Pierre Jean Van Stabel
|Pierre Jean Van Stabel|
Portrait of Vanstabel, by Antoine Maurin
|Born||8 November 1744
|Died||30 March 1797
|Allegiance||Kingdom of France|
|Years of service||1778 — 1797|
Silver sword offered by Louis XVI
Van Stabel was born to a family of sailors and started a career in the merchant navy at the age of fourteen, steadily rosing to the rank of sea captain. In 1778, with the intervention of France in the American Revolutionary War, Van Stabel enlisted in the French Royal Navy as an auxiliary officer.
Service on Rohan Soubise
Van Stabel took command of the privateer Dunkerquoise In 1781, he was in command of the 22-gun corvette Rohan Soubise, formerly the privateer Comtesse d'Artois purchased into service on 27 April 1781.
Commanding Rohan Soubise, Van Stabel captured the British privateer Admiral-Rodney after a one-hour battle, in which he was twice wounded by musket bullets to the throat, relinquishing command of his ship just long enough to have the bullets removed from him body. Too damaged in the battle to be taken as a prize, the privateer was then scuttled by fire. King Louis XVI had a silver sword presented to him in recognition.
Van Stabel later commanded another privateer, the Robecq.
Service as captain the Channel
In 1787, Van Stabel was tasked with ferrying four large barges from Boulogne to Brest.
In February 1793, with the outbreak of the War of the First Coalition, Van Stabel was promoted to captain, and appointed to command the frigate Thétis. He departed Brestin in April and led a four-month campaign in the English Channel, capturing around forty British merchantmen.
Service as rear-admiral the Channel
In November of the same year, Van Stabel was promoted to rear-admiral, and took command of a division comprising six ships of the line, with his flag on the 74-gun Tigre; the other ships were the 74-gun Jean Bart, Tourville, Impétueux, Aquilon and Révolution, with a screenning force comprising the frigates Insurgente and Sémillante, and the brigs Ballon and Espiègle.
On 16 November, the division departed Brest to intercept a British convoy in the Channel. Instead of the convoy and its expected four-ship escort[note 2] under Sir John Jervis, Van Stabel's division met a 28-ship squadron under Admiral Howe. Van Stabel ordered a retreat, but Sémillante's inferior nautical qualities made her lag behind the division, and she was soon overhauled by a British frigate; Van Stabel sailed Tigre independently to rescue her, and in the course of a chase that lasted several days, managed to pry seventeen merchantmen for the convoy without granting Howe a head-on engagement before returning to Brest. Only Espiègle was captured by two frigates on the 29th.
Atlantic campaign of May 1794
Later than year, Van Stabel was tasked with escorting a food convoy gathered by Captain Émeriau, of the frigate Embuscade, from the Chesapeake to France. The convoy departed in April, counting 170 ships. The pursuit of the convoy of the Royal Navy was the focus of the Atlantic campaign of May 1794 which culminated with the Bataille du 13 prairial an 2 ("Glorious First of June"). The convoy arrived at the scene of the battle on 3 June and found the debris left by the battle; Van Stabel considered whether to keep his route for fear that the British fleet might ambush him, but decided that the quantity of wreckage was a sign that both fleets had had to return to harbour. He continued on, and eventually reached Brest unharmed on 13 June, without losing any ship, and having augmented his convoy with forty prizes. The National Convention voted a decree that Van Stabel had Bien mérité de la Patrie.
In 1796, the French Directory decided to reopen the shipping lines on the Scheldt, and tasked Van Stabel to lead two brigs and four gunboats to escort eight merchantmen to Antwerp (six French and two Swedish). Van Stabel managed to sail by several Dutch forts without engaging them.
Van Stabel then returned to Vlissingen to conduct patrols in the North Sea at the head of a division comprising four frigates and a number of corvettes. However, his declining health forced him to return to Dunkirk, where he died soon after of a chest disease.
Notes and references
- Sometimes written "Vanstabel"
- Troude (p.291) states that the French expected five ships of the line
- Levot, p.528
- Hennequin, p.271
- Préparation Militaire Marine de Dunkerque Amiral Pierre Vanstabel, by Jean Bouger. Sous-mama.org
- Roche, p.385
- Hennequin, p.272
- Roche, p.192
- Troude, p.291
- Hennequin, p.273
- Troude, p.292
- Hennequin, p.274
- Hennequin, p.275
- Hennequin, p.276
- Bordonove, Georges (1974). Les marins de l’an II. Paris: Robert Laffont.
- Gardiner, Robert (2001) . "The Glorious First of June". Fleet Battle and Blockade. Caxton Editions. ISBN 1-84067-363-X.
- Hennequin, Joseph François Gabriel (1835). Biographie maritime ou notices historiques sur la vie et les campagnes des marins célèbres français et étrangers (in French). 2. Paris: Regnault éditeur.
- Levot, Prosper (1866). Les gloires maritimes de la France: notices biographiques sur les plus célèbres marins (in French). Bertrand.
- Roche, Jean-Michel (2005). Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours. 1. Group Retozel-Maury Millau. ISBN 978-2-9525917-0-6. OCLC 165892922.
- Six, Georges (1934). Dictionnaire biographique des généraux et amiraux de la Révolution et de l’Empire. Paris: Georges Saffroy éditeur.
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