Order of Battle in the Biscay Campaign of June 1795
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Order of Battle in the Biscay Campaign of June 1795

A naval battle. Three ships sail in the foreground, one billowing gunsmoke. Five more ships lie in the backgroumd. There is a rough sea and a sky with large clouds.
Cornwallis's Retreat, June 17, 1795, Thomas Luny

The Biscay campaign of June 1795 consisted of a series of manoeuvres and two battles fought between the British Channel Fleet and the French Atlantic Fleet off the Southern coast of Brittany in the Bay of Biscay during the French Revolutionary Wars. In late May 1795, a British battle squadron of six ships of the line under Vice-Admiral William Cornwallis was sent by Admiral Lord Bridport to enforce the blockade of the French port of Brest, the home port of the French Atlantic Fleet.[1] On 8 June, Cornwallis discovered a convoy of merchant vessels travelling from Bordeaux to Brest under the protection of a small squadron under Contre-amiral Jean Gaspard Vence. Cornwallis attacked the convoy, Vence retreating under the protection of batteries on the fortified island of Belle Île as Cornwallis seized eight ships from the convoy. As Cornwallis sent his prizes back to Britain the main French fleet at Brest under Vice-amiral Villaret de Joyeuse put to sea to protect Vence's remaining ships.[2]

On 16 June, Cornwallis's squadron encountered Villaret's fleet, in conjunction with Vence's force, off Penmarck Point. Cornwallis had misunderstood the signals from Captain Robert Stopford on the scouting frigate HMS Phaeton and had sailed much too close to the larger French fleet.[3] When he realised his error, the British admiral turned his squadron westwards, retreating away from the French coast with Villaret's force in pursuit. Light winds and poorly loaded ships delayed his escape, and on 17 June the French vanguard caught up with his rearguard.[4] Throughout the day the French and British ships exchanged fire and by the late afternoon the rearmost British ship HMS Mars was in danger of being overwhelmed. Cornwallis responded by interposing his 100-gun flagship HMS Royal Sovereign between the British and French forces.[5] The heavy broadsides of the flagship drove back the French and soon afterwards Villaret recalled his ships, concerned by sails on the horizon which he may have believed to be the rest of the Channel Fleet, although in reality they were a British merchant convoy. The battle is known in British histories as Cornwallis's Retreat.[6]

Villaret retreated towards Brest, but was driven south by a storm on 18 June. Unbeknownst to either Cornwallis or Villaret, the main Channel Fleet was already at sea, protecting an expeditionary force carrying a French Royalist army intended to invade Quiberon, the convoy under the command of Commodore Sir John Borlase Warren.[7] On 22 June, Warren's scouts identified the French fleet at sea off the coastal island of Groix and he took the convoy further out to sea away from the French, who did not pursue, and sent word to Bridport.[8] The British admiral placed his fleet between the French and the expeditionary force, Villaret falling back towards the sheltered anchorage between Groix and the port of Lorient. Light winds delayed both fleets, but on the morning of 23 June Bridport's vanguard overran the rearmost French ships. Villaret attempted to effect a fighting withdrawal, but several of his captains ignored his orders, throwing the retreat into disorder. Three French ships were captured and the rest scattered along the nearby French coast. Although a renewed attack might have destroyed the entire French fleet Bridport, concerned his ships might be wrecked, withdrew unexpectedly.[9] The action is known as the Battle of Groix.

The campaign was a strategic victory for the British; the remainder of the French fleet was forced to shelter in Lorient, from which they were unable to sail again until 1796.[10] The expeditionary force landed safely in Quiberon but the operation ended in disaster, Warren evacuating the survivors a month later.[11] Bridport remained cruising with his fleet off the Breton Coast until September, before handing over control to Rear-Admiral Henry Harvey.[12] The battle was controversial in both countries, British commentators observing that Bridport had missed a unique opportunity to completely destroy the French Atlantic fleet,[11] while in France a series of courts-martial were held to try those officers who were felt to have disobeyed orders: two were dismissed from the French Navy.[13]

British fleet

Note that as carronades were not traditionally taken into consideration when calculating a ship's rate,[14] these ships may have been carrying more guns than indicated below.

