Raid on Lorient

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Raid on Lorient
Part of the War of the Austrian Succession
Lorient in the Eighteenth Century
Date 20 September 1746[n 1][1]
Location Lorient, France
Result French victory
 Great Britain  France
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Great Britain James St Clair
Kingdom of Great Britain Richard Lestock
Marquis de L'Hôpital Comte de Volvire
16 ships of the line, 8 frigates, 2 galiots, 43 transport ships, 4,500 troops[1] 1 regiment of dragoons, 4,000-6,000 coast-guards and members of the local militia[1]

The Raid on Lorient was a British amphibious operation in the region around the town of Lorient from 29 September to 10 October 1746 during the War of the Austrian Succession. It was planned as an attempt to force the French to withdraw their forces from Flanders to reinforce their own coast.

Around 4500 British soldiers were embarked, but the ships carrying them had to wait off the Lorient coast several days, allowing the town to organise its defences and call in reinforcements from other towns in the region. The British troops only arrived in the outskirts of the town on 3 October and negotiations for the town's surrender were ended on by the bombardment of 5–7 October. On 7 October the British force was ordered to retreat. The British engineers' incompetence and losses to disease and fatigue forced the commander to stop his offensive. At the same time, the French commander originally planned to surrender, believing his enemy to have an overwhelming numerical superiority and knowing the weakness of his defences and the poor training and weaponry of his own troops. He made a surrender offer on 7 October, shortly after the enemy's departure, and never received a reply.

The raid is notable for its military results, such as forcing the French to develop fortifications in southern Brittany, but also for its cultural consequences, such as starting a controversy between David Hume and Voltaire and giving rise to a cult of the Virgin Mary in the town along with several songs describing the siege.


War of the Austrian Succession[edit]

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[2] (which met with its own failure in attempting the retaking of Louisbourg). As it would be impossible to re-integrate the British force back into another one, Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle suggested to James St Clair that it be used for a landing in France. George II of England heard about the proposal and asked the general if a plan had been prepared.[3] The general told him there was not yet any such plan and that he did not know where such a landing might be made, but proposed the generals study possible landing places on the French coast.[4] In a meeting with the king, Newcastle insisted that the plan be carried through and on 29 August St Clair received orders to proceed to Plymouth to await orders for the operation.[5]

Origin of the British plan[edit]

Decision to attack Lorient[edit]

At Plymouth, St Clair received orders to sail for the French coast and attack Lorient, Rochefort, La Rochelle, Bordeaux or any other town as opportunity presented itself.[5] In a letter of 29–30 August, he favoured an operation against Bordeaux, an area he already knew and which (unlike the other towns) was unfortified. Also, it was so far from Flanders that it would divert French troops from that theatre.[n 2][6]

Admiral Anson was also in Plymouth. He met St Clair and informed him that he knew the town of Lorient in southern Brittany was poorly fortified. It was therefore decided to send the naval force to identify possible landing or raiding sites along that coast.[7][8] At the same time, Newcastle began to support a plan to land in Normandy which had been produced by major McDonald of the general staff. McDonald was sent to Plymouth to defend his plan in person before St Clair, but St Clair decided that McDonald was ignorant in military matters and if he switched from Lorient to Normandy now he would have to send his ships out on another reconnaissance mission.[9] It was finally decided to send the expeditionary force against Lorient, since it would reap a double benefit[10] - firstly, the town was the headquarters of the French East India Company, whose activities could be stopped by a raid on the town, and secondly it would act as a diversion for the French force in Flanders.[11]

British preparations[edit]

French context[edit]

Intelligence and preparations[edit]

Situation around Lorient[edit]

Course of the raid[edit]

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.[12]

Opening phase[edit]


Reaction in Lorient[edit]

March to the town and French reactions[edit]

Approaching the town[edit]

French reactions[edit]

Siege and retreat[edit]

British attempts[edit]

French defences[edit]


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.

Military results[edit]

Later raids on southern Britanny[edit]

Fortification of southern Britanny[edit]

Cultural results[edit]

Controversy between Hume and Voltaire[edit]

David Hume, who took part in the expedition.

Marian cult and political recovery[edit]

Songs and poetry[edit]


  1. ^ The British sources can give different dates - the Julian calendar was in use in Britain until 1752, whereas France had used the Gregorian calendar from 1564 onwards.
  2. ^ French troops under the maréchal de Saxe had overrun Austrian territory there and were winning several victories in that area around this time, such as the battles of Fontenoy and Rocourt and the Siege of Brussels


  1. ^ a b c Siège de Lorient par les Anglais, Institut culturel de Bretagne, accessed on 28 August 2011
  2. ^ Dull 2005, p.15.
  3. ^ Louis Le Cam, 1931, page 24
  4. ^ Louis Le Cam, 1931, page 25
  5. ^ a b Louis Le Cam, 1931, page 26
  6. ^ (Louis Le Cam 1931, p. 27)
  7. ^ (Louis Le Cam 1931, p. 28)
  8. ^ Rodger 2006, p.248.
  9. ^ (Louis Le Cam 1931, p. 29)
  10. ^ (Pierrick Pourchasse 2007, paragraphe 6)
  11. ^ (N.A.M. Rodger 2006, p. 248)
  12. ^ Rodger 2006, p.248–249.


  • Dull, Jonathan R. (2005). The French Navy and the Seven Years' War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska. ISBN 978-0-8032-6024-5. 
  • Rodger, N.A.M. (2006). Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649–1815. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-102690-1. 

Coordinates: 47°45′00″N 3°22′00″W / 47.7500°N 3.3667°W / 47.7500; -3.3667