Battle of St. Lucia

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The Battle of St. Lucia or the Battle of the Cul de Sac was a naval battle fought off the island of St. Lucia in the West Indies during the American Revolutionary War on 15 December 1778, between the British Royal Navy and the French Navy.[2]

Background[edit]

On 7 September 1778, the French governor of Martinique, the marquis de Bouillé, surprised and captured the British island of Dominica, on 4 November, French Admiral Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector. comte d'Estaing sailed for the West Indies from the port of Boston. On that same day, Commodore William Hotham was dispatched from Sandy Hook, New York, to reinforce the British fleet in the West Indies. Hotham sailed with "five men of war, a bomb vessel, some frigates, and a large convoy."[3] The convoy Hotham was escorting consisted of 59 transports carrying 5,000 British soldiers under Major General Grant,[4] the French fleet was blown off course by a violent storm, preventing it from arriving in the Caribbean ahead of the British. Admiral Samuel Barrington, the British naval commander stationed on the Leeward Islands, joined the newly arrived Commodore Hotham on 10 December at the island of Barbados. Grant's men were not permitted to disembark and spent the next several days aboard their transports. Barrington and Hotham sailed for the island of St. Lucia on the morning of 12 December.[5]

On the evening of 13 December and morning of 14 December, Major General James Grant,[6] supported by additional troops under Brigadier General William Medows[7] and Brigadier General Robert Prescott,[8] landed at Grand Cul de Sac, St. Lucia. Grant and Prescott took control of the high ground around the bay, while Medows continued on and took Vigie the following morning (14 December), on 14 December the French fleet under d’Estaing arrived, forcing Admiral Barrington to move his ships into line of battle and forgo his plan of moving the transports into Carénage Bay.[3] Admiral Barrington had the following ships at his disposal:

Ship[5] Rate Guns Commander
HMS Prince of Wales Third rate 74 Admiral Samuel Barrington
Captain Benjamin Hill
HMS Boyne Third rate 70 Captain Herbert Sawyer
HMS Preston Fourth rate 50 Commodore William Hotham
Captain Samuel Uppleby
HMS St Albans Third rate 64 Captain Richard Onslow
HMS Nonsuch Third rate 64 Captain Walter Griffith
HMS Centurion Fourth rate 50 Captain Richard Braithwaite
HMS Isis Fourth rate 50 Captain John Raynor
HMS Venus Fifth rate 36 Captain James Ferguson
HMS Aurora Sixth rate 28 Captain James Cumming
HMS Ariadne Sixth rate 20 Captain Thomas Pringle

Admiral d'Estaing's fleet was composed of the following ships:

Ship[9] Guns Class Commander Officers Volunteers Crew Total
Languedoc 80 Ship of the Line Admiral d'Estaing; Boulainvilliers 38 777 875
Tonnant 80 Ship of the Line Breugnon, chef; Bruyères, commandant 22 685 707
César 74 Ship of the Line Broves, chef; Raymondis, commandant 713 793
Zélé 74 Ship of the Line Barras 17 14 486 507
Hector 74 Ship of the Line Moriès
Guerrier 74 Ship of the Line Bougainville 22 400 422
Marseillais 74 Ship of the Line La Poype-Vertrieux 19 3 584 606
Protecteur 74 Ship of the Line Apchon 14 391 405
Vaillant 64 Ship of the Line Chabert 542
Provence 64 Ship of the Line Champorcin