestock, a man Mathews knew from his time as commissioner at Chatham, when Lestock had commanded the guardships stationed in the Medway. The two had not been on good terms, and on receiving the Mediterranean posting, Mathews requested that Lestock be recalled, a request the Admiralty declined to act upon.
The two men continued their disagreements during their time in the Mediterranean, though Mathews' continued distractions with diplomatic duties meant that they did not break out into an open argument. In 1742 Mathews sent a small squadron to Naples to compel King Charles, later the King of Spain, to remain neutral. It was commanded by Commodore William Martin, who refused to enter into negotiations, and gave the king half an hour in which to return an answer. The Neapolitans were forced to agree to the British demands.
In June 1742 a squadron of Spanish galleys, which had taken refuge in the Bay of Saint Tropez, was burnt by the fire ships of Mathews' fleet. In the meantime a Spanish squadron had taken refuge in Toulon, and was watched by the British fleet from Hyères. On 21 February 1744 (N.S., 10 February O.S.) the Spaniards put to sea in company with a French force. Mathews, who had now returned to his flagship, followed, and an engagement took place on 22 and 23 February.
The fleets had become scattered in the light winds as they approached, and as they began to form up for the battle on 22 February, Mathews signalled for the formation of the line of battle. The line had still not been formed as night fell, leading Mathews to hoist the signal to come to, intending for his ships to first finish forming the line. The van and centre squadrons did so, but Lestock, commanding the rear, obeyed the order to come to without having formed the line. By daybreak on 23 February, the rear of the British fleet was separated by a considerable distance from the van and centre. Mathews signalled for Lestock to make more sail, reluctant to start the attack with his ships still disorganised, but the slowness of Lestock to respond caused the Franco-Spanish force to start to slip away to the south. Mathews feared that they would escape him and pass through the Straits of Gibraltar to join the French force gathered at Brest for the planned invasion of Britain.
Knowing that his duty was to attack, Mathews hoisted the signal to engage the enemy aboard his flagship HMS Namur, and at one o'clock left the line to attack the Spanish rear, followed by Captain James Cornewall aboard HMS Marlborough. In doing so, the signal to form the line of battle was left flying. The two signals flying simultaneously created confusion, though a number of British commanders, including Captain Edward Hawke, followed Mathews' example. Heavily outnumbered and unsupported, with his other commanders either too uncertain, or in the case of Lestock, possibly pleased to see Mathews in difficulty and unwilling to help him, Namur and Marlborough managed to successfully engage their opposite numbers in the enemy line, but suffered considerable damage. At the rear of the ships being attacked, five more Spanish ships followed, at some distance due to the slow speed of the one ahead: Brillante, San Fernando, Halcon, Soberbio and Santa Isabel. There was some exchange of fire between these and the lead ships of the English rear. Most of Lestock´s ships in the rear remained inactive during the battle. The main action was being fought around Real Felipe, Navarro´s flagship. Marlborough purposefully crossed the Spanish line, but suffered such severe damage that she was deemed to be on the verge of sinking. The Hercules, astern of the Real Felipe, vigorously fought off three British ships, while the Constante, immediately ahead of the flagship, repelled the attack of a British ship-of-the-line, which was promptly replaced by two more, with which she continued to fight for nearly three hours. The French ships came about at 5 o'clock to aid the Spanish, a manoeuvre interpreted by some of the British commanders to be an attempt to double the British line and surround them. With no orders from Mathews and a lack of clear instructions or command structure, the British line broke, and began to flee to the northwest. The Spanish, still on the defensive, neglected to capture the defenceless Marlborough, though they did retake the Poder, which had previously surrendered to the British. The Franco-Spanish fleet then resumed their flight to the southwest, and it was not until 23 February that the British were able to regroup and resume the pursuit. They caught up with the enemy fleet again, which was hampered by towing damaged ships, and the unmanoeuvrable Poder was abandoned and scuttled by the French. By now the British had closed to within a few miles of the enemy fleet, but Mathews again signalled for the fleet to come to. The following day, 24 February, the Franco-Spanish fleet was almost out of sight, and Mathews returned to Hyères, and sailed from there to Port Mahon, where he arrived in early March.
Enquiry and dismissal
The failure of the British fleet to bring a decisive action against a foe of such an inferior number had significant consequences. The opposing fleet was able to deliver troops and supplies to the Spanish army in Italy, decisively swinging the war there in their favour. This was widely remarked on in Britain. The House of Commons petitioned King George II for a public enquiry, and a dozen captains were tried by court-martial and cashiered. Lestock was also tried, but was able to place the blame on Mathews, and with the help of powerful supporters in government, was acquitted and offered further employment. Mathews was tried by court-martial in 1746, on charges of having brought the fleet into action in a disorganised manner, of having fled the enemy, and of having failed to bring the enemy to action when the conditions were advantageous. In his defence it was shown that he had fought bravely, but in June 1747 the court judged the charges were proven, and Mathews was dismissed from the service.
