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Battle of Minorca

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 7 months ago

The Battle of Minorca

20thMay 1756

 

The Vice-Admiral prepared his fleet with as much dispatch as possible, and sailed from St. Helen's on April 30th, arriving at Gibraltar on May 2nd. He was there joined by some of the ships, which, under Captain the Honorable George Edgcombe, were already in the Mediterranean; and he received intelligence that the Toulon squadron had landed a French army in Minorca, and that the enemy was already in possession of almost every strong position in the island. Byng communicated to General Fowke, the Governor of Gibraltar, an order from home to the effect that, subject to certain conditions, a detachment from the garrison, equal to a battalion of men, was to be embarked on board the fleet. But General Fowke and his advisers came to the conclusion, firstly, that it would be extremely dangerous, if not impracticable, to throw succour into Port Mahon; and secondly, that the garrison of Gibraltar was already too weak to spare the specified detachment without danger to itself. Yet as the fleet was in great want of men, and as Edgcombe's ships had left their Marines, and some of their seamen, in Minorca to assist in the work of defence, the Governor permitted 1 captain, 6 subalterns, 9 sergeants, 11 corporals, 5 drummers and '200 privates to embark, it being represented to him that, without such reinforcement, several of the ships would be absolutely unable to go into action.

 

Captain Edgcombe, with his little squadron, had been obliged to retire from off Minorca upon the appearance of the French. He had left behind him Captain Carr Scrope of the Dolphin, who commanded the naval detachment on shore, and who was to act as signal officer in the event of the appearance of a British squadron before the island. Ere Byng, with an easterly wind, sailed from Gibraltar on May 8th, he had been joined by the whole of Captain Edgcombe's little force, excepting the Phoenix, which had been blockaded at Palma, Majorca, by two French frigates, and which was only able to get out upon the appearance of the British fleet off that island. The wind was for the most part easterly until 9 P.M. on the 18th, when a brisk northerly breeze sprang up; and the squadron, having sailed large all night, sighted Minorca at daybreak next morning. Byng at once sent ahead the Phoenix, Chesterfield and Dolphin to reconnoitre the mouth of Mahon Harbour, to pick up intelligence, and to endeavour to send ashore a letter to General Blakeney. Captain the Hon. Augustus John Hervey, the senior officer of the advanced squadron, drew in with the shore and endeavoured to communicate with the castle of St. Philip; but, before be could effect anything, the enemy's fleet appeared in the S.E., and the detachment had to be recalled.

 

Vice-Admiral Byng then stood towards the foe and made the signal for a general chase. Both squadrons J made sail towards one another; and at 2 P.M. the British Commander-in-Chief made the signal for a line of battle ahead. But, the wind dropping, this order could not be properly carried out. In the meantime he took the , precaution of reinforcing such of the ships as were most weakly manned, by means of drafts from the frigates; and he directed that the Phoenix, which had been reported as unfit for general service, should be made ready to act as a fireship in case of necessity. At about six o'clock in the evening the enemy advanced in order, with twelve ships of the line and five frigates; the van being commanded by M. Grlandevez, the centre by M. de La Galissonniere, and the rear by M. de La Clue. An hour later the French tacked, and went away a distance of about six miles, with a view to gaining the weather-gage; and Byng, to preserve that advantage, tacked likewise On the following morning two tartans, which had been sent out by M. de Richelieu with soldiers to reinforce Marquis de la Galissonnière, were chased by the British ships, one of them being taken by the Defiance, and the other escaping. That morning at daybreak, the weather was hazy, and the enemy was not at once seen; but, a little later, he came in sight in the S.E.

