Battle of Ushant (1781)
A French convoy sailed from Brest on 10 December with reinforcements and stores for the East and West Indies, protected by a fleet of 19 ships of the line commanded by Comte de Guichen. A squadron of 13 British ships of the line, commanded by Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt in HMS Victory, were ordered to sea to intercept the expected convoy. On 12 December, the squadron sighted the French convoy, discovering that its protective escort had been strengthened.
Initially, Comte De Guichen's fleet was situated downwind of the convoy, allowing the British ships to sweep down and capture 15 ships carrying troops and supplies before the French ships could intervene.
Rear Admiral Kempenfelt's force was not strong enough to attack the 19 French escorts, but the French convoy, having deliberately risked setting sail in the North Atlantic storm season in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid British forces, was dispersed in a gale shortly afterwards, and most of the ships forced to return to port.
Only two of the ships of the line intended for the West Indies arrived with a few transport vessels in time for the Battle of the Saintes in April. When news of the battle at Ushant reached Britain, the Opposition in Parliament questioned the decision to send such a small force against the convoy, and forced an official inquiry into the administration of the Royal Navy. This was the first of a succession of Opposition challenges which would ultimately bring about the fall of the government of Lord North on 20 March 1782 and pave the way for the Peace of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolutionary War.
- Clowes, William Laird, et al. The royal navy: a history from the earliest times to the present, Volume 3