The court-martial was hampered by interference from politicians and civilian courts, so in 1749 Parliament amended the 1661 Articles of War to enhance the autonomy of naval courts. It also amended the section that read:
Every Captaine and all other Officers Mariners and Souldiers of every Ship Frigott or Vessell of War that shall in time of any fight or engagement withdraw or keepe backe or not come into the fight and engage and do his utmost to take fire kill and endamage the Enemy Pirate or Rebells and assist and relieve all and every of His Majesties Ships shall for such offence of cowardice or disaffection be tried and suffer paines of death or other punishment as the circumstances of the offence shall deserve and the Court martiall shall judge fitt to require "paines of death" in all such cases.
These events were followed by a French declaration of war on Britain and Hanover in March; in May came a French declaration of war on Maria Theresa and invasion of the Netherlands. The Spanish admiral Juan José Navarro was created Marquess of Victory after his conduct of the battle.
Order of battle
|Borée||Third rate||64||Captain Marqueu|
|Toulouse||Fourth rate||60||Captain Dárton|
|Tigre||Fourth rate||50||Captain Saurin|
|Éole||Third rate||64||Captain D'Alver|
|Alcyon||Fourth rate||56||Captain Lancel|
|Duc D'Orléans||Third rate||68||Captain Dornés|
|Espoir||Third rate||74||Captain D'Hericourt (Ensign of Gavaret)|
|Trident||Third rate||64||Captain Caylus|
|Heureux||Fourth rate||60||Captain Gramier|
|Achiléon||Fourth rate||60||Captain Vaudevil|
|Solide||Third rate||64||Captain Chateauneuf|
|Diamant||Fourth rate||50||Captain Manak|
|Ferme||Third rate||70||Captain Gorgues|
|Terrible||Third rate||74||Vice-Admiral De Court
|Sancti Espiritus||Third rate||68||Captain Poison|
|Sérieux||Third rate||64||Captain Cahyla|
|Oriente||Fourth rate||60||Captain Joaquín Villena|
|América||Fourth rate||60||Captain Aníbal Petrucci|
|Neptuno||Fourth rate||60||Captain Enrique Olivares †|
|Poder||Fourth rate||60||Captain Rodrigo de Urrutia. (POW)||Captured by the British
Recaptured and scuttled by the French
|Constante||Third rate||70||Captain Agustín Iturriaga †|
|Real Felipe||First rate||110||Admiral Jose Navarro
Captain Nicolas Geraldino †
|Hércules||Third rate||64||Captain Cosme Álvarez|
|Brillante||Fourth rate||60||Captain don Blas de la Barreda|
|Alcón||Fourth rate||60||Captain José Rentería|
|San Fernando||Third rate||64||Count of Vegaflorida|
|Soberbio||Fourth rate||50||Captain Juan Valdés|
|Santa Isabel||Third rate||80||Captain Ignacio Dautevil|
|HMS Chatham||Fourth rate||50||Captain Richard Hughes|
|HMS Nassau||Third rate||70||Captain James Lloyd|
|HMS Chichester||Third rate||80||Captain William Dilkes|
|HMS Boyne||Third rate||80||Captain Rowland Frogmore|
|HMS Barfleur||Second-rate||90||Rear-Admiral William Rowley (Red)
Captain Meyrick de L'Angle
|HMS Ranelagh||Third rate||80||Captain Henry Osborn|
|HMS Berwick||Third rate||70||Captain Edward Hawke|
|HMS Stirling Castle||Third rate||70||Captain Thomas Cooper|
|HMS Bedford||Third rate||70||Captain Hon. George Townshend|
|HMS Feversham||Fifth rate||40|
|HMS Winchelsea||Sixth rate||20|
|HMS Dragon||Fourth rate||60||Captain Charles Watson|
|HMS Royal Oak||Third rate||70||Captain Edmund Williams|
|HMS Princess||Third rate||70||Captain Robert Pett|
|HMS Somerset||Third rate||80||Captain George Slater|
|HMS Norfolk||Third rate||80||Captain Hon. John Forbes|
|HMS Marlborough||Second-rate||90||Captain James Cornewall †|
|HMS Dorsetshire||Third rate||80||Captain George Burrish|
|HMS Essex||Third rate||70||Captain Richard Norris|
|HMS Rupert||Third rate||60||Captain John Ambrose|
|HMS Namur (Flagship)||Second-rate||90||Admiral Thomas Mathews (Blue)
Captain John Russell †
|HMS Dursley Castle||Sixth rate||20|
|HMS Anne Galley||Fireship||8||Captain Mackay †||Blew up by a broadside of Hércules|
|HMS Salisbury||Fourth rate||50||Captain Peter Osborne|
|HMS Romney||Fourth rate||50||Captain Henry Godsalve|
|HMS Dunkirk||Third rate||60||Captain Charles Wager Purvis|
|HMS Swiftsure||Third rate||70||Captain George Berkeley|
|HMS Cambridge||Third rate||80||Captain Charles Drummond|