Cornwallis's Squadron

Vice-Admiral Cornwallis's squadron
Ship Rate Guns Commander Casualties Notes
Killed Wounded Total
HMS Royal Sovereign First rate 100 Vice-Admiral William Cornwallis
Captain John Whitby
0 0 0 Heavily engaged on 17 June.
HMS Mars Third rate 74 Captain Sir Charles Cotton 0 12 12 Heavily engaged on 17 June, severe damage to rigging and sails.
HMS Triumph Third rate 74 Captain Sir Erasmus Gower 0 0 0 Engaged on 8 June. Heavily engaged on 17 June: severe damage to rigging, sails and stern.
HMS Brunswick Third rate 74 Captain Lord Charles Fitzgerald 0 0 0 Engaged on 17 June.
HMS Bellerophon Third rate 74 Captain Lord Cranstoun 0 0 0 Engaged on 17 June.
HMS Phaeton Fifth rate 38 Captain Robert Stopford - - - Lightly damaged, 1 killed, 7 wounded on 8 June. Present but not engaged on 17 June.
HMS Pallas Fifth rate 32 Captain Henry Curzon - - - Present but not engaged on 17 June.
HMS Kingfisher Brig-sloop 18 Captain Thomas Gosselyn - - - Retired to Spithead on 11 June.
Total casualties: 12 wounded
Sources: James, pp. 237-240; Clowes, pp. 255-258; "No. 13790", The London Gazette, 23 June 1795, pp. 655-656

Bridport's fleet

Admiral Lord Bridport's Fleet
Ship Rate Guns Commander Casualties Notes
Killed Wounded Total
HMS Royal George First rate 100 Admiral Lord Bridport
Captain William Domett
0 7 7 Engaged on 23 June.
HMS Queen Charlotte First rate 100 Captain Sir Andrew Snape Douglas 4 32 36 Heavily engaged on 23 June and damaged in rigging and sails.
HMS Queen Second rate 98 Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Gardner
Captain William Bedford
0 0 0 Engaged on 23 June.
HMS London Second rate 98 Vice-Admiral John Colpoys
Captain Edward Griffith
0 3 3 Engaged on 23 June.
HMS Prince of Wales Second rate 98 Vice-Admiral Henry Harvey
Captain John Bazely
- - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Prince Second rate 98 Captain Charles Powell Hamilton - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Prince George Second rate 98 Captain William Edge - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Barfleur Second rate 98 Captain James Richard Dacres - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Sans Pareil Third rate 80 Rear-Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour
Captain William Browell
10 2 12 Heavily engaged on 23 June and lightly damaged.
HMS Valiant Third rate 74 Captain Christopher Parker - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Orion Third rate 74 Captain Sir James Saumarez 6 18 24 Heavily engaged on 23 June.
HMS Irresistible Third rate 74 Captain Richard Grindall 3 11 14 Heavily engaged on 23 June and lightly damaged.
HMS Russell Third rate 74 Captain Thomas Larcom 3 10 13 Heavily engaged on 23 June.
HMS Colossus Third rate 74 Captain John Monkton 5 30 35 Heavily engaged on 23 June.
Support ships
HMS Revolutionnaire Fifth rate 38 Captain Francis Cole - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Thalia Fifth rate 36 Captain Lord Henry Paulet - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Nymphe Fifth rate 36 Captain George Murray - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Aquilon Fifth rate 32 Captain Robert Barlow - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Astrea Fifth rate 32 Captain Richard Lane - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Babet Sixth rate 20 Captain Edward Codrington - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Charon Hospital Ship Commander Walter Lock - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Maegera Fireship 14 Commander Henry Blackwood - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Incendiary Fireship 14 Commander John Draper - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Argus Lugger 14 - - - Not engaged in the action.
HMS Dolly Lugger 14 - - - Not engaged in the action.
Total casualties: 31 killed, 113 wounded
Sources: James, pp. 240-250; Clowes, pp. 260-263; "No. 13790", The London Gazette, 27 June 1795, pp. 673-674

Quiberon Expeditionary Force

Commodore Warren's squadron
Ship Rate Guns Commander Casualties Notes
Killed Wounded Total
HMS Robust Third rate 74 Captain Edward Thornbrough - - - Attached to Bridport's fleet on 20 June but not engaged in the action.
HMS Thunderer Third rate 74 Captain Albemarle Bertie - - - Attached to Bridport's fleet on 20 June but not engaged in the action.
HMS Standard Third rate 64 Captain Joseph Ellison - - - Attached to Bridport's fleet on 20 June but not engaged in the action.
HMS Pomone Fifth rate 44 Commodore Sir John Borlase Warren - - -
HMS Anson Fifth rate 44 Captain Philip Charles Durham - - -
HMS Artois Fifth rate 38 Captain Sir Edmund Nagle - - -
HMS Arethusa Fifth rate 38 Captain M. Robinson - - -
HMS Concorde Fifth rate 32 Captain Anthony Hunt - - -
HMS Galatea Fifth rate 32 Captain Richard Goodwin Keats - - -
Sources: James, p. 253; Clowes, p. 265

French fleet

Officers killed in action are marked with a   symbol. Note that as carronades were not traditionally taken into consideration when calculating a ship's rate,[14] these ships may have been carrying more guns than indicated below.