 

The British Fleet of Vice-Admiral the Honorable John Byng

Ship's NameGunsCommanderNotes

Defiance60Thomas Andrews
Portland50Patrick Paird
Lancaster66George Edgecombe
Buckingham70Michael Everittflagship of Rear-Admiral of the Red [Temple West

Captain64Charles Catford
Intrepid64James Young
Revenge64Frederick Cornwall
Princess Louisa60Thomas Noel
Trident64Philip Durell
Ramillies90Arthur GardinerFlagship

Culloden74Henry Ward
Kingston60William Parry
<Ships not in the Line

Ship's NameGunsCommanderNotes

Deptford60John Amherst
Chesterfield44John Lloyd
Dolphin24Benjamin Marlow
Phoenix24Augustus John Hervey
Experiment24James Gilchrist
Fortune18Jervis Maplesden
The French Fleet of Lieutenant-General Marquis de la Galissonnière

Ship's NameGunsCommanderNotes

Orphée64

Hippopotame50

Redoutable74Flagship of Chef d'Escadre M. de Glandevez

Sage64 (Durevest)

Guerrier74

Fier50(d'Herville)

Foudroyant80Flagship

Téméraire74

Content64

Lion64

Couronne74Flagship of Chef d'Escadron M de la Clue

Triton64(Mercier)

<Ships not in the Line

Ship's NameGunsCommanderNotes

Junon40

RoseFrigate?

GracieuseFrigate?

TopazeFrigate?

NympheFrigate?

 

A T Mahan's account of the action

“The two fleets, having sighted each other on the morning of May 20th, were found after a series of manoeuvres both on the port tack, with an easterly wind, heading southerly, the French to leeward, between the English and the harbour. Byng ran down in line ahead off the wind, the French remaining by it, so that when the former made the signal to engage, the fleets were not parallel, but formed an angle of from 30 to 40. The attack which Byng by his own account meant to make, each ship against its opposite in the enemy's line, difficult to carry out under any circumstances, was here further impeded by the distance between the two rears being much greater than that between the vans; so that his whole line could not come into action at the same moment. When the signal was made, the van ships kept away in obedience to it, and ran down for the French so nearly head on as to sacrifice their artillery fire in great measure. They received three raking broadsides and were seriously dismantled aloft. The sixth English ship (Intrepid) counting from the van, had her foretopmast shot away, flew up into the wind, and came aback, stopping and doubling up the rear of the line. Then undoubtedly was the time for Byng, having committed himself to the fight, to have set the example and borne down, just as Farragut did at Mobile when his line was confused by the stopping of tlic next ahead; but according to the testimony of the flag-captain, Mathews's sentence deterred him. 'You see, Captain Gardiner, that the signal for the line is out, and that I am ahead of the ships Louisa and Trident (which in the order should have been ahead of him). ' You would not have me, as admiral of the fleet, run down as if I were going to engage a single ship. It was Mr. Mathews's misfortune to be prejudiced by not carrying down his force together, which I shall endeavour to avoid.' The affair thus became indecisive; the English van was separated from the rear and got the brunt of the fight. One French authority blames Galissonniere for not tacking to windward of the enemy's van and crushing it. Another says he ordered the movement, but that it could not be made from the damage to the rigging; but this seems improbable, as the only injury the French squadron underwent aloft was the loss of one topsail-yard, whereas the English suffered very badly. The true reason is probably that given and approved by one of the French authorities on naval warfare. Galissonniere considered the support of the land attack on Port Mahon paramount to any destruction of the English fleet, though he thereby exposed his own. The French navy has always preferred the glory of assuring or preserving a conquest to that, more brilliant perhaps, but actually less real, of taking some ships; and therein it has approached more nearly the true end that has been proposed in war.'

 

Aftermath

The losses in killed and wounded were nearly equal; but the French lost no officers of rank, whereas in Byng's fleet Captain Andrews, of the Defiance, was killed, and Captain Noel, of the Princess Louisa, was mortally wounded. The British ships also suffered much more than the French in their masts, yards and rigging; so much so, in fact, that Byng deemed it right, before venturing to do anything further, to call a council of war on board the HamiUies, and to summon to it not only the naval officers, but also several of the land officers who were on board the ships. The questions debated in this council, and the conclusions arrived at, were as follows :

 

1. Whether an attack on the French fleet have any prospect of relieving Mahon ? Resolved : It did not.

2. Whether, if there were no French fleet cruising at Minorca, the British lk j ct could raise the siege? Resolved: It could not.

3. Whether Gibraltar would not be in danger, should any accident befall Byng's fleet? Resolved : It would be in danger.

4. Whether an attack by the British fleet in its present state upon that of the French would not endanger Gibraltar, and expose the trade in the Mediterranean to great hazards? Resolved: It would.

