Battles of Barfleur and La Hogue
|Battle of Barfleur–La Hougue|
|Part of the Nine Years' War|
The Battle of Barfleur, 29 May 1692 by Richard Paton, painted 18th century.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Anne Hilarion de Tourville|| Edward Russell
Philips van Almonde
|44 ships of the line
30–40 lesser ships
|82 ships of the line
40 lesser ships
|Casualties and losses|
Barfleur: no ships lost
La Hogue: 12 ships burned
Barfleur: no ships lost
Cherbourg: minor casualties
La Hogue: minor casualties
The related naval battles of Barfleur and La Hogue took place between 29 May and 4 June New Style (NS), 1692 (19–24 May in the Old Style (OS) Julian calendar then in use in England). The first action took place near Barfleur; later actions were at Cherbourg and Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue in the Cotentin peninsula, Normandy, France. It was the decisive naval battle of the Nine Years' War, known to the British as the War of the English Succession.
In May 1692 the French fleet of 44 ships of the line under the command of Admiral Anne Hilarion de Costentin, Comte de Tourville (by virtue of his title, widely known in English sources as "Tourville"), was preparing to transport an invading army of Franco-Irish troops to restore James II to the English throne. Despite Tourville being in command of the fleet, strategic decisions were to be taken by James II, François d'Usson de Bonrepaus and Bernardin Gigault de Bellefonds. The French victory at the Battle of Beachy Head two years earlier, in June 1690, had opened up the possibility of destroying the allied fleet and landing an invading army. Tourville boldly engaged the 82-vessel Anglo-Dutch fleet at Barfleur. After a fierce but indecisive clash that left many ships on both sides damaged, Tourville disengaged. He slipped off into light fog and for several days tried to escape the superior forces. The French fleet was scattered, and fifteen were lost–three at Cherbourg and a further twelve at La Hougue. The threat of invasion of England was lifted.
King Louis XIV and his naval minister, Count Pontchartrain, planned to land an army in England and restore James II to the throne. They first planned to launch the invasion in April 1692 before the English and Dutch fleets put to sea and joined up. Troops were collected at Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, and the cavalry and guns were to be loaded into transports at Le Havre. Tourville was to bring the French fleet up from Brest and collect the transports and the troops, then fight off the English fleet and land the army in England.
However, the French fleet was unable to concentrate in time; D’Estrees and the Toulon fleet were beaten back at the Straits of Gibraltar, losing two ships in a storm, and Villette Mursay with the Rochefort squadron was delayed. Tourville's Brest fleet was undermanned, and when he sailed, on 29 April, he was forced to leave 20 ships under Chateau-Renault behind. His fleet was further delayed by adverse winds and did not clear Berteaume Roads until 2 May.
Tourville entered the Channel with 37 ships of the line, accompanied by 7 fireships, plus frigates, scouts, and transports. He was joined on 15 May by Villette and the Rochefort squadron, 7 ships of the line and attendant vessels, giving Tourville a combined fleet of 44 ships, plus attendant vessels 70 or 80 sail altogether.
Meanwhile, the allied fleet was assembling at St Helens on the Isle of Wight; Vice Admiral of the Red Sir Ralph Delaval arrived off St Helens on 8 May; next day he was joined by Carter, who had been in the western channel guarding a convoy, and delivering troops to Guernsey. The Dutch had despatched a fleet, under Almonde, from the Texel in April, which was making its way south. Admiral of the Blue Sir John Ashby sailed from the Nore on 27 April. Admiral of the Fleet Edward Russell was delayed until 29 April, but gained time by making a risky passage through the Gull channel. He met Almonde at the Downs and a further Dutch squadron at Dungeness, arriving at St Helens in the second week of May. More detachments joined over the next few days, until 14 May, when Russell had a force of over 80 ships of the line, plus auxiliaries. Thus by 14 May, when the allied fleet was fully assembled, the French strategic aim of acting with a concentrated force while the allies were scattered was already lost.
However, Louis XIV had furnished Tourville with strict orders to seek battle, strong or weak (fort ou faible), and this he proceeded to do.
Battle of Barfleur
The fleets sighted each other at first light on 29 May 1692, off Cap Barfleur. On sighting the allied fleet Tourville held a conference with his officers. Their advice, and his own opinion, was against action; however Tourville felt bound by strict orders from the king to engage. He may also have expected some defections by English captains with Jacobite sympathies, though in this he was to be disappointed. In the light southwesterly breeze the fleets slowly closed, Russell from the northeast, and Tourville, who had the weathergage, from the south, on a starboard tack to bring his line of battle into contact with Russell's. Both fleets were in three squadrons, each split into three divisions and commanded by a flag officer.
Because of the calm conditions it was not until after 11 am, five hours after first sighting each other, that the two fleets engaged. Tourville had reinforced his centre, the White squadron under his own command, in order to engage Russell's Red squadron with close to equal numbers. Elsewhere, he sought to minimize damage by extending and refusing the van, to avoid them being turned and overwhelmed, while the rear was held back to keep the weathergage. Russell countered by holding fire as long as possible, to allow the French to come closer; Almonde, in the van extended to try to overlap the French line, while Admiral Ashby, with the rear and some way off, sought to close and bring his Blue squadron into action. From around 11 am, and for the next few hours, both fleets bombarded each other, causing considerable damage.