  •   Ships in this colour were captured during the Battle of Groix, 23 June 1795
Villaret de Joyeuse's fleet
Ship Rate Guns Commander Casualties Notes
Killed Wounded Total
Peuple First rate 120 Vice-amiral Villaret de Joyeuse
Captain Étienne Eustache Bruix
Captain Jacques Angot  [15]

Représentant Jean-Nicolas Topsent [fr]

Unknown Heavily engaged on 23 June.
Redoutable Third rate 74 Vice-amiral Kerguelen
Captain Pierre Augustin Moncousu
- Not engaged in the action.
Alexandre Third rate 74 Captain François Charles Guillemet[16] 220 Heavily engaged, badly damaged and captured, later became HMS Alexander.
Droits de l'Homme Third rate 74 Captain Yves Cornic Dumoulin Unknown Engaged on 17 June. Not engaged on 23 June.
Formidable Third rate 74 Captain Charles Linois 320 Engaged on 17 June. Heavily engaged on 23 June, badly damaged and captured, later became HMS Belleisle.
Fougueux Third rate 74 Captain Giot-Labrière - Not engaged on 17 or 23 June. Captain later court-martialled and dismissed for disobeying orders.
Jean-Bart Third rate 74 Captain Louis Marie Le Gouardun - Not engaged on 17 or 23 June.
Mucius Third rate 74 Captain Larréguy Unknown Engaged on 23 June. Captain later court-martialled and censured for disobeying orders.
Nestor Third rate 74 Contre-amiral Jean Gaspard Vence
Captain Henry
Unknown Engaged on 23 June.
Tigre Third rate 74 Captain Jacques Bedout 130[Note A] Engaged on 17 and 23 June.
Wattignies Third rate 74 Captain Joseph René Donat Unknown Engaged on 23 June.
Zélé[17] Third rate 74 Captain Jean-Charles-François Aved-Magnac 0 5 5 Heavily engaged on 17 June. Not engaged on 23 June. Captain later court-martialled and dismissed for disobeying orders.
Support ships
Brave Fifth rate 42 Captain Antoine René Thévenard - Not engaged in the action.
Scévola Fifth rate 42 Captain Le Bozec - Not engaged in the action.
Cocarde Nationale Fifth rate 40 Captain Pierre Quérangal - Not engaged in the action.
Driade Fifth rate 36 Lieutenant Gramont - Not engaged in the action.
Fidèle Fifth rate 38 Lieutenant Bernard - Not engaged in the action.
Fraternité Fifth rate 36 Lieutenant Florinville - Not engaged in the action.
Insurgente Fifth rate 32 Lieutenant Violette - Not engaged in the action.
Néréide Fifth rate 36 Lieutenant Briand - Not engaged in the action.
Proserpine Third rate 38 Captain Daugier - Not engaged in the action.
Régénérée Third rate 40 Captain Héron None Lightly engaged on 23 June.
Républicaine française First rate 40 Lieutenant François Pitot - Not engaged in the action.
Tribune Third rate 40 Lieutenant Bernard - Not engaged in the action.
Vengeance Fifth rate 40 Lieutenant Leconte - Not engaged in the action.
Virginie Fifth rate 40 Lieutenant Jacques Bergeret Unknown Heavily engaged on 17 June.
Atalante Corvette 16 Ensign Dordelin - Not engaged in the action.
Constance Corvette 22 Lieutenant Bouchet - Not engaged in the action.
Las Casas Corvette 18 Lieutenant Blanzon - Not engaged in the action.
Abeille Corvette 14 Ensign Denis - Not engaged in the action.
Papillon Brig 14 Lieutenant Cousin - Not engaged in the action.
Lark Corvette 10 Ensign Le Large - Not engaged in the action.
Printemps Cutter 10 Ensign Le Faucheur - Not engaged in the action.
Sources: James, pp. 237-253; Clowes, pp. 255-264; Rouvier, pp. 213-214

Notes

  1. ^
    Note A: In his 1868 account of the battle, Charles Rouvier gives casualties on Tigre as 150 killed and 300 wounded, although other sources give total casualties as 130.

References

  1. ^ James, p. 237
  2. ^ James, p. 238
  3. ^ Tracy, p. 121
  4. ^ Brenton, p. 229
  5. ^ Clowes, p. 257
  6. ^ Woodman, p. 60
  7. ^ Gardiner, p. 48
  8. ^ Clowes, p. 261
  9. ^ James, p. 247
  10. ^ James, p. 253
  11. ^ a b Clowes, p. 266
  12. ^ James, p. 252
  13. ^ Rouvier, p. 214
  14. ^ a b James, p. 32
  15. ^ Décret no 1051 de la Convention nationale, Collection générale des décrets rendus par la Convention Nationale, Volume 51, Retrieved 28 April 2012
  16. ^ François Charles Guillemet, Société d'Entraide des Membres de la Légion d'Honneur, Retrieved 28 April 2012
  17. ^ Jean-Charles François Aved-Magnac, Pieces Justificatives, p. 32, Retrieved 28 April 2012

Bibliography


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