5. Whether it is not rather for His Majesty's service that the fleet should proceed immediately to Gibraltar? Resolved: It should proceed to Gibraltar.

 

As a result, the squadron sailed for Gibraltar, and, on the way, occupied itself in repairing such damages as could be repaired at sea. At the Rock the Admiral found reinforcements, which had been sent out to him under Commodore Thomas Broderick, the Ministry, after Byng's departure from England, having apparently realised for the first time the full extent of the danger in the Mediterranean.

 

Losses in the two fleets

ShipKilledWoundedShipKilledWounded

Defiance1445Orphée100

Portland620Hippopotame210

Lancaster114Redoutable03

Buckingham37Sage08

Captain630Guerrier013

Intrepid936Fier04

Princess Louisa343Foudroyant210

Téméraire015

Content519

Lion27

Couronne03

Triton515

 

Admiral Byng's account of the battle

Ramillies, off Minorca, May 25th, 1756.

 

SIR, I have the pleasure to desire that you will acquaint their Lordships that, having sailed from Gibraltar the 8th, I got off Mahon the 19th, having been joined by his Majesty's ship Phoenix off Majorca two days before, by whom I had confirmed the intelligence I had received at Gibraltar, of the strength of the French fleet, and of their being off Mahon. His Majesty's colours were still flying at the castle of St. Philip; and I could perceive several bomb-batteries playing on it from different parts. French colours I saw flying on the west part of St. Philip. I dispatched the Phoenix, Chesterfield, and Dolphin ahead, to reconnoitre the harbour's mouth; and Captain Hervey to endeavour to land a letter for General Blakeney, to let him know the fleet was here to his assistance; though every one was of the opinion we could be of no use to him; as, by all accounts, no place was secured for covering a landing, could we have spared the people. The Phoenix was also to make the private signal between Captain Hervey and Captain Scrope, as this latter would undoubtedly come off, if it were practicable, having kept the Dolphin's barge with him: but the enemy's fleet appearing to the south-east, and the wind at the same time coming strong off the land, obliged me to call these ships in, before they could get quite so near the entrance of the harbour as to make sure what batteries or guns might be placed to prevent our having any communication with the castle. Falling little wind, it was five before I could form my line, or distinguish any of the enemy's motions; and could not judge at all of their force, more than by numbers, which were seventeen, and thirteen appeared large. They at first stood towards us in regular line; and tacked about seven; which I judged was to endeavour to gain the wind of us in the night; so that, being late, I tacked in order to keep the weather-gage of them, as well as to make sure of the land wind in the morning, being very hazy, and not above five leagues from Cape Mola. We tacked off towards the enemy at eleven; and at daylight had no sight of them. But two tartars, with the French private signal, being close in with the rear of our fleet, I sent the PRINCESS LOUISA to chase one, and made signal for the Rear-Admiral, who was nearest the other, to send ships to chase her. The PRINCESS LOUISA, DEFIANCE, and CAPTAIN, became at a great distance; but the DEFIANCE took hers, which had two captains, two lieutenants, and one hundred and two private soldiers, who were sent out the day before with six hundred men on board tartars, to reinforce the French fleet on our appearing off that place. The PHOENIX, on Captain Hervey's offer, prepared to serve as a fire-ship, but without damaging her as a frigate; till the signal was made to prime, when she was then to scuttle her decks, everything else prepared, as the time and place allowed of.

 

The enemy now began to appear from the mast-head. I called in the cruisers; and, when they had joined me, I tacked towards the enemy, and formed the line ahead. I found the French; were preparing theirs to leeward, having unsuccessfully endeavoured to weather me. They were twelve large ships of the line, and five frigates.