|HMS Neptune||Second rate||90||Vice-Admiral Richard Lestock (White)
Captain George Stepney
|HMS Torbay||Third rate||80||Captain John Gascoigne|
|HMS Russell||Third rate||80||Captain Robert Long|
|HMS Buckingham||Third rate||70||Captain John Towry|
|HMS Elizabeth||Third rate||70||Captain Joshua Lingen|
|HMS Kingston||Third rate||60||Captain John Lovatt|
|HMS Oxford||Fourth rate||50||Captain Harry Powlett|
|HMS Warwick||Third rate||60||Captain Temple West|
|Table information is from Battles of the British Navy by Joseph Allen, Vol. I, p. 150. and Schomberg, I., Naval Chronology, App. 36, London, 1802|
- Alastair/Callo p. 268
- Lestock, however, still hung back; and all that was to get sufficiently near the flying enemy to retake the Poder, which, however, its crew(the French that recaptured her) had already abandoned and set on fire. Charles Duke Yonge, The history of the British navy: from the earliest period to the Present Time... p.207 
- Carlos Martínez-Valverde (1983): La campaña de don Juan José Navarro en el Mediterráneo y la batalla de Sicié (1742-1744) Revista de Historia Naval (Spanish)
- The Spanish ship Poder being unable to keep up with the British ships that captured her, was rataken in the night by the French squadron. The French perceiving the British fleet coming fall up with them, cast off and abandoned the Poder, first setting fire to her, and she shortly after blew up.
- Allen, Joseph: Admirals Mathews and Lestock. The United service magazine, part 2, pp. 327-329. H. Colburn, 1842
- Biggs, William: The military history of Europe: from the commencement of the war with Spain in 1739, to the treaty of Aix-la Chapelle in 1748 R. Baldwin, 1755, page 272
- "Mathews, Thomas (1676-1751)". Dictionary of National Biography 37. p. 45.
- Black, p 94
- In England, however, this disputed success was considered as the most mortifying defeat, and the complaints of the people knew no bounds. - The history of England from the earliest times to the death of George the Second, Vol III. Goldsmith/Coote p.73
- Lindsay, p 430
- Hattendorf, page 36
- Dull, p.52
- Mathews, Thomas (1676-1751). Dictionary of National Biography. 37. p. 45.
- The rest of captains dismissed from service were Captain George Burrish of HMS Dorsetshire, John Ambrose of HMS Rupert, Edmund Williams of HMS Royal Oak, Richard Norris of HMS Essex, Thomas Cooper of HMS Stirling Castle, James Lloyd of HMS Nassau, and William Dilkes captain of HMS Chichester. See A political index to the histories of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol I.  Beatson p. 329/330
- Waldegrave Head, p. 289
- Roskill, p. 60
- Willis, p. 62
- "Mathews, Thomas (1676-1751)". Dictionary of National Biography 37. p. 44.
- "Martin, William (1696-1756)". Dictionary of National Biography 37. p. 300.
- From: 'Charles II, 1661: An Act for the Establishing Articles and Orders for the regulateing and better Government of His Majesties Navies Ships of Warr & Forces by Sea.', Statutes of the Realm: volume 5: 1628-80 (1819), pp. 311-314. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=47293 Date accessed: 8 June 2010.
- O'Donnell Duque de Estrada y Conde de Lucena, Hugo: El primer Marqués de La Victoria, personaje silenciado en la reforma dieciochesca de la Armada. Real Academia de la Historia, 2004, p. 63. ISBN 84-96849-08-2 (Spanish)
- Vaca de Osma, José: Carlos III. Ediciones Rialp, 1997, p. 63. ISBN 84-321-3141-5 (Spanish)
- Schomberg, I., Naval Chronology, App. 36, London, 1802
- Ships of the Royal Navy:The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy J. Colledge, Ben Warlow p.17
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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- Waldegrave Head, Frederick: The fallen Stuarts. Issue 12 of Cambridge historical essays. Prince consort prize essays. Cambridge University Press, 1901.
- Laughton, J. K. (1894). "Mathews, Thomas (1676-1751)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 37. Oxford University Press.
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- "Toulon" 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
- La campaña de don Juan José Navarro en el Mediterráneo y la batalla de Sicié (1742-1744) (Spanish)