The battle continued for the rest of the day and into the night and was full of incident. At 1 pm a change in the wind allowed Rear Admiral of the Red Sir Cloudesley Shovell to break the French line and the Dutch to start enveloping the French van. At 4 pm a flat calm descended, leaving both fleets in a fog. A 6 pm Tourville was able to use the tide to gain a respite, and at 8 pm Shovell used the same tide for a fireship attack.
By 10 pm the battle was almost over. Surprisingly, though most ships on both sides were damaged, and some severely, no ships from either battle line were lost. At the turn of the tide, Tourville again took advantage of this to cut cables and be carried down channel on the ebb, away from the scene of battle. Russell also cut when he realized what had happened, to give chase into the night.
On the 30 May the French withdrawal was hampered by wind and tide and by the fact that, due to cost concerns by the French Naval Ministry, many of the ships had anchors inadequate to withstand the strong tidal races in the region. There was also the lack of a fortified haven at Cherbourg. Tourville probably tried for too long to save his magnificent flagship, the Soleil Royal, but eventually he realised it was hopeless and switched his command to the Ambitieux, the flagship of Villette Mursay.
First light on the 30 May saw the French fleet scattered into groups across a wide area. To the north of the battle scene, and heading northward, were Gabaret and Langeron, with four ships between them. Later that day they skirted the English coast and headed out into the Atlantic. Eventually, they would arrive safely at Brest. To the South, Nesmond, with six ships, was heading south-east towards the Normandy coast. Two of these would be beached at St Vaast la Hougue, while another two would later put into Le Havre, where L’Entendu was wrecked at the harbour entrance. Nesmond, with the remaining two ships Monarque and Aimable, passed through the Straits of Dover, went north around Britain and finally arrived safely at Brest. Heading West was the main body in three groups: Villette leading with 15, followed by d’Amfreville with 12, and Tourville bringing up the rear with seven. During the day the French were able to close up, but Tourville was hampered by his efforts to save his flagship, Soleil Royal, which was in a pitiable condition. Later that day Tourville recognized this and transferred his flag to L’Ambiteux.
In pursuit was Philips van Almonde and the Dutch fleet, with the various English divisions scattered behind. Many of these, particularly those of the English Red, were hampered by damage and lagged behind, leaving Almonde and Ashby closed up to the French by the end of the day. Russell was forced to detach three ships to return to port for repairs. Later these sighted Gabaret's group, but neither engaged. Shovell had to move his flag to Kent due to the damage to his flagship Royal William, while the damage to Britannia, Russell's flagship, caused his division serious delay.
On 31 May the French fleet was anchored against the tide off Cap de la Hague. The leading contingent, 21 ships under Pannetier, had rounded the cape and was in the Alderney Race, while the remainder, 13 with Tourville and the other flag officers, were to the east. As the weather deteriorated, these ships began to drag their anchors and were forced to cut and run before the wind and tide. Three of the most badly damaged were forced to beach at Cherbourg; the rest, 10 ships, reached St Vaast la Hougue where they too were beached, joining the two of Nesmond’s division that were already there. Russell’s and the ships with him, together with some of Ashby’s Blue squadron, also cut to pursue him, while Ashby and Almonde continued to shadow Pannetier's group.
Pannetier, in order to escape the pursuing allied fleet, sought to make the hazardous passage through the Alderney Race; in this he was helped by finding in his crew a local man, Hervé Riel, to act as pilot when his navigators demurred. Almonde and Ashby did not try to follow him and were criticized later by Russell for not doing so, although the only flag officer who knew the waters, Carter, had died of his wounds.
Almonde attempted pursuit by taking his squadron west of Alderney, but the delay allowed Pannetier to pull too far ahead, and Almonde abandoned the chase. Pannetier later reached Saint-Malo in safety, while Almonde and Ashby turned east to rejoin Russell at la Hogue.
While Almonde and Ashby pursued Pannetier, Russell was chasing Tourville eastward along the Cotentin coast. Without anchors Tourville was unable to do more than beach his ships, which he was able to do, leaving three at Cherbourg and taking the remaining twelve to St Vaast la Hougue.
Actions at Cherbourg
The Soleil Royal, Admirable, and Triomphant were in such bad shape they had to be beached at Cherbourg. There they were destroyed on 3 June by Vice-Admiral Delaval, attacking from long boats and with fire ships.
Actions at La Hogue
Meanwhile, Russell had turned on the remaining ships. These had sought refuge at La Hougue where they would be under the protection of the assembled land forces and a battery. On 3 June and 4 June, the Dutch and English attacked with long boats. By this time the French crews were exhausted and disheartened. The allies successfully deployed shore parties and fire ships which burnt all twelve French ships of the line which had sought shelter there. This last action became celebrated in England as the Battle of La Hogue.