 

As soon as I judged the rear of our fleet the length of their van, we tacked altogether, and immediately made the signal for the ships that led to lead large, and for the DEPTFORD to quit the line, that ours might become equal to theirs. At two I made the signal to engage: I found it was the surest method of ordering every ship to close down on the one that fell to their lot. And here I must express my great satisfaction at the very gallant manner in which the Rear-Admiral set the van the example, by instantly bearing down on the ships he was to engage, with his second, and who occasioned one of the French ships to begin the engagement, which they did by raking ours as they went down. The INTREPID, unfortunately, in the very beginning, had her foretopmast shot away; and as that hung on her foretopsail, and backed it, he had no command of his ship, his fore-tack and all his braces being cut at the same time; so that he drove on the next ship to him, and obliged that and the ships ahead of me to throw all back. This obliged me to do also for some minutes, to avoid their falling on board me though not before we had drove our adversary out of the line, who put before the wind, and had several shots fired at him by his own admiral. This not only caused the enemy's centre to be unattached, but the Rear-Admiral's division rather uncovered for some little time. I sent and called to the ships ahead of me to make sail, and go down on the enemy; and ordered the Chesterfield to lay by the INTREPID, and the DEPTFORD to supply the INTREPID'S place. I found the enemy edged away constantly; and as they went three feet to our one, they would never permit our closing with them, but took advantage of destroying our rigging; for though I closed the Rear-Admiral fast, I found that I could not gain close to the enemy, whose van was fairly drove from their line; but their admiral was joining them, by bearing away.

 

By this time it was past six, and the enemy's van and ours were at too great a distance to engage, I perceived some of their ships stretching to the northward; and I imagined they were going to form a new line. I made the signal for the headmost ships to tack, and those that led before with the larboard tacks to lead with the starboard, that I might, by the first, keep (if possible) the wind of the enemy, and, by the second, between the Rear-Admiral's division and the enemy, as he had suffered most; as also to cover the INTREPID, which I perceived to be in very bad condition, and whose loss would give the balance very greatly against us, if they attacked us next morning as I expected. I brought to about eight that night to join the INTREPID, and to refit our ships as fast as possible, and continued doing so all night. The next morning we saw nothing of the enemy, though we were still lying to. Mahon was N.N.W about ten or eleven leagues. I sent cruisers to look out for the INTREPID and CHESTERFIELD, who joined me next day. And having, from a state and condition of the squadron brought me in, found, that the CAPTAIN, INTREPID, and DEFIANCE (which latter has lost her captain), were much damaged in their masts, so that they were in danger of not being able to secure their masts properly at sea; and also, that the squadron in general were very sickly, many killed and wounded, and nowhere to put a third of their number if I made an hospital of the forty-gun ship, which was not easy at sea; I thought it proper in this situation to call a council of war, before I went again to look for the enemy. I desired the attendance of General Stuart, Lord Effingham, and Lord Robert Bertie, and Colonel Cornwallis, that I might collect their opinions upon the present situation of Minorca and Gibraltar, and make sure of protecting the latter, since it was found impracticable either to succour or relieve the former with the force we had. So, though we may justly claim the victory, yet we are much inferior to the weight of their ships, though the numbers are equal; and they have the advantage of sending to Minorca their wounded, and getting reinforcements of seamen from their transports, and soldiers from their camp; all which undoubtedly has been done in this time that we have been lying to to refit, and often in sight of Minorca; and their ships have more than once appeared in a line from our mast-heads.

 

I send their Lordships the resolutions of the council of war, in which there was not the least contention or doubt arose. 1 hope, indeed, we shall find stores to refit us at Gibraltar; and, if I have any reinforcement, will not lose a moment of time to seek the enemy again, and once more give them battle, though they have a great advantage in being clean ships that go three feet to our one, and therefore have their choice how they will engage us, or if they will at all; and will never let us close them, as their sole view is the disabling our ships, in which they have but too well succeeded, though we obliged them to bear up.

 

I do not send their Lordships the particulars of our losses and damages by this, as it would take me much time; and I am willing none should be lost in letting them know an event of such consequence.

 

I cannot help urging their Lordships for a reinforcement, if none are yet sailed on their knowledge of the enemy's strength in these seas, and which, by very good intelligence, will in a few days be strengthened by four more large ships from Toulon, almost ready to sail, if not sailed, to join these.

 

I dispatch this to Sir Benjamin Keene, by way of Barcelona; and am making the best of my way to cover Gibraltar, from which place I propose sending their Lordships a more particular account. I remain, Sir, your most humble servant,

 

J. BYNG.

 

Hon. JOHN CLEVLAND, ESQ.

 

Notes:

 

Sources:

001Wikipedia
B040The Royal Navy - Vol IIIWilliam Laird Clowes


Last Updated: 2008/07/11 at 19:30 by Cy

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