Battle of Martinique (1780)

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The Battle of Martinique, also known as the Combat de la Dominique, took place on 17 April 1780 during the American Revolutionary War in the West Indies between the British Royal Navy and the French Navy.


In January 1780, the Comte de Guichen was sent to the French base at Martinique in the West Indies with a large squadron, he was opposed by the British admiral Sir George Rodney, who reached the British base at St. Lucia in late March.

Guichen sailed from Martinique on 13 April 1780, with a fleet of 23 ships of the line and 3,000 troops, his objective was to draw Rodney out, and then withdraw and make an attack on either St. Lucia or the British base at Barbados. Rodney sailed out at once upon being informed that Guichen had sailed. On 16 April, his sentinels spotted Guichen on the leeward side of Martinique, beating against the wind. Rodney gave chase, but was unable to close in time for battle that day. Rodney maintained contact with Guichen and held his line throughout the night.


The fleets began manoeuvring for the advantage of the weather gage on the morning of 17 April. By 8:45, Rodney had reached a position to the windward of Guichen, in a relatively close formation. To escape the danger to his rear, Guichen ordered his line to wear and sail to the north, stringing out the line in the process; this forced Rodney to go through another series of manoeuvres to regain his position, which he did by late morning. At this point, he hoped to engage the rear and centre of Guichen's elongated line, concentrating his power to maximize damage there before Guichen's van could join the action; the signal that Rodney issued was for each ship to engage the appropriate ship it was paired with according to the disposition of the two fleets. He issued this signal with the understanding that his captains would execute it in the context of signals given earlier in the day that the enemy's rear was the target of the attack.[4]

Unfortunately for the British, Robert Carkett (the commander of the lead ship HMS Stirling Castle) either misunderstood the signal or had forgotten the earlier one, and moved ahead to engage Guichen's van; he was followed by the rest of Rodney's fleet, and the two lines ended up engaging ship to ship.

View of the battle by Thomas Luny.

Thanks to the orderly fashion in which De Guichen's subordinate squadron-commanders dealt with the crisis, especially the third-in-command Comte de Grasse's rapid closing-up of the battle-line, Guichen managed to extricate himself from a difficult situation and instead turn a narrow defeat to a drawn battle, although his and Marquis de Bouillé's objective to attack and seize Jamaica was thwarted.[4]

During the battle, both Rodney's Sandwich and Guichen's Couronne were temporarily cut off from their respective fleets and bore the brunt of the battle.


Rodney felt that the failure to properly attack the French rear cost the British an opportunity for a significant victory, and assessed blame to Carkett and others who did not properly follow his signals. Others assigned the blame to Rodney, for failing to inform his captains in advance of his intended tactics.

David Hannay, the author of the biography on the Comte de Guichen in the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, stated that Guichen had shown himself very skillful in handling a fleet throughout the campaign, and although there was no marked success, he had at least prevented the British admiral from doing any harm to the French islands in the Antilles.[4]

Both fleets avoided further action prior to the hurricane season. Guichen returned to France with many of his damaged ships in August, and Rodney sailed for New York.

Order of battle[edit]

A French ship of the line at the Battle of Martinique

British fleet[edit]

Ship Name Guns Commander Notes
Sandwich 90 Admiral Sir George Rodney
Walter Young
Princess Royal 98 Rear-Admiral Hyde Parker
Harry Harmood
Torbay 74 John Lewis Gidoin
Cornwall 74 Timothy Edwards
Terrible 74 John Leigh Douglas
Albion 74 George Bowyer
Suffolk 74 Abraham Crespin
Magnificent 74 John Elphinstone
Elizabeth 74 Frederick Maitland
Resolution 74 Lord Robert Manners
Grafton 74 Thomas Newnham
Conqueror 74 Thomas Watson
Vengeance 74 John Holloway
Alfred 74 William Bayne
Montagu 74 John Houlton
Ajax 74 Samuel Uvedale
Yarmouth 64 Nathaniel Bateman
Trident 64 John Thomas
Intrepid 64 The Hon. Henry St John† CO Killed
Stirling Castle 64 Robert Carkett
Vigilant 64 Sir George Home
Medway 60 William Affleck
Centurion 50 Samuel Wittewronge Clayton
Venus 36 James Ferguson
Andromeda 28 Henry Byrne
Greyhound 28 Archibald Dickson
Pegasus 28 John Bazely
Deal Castle 20 William Fooks

French fleet[edit]

White and Blue Squadron[5]

Ship Name Guns Commander Notes
Destin 74
Vengeur 64
Saint Michel 60
Pluton 74
Triomphant 80 Squadron flagship
Souverain 74
Solitaire 64
Citoyen 74 Alexandre de Thy (Comte d'Ethy)

White Squadron, Luc Urbain de Bouëxic (Chevalier de Saint Louis)[6]

Ship Name Guns Commander Notes
Caton 64
Victoire 74 Albert de Saint-Hippolyte
Fendant 74 Marquis de Vaudreuil
Couronne 80 Fleet flagship
Palmier 74
Indien 64
Actionnaire 64

Blue Squadron[7]

Ship Name Guns Commander Notes
Intrépide 74
Triton 64
Magnifique 74
Robuste 74 Chevalier François-Joseph Paul de Grasse (Comte de Grasse) Squadron flagship
Sphinx 64
Artésien 64 Charles Sochet (Seigneur Des Touches)
Hercule 74 Claude-Marguerite François Renart de Fuchsamberg (3rd Marquis d'Amblimont)


Ship Name Guns Commander Notes
Dauphin Royal 74


  1. ^ Jaques p.639
  2. ^ Sweetman p.146
  3. ^ Botta p.57
  4. ^ a b c Hannay 1911, p. 686.
  5. ^ Harrison, Simon. "Battle of Martinique, 17th April 1780". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  6. ^ Harrison, Simon. "Battle of Martinique, 17th April 1780". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  7. ^ Harrison, Simon. "Battle of Martinique, 17th April 1780". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  8. ^ Harrison, Simon. "Battle of Martinique, 17th April 1780". Retrieved 1 June 2016.