The dispersal of the French fleet put an end to the invasion plans, and the Allied victory was commemorated in England by a Fleet Review. Following the battle the French abandoned the idea of seeking naval superiority for its own sake, adopting instead a continental strategy on land and pursuing a war against trade (guerre de course) at sea.
The battle is seen differently on either side of the Channel. The English have seen the action as a single action over six days; it has often been referred to as the battle of La Hogue, or simply Hogue. The French on the other hand have seen the various actions as separate battles, of Barfleur, Cherbourg and La Hougue. However, more neutral observers, such as Mahan, have also seen the action as a whole, as does Pemsel, and naval actions over a period of days were not unusual for the time. The term "Battle of Barfleur and La Hogue" is a compromise description for the whole event.
Both sides also regard the outcome differently. The English claim this as an outright victory. The French, while acknowledging La Hougue and Cherbourg as defeats, prefer to claim Barfleur as a victory.
The English view of this as an out and out victory, while plausible, is flawed. In earlier times it was widely celebrated, though by Mahan's time it was seen as less important. The French invasion plan was foiled, but La Hogue was not the devastating blow to the French Navy it was once thought. French losses were quickly made good, and by the following year Tourville was able to inflict a defeat on the Allies at Lagos. Although the French dropped their invasion plans for the rest of the conflict and switched to a guerre de course, this was a matter of policy rather than necessity.
However, the French view of the action at Barfleur as a victory is similarly flawed. The actions at Cherbourg and La Hogue can only be seen as defeats, but the view of the action at Barfleur as a victory is not tenable. The strategic aim, to concentrate the fleet and seize control of the channel before the Allied fleet had assembled, had already failed by 14 May (OS), and the chance for invasion was lost even if the battle had never taken place. Tactically Tourville made the best he could of a difficult situation. He made skilled use of the tides, first to disengage his fleet and, later, to escape, but with no ships lost on either side and the action ending with Russell in hot pursuit it can be seen at best as inconclusive.
Nevertheless, historians have generally acknowledged the skill, bravery, courage and ferocious fighting ability of the French in this action. Barfleur remains a battle of which the French are most proud.
- England: 56 ships
- Netherlands: 26 ships
- Total allied: 82 ships, plus auxiliaries
- France: 44 ships, plus auxiliaries
|White Sqdn (Almonde)
|Guns||Fate||Blue&White Sqdn (d'Amfreville)
|Noordholland||68||Bourbon||68||Burnt at La Hougue|
|Gelderland||64||Saint-Louis||64||Burnt at La Hougue|
|Westvriesland||88||Gaillard||68||Burnt atLa Hougue|
|Zeeland||64||Terrible||80||Burnt at La Hougue|
|Ripperda||50||Merveilleux||90||Burnt at La Hougue|
|Slot Muyden||72||Tonnant||80||Burnt at La Hougue|
|Elswoud||72||Sans Pareil (Vermandois?)||62|
|Stad en Land||50||Foudroyant||84||Burnt at La Hougue|
|Maegt van Doort||64||…|
|Red Sqdn (Russell)
|Guns||Fate||White Sqdn (Tourville)
|St Michael||90||Fort||60||Burned at La Hougue|
|Bonaventure||50||Ambitieux||96||Burned at La Hougue|
|Centurion||50||. . . .|
|Chester||50||Soleil Royal||104||Burned at Cherbourg|
|St Andrew||96||Sainte Philippe||84||Burned at La Hougue|
|Britannia||100||Admirable||90||Burned at Cherbourg|
|London||96||. . . .|
|Greenwich||54||. . . .|
|Restoration||70||. . . .|
|Grafton||70||. . . .|
|Royal William||100||. . . .|
|Sandwich||90||. . . .|
|Oxford||54||. . . .|
|Cambridge||70||. . . .|
|Ruby||50||. . . .|
|Blue Sqdn (Ashby)
|Guns||Fate||Blue Sqdn (Gabaret)
|Essex||70||Magnifique||86||Burnt at La Hougue|
|Vanguard||90||Fier||80||Burnt at La Hougue|
- Aubrey P: The Defeat of James Stuart's Armada 1692(1979). ISBN 0-7185-1168-9 .
- Jenkins, E.H.: A History of the French Navy (1973)
- N. A. M. Rodger: The Command of The Ocean. (2004) ISBN 0-7139-9411-8 .
- A.T.Mahan : The Influence of Sea-Power upon History 1660–1805 (1890, abridged 1980) . ISBN 0-600-34162-3 .
- Pemsel, Helmut: Atlas of Naval Warfare (1977, trans 1979) ISBN 0-85368-351-4
- Log of capt. Robt. Robinson, Cmdr of ye Ship Monmouth, The National Archives ADM 51/4264, (1692)
- De Zeven Provincien at Bataviawerf; retrieved 9 June 2016 (nl).
- "La Bataille de La Hougue": Haffemayer, Stéphane and Baury, Ghislain, at La dynastie Rouvière de Fraissinet-de-Lozère website: retrieved 9 June 2016 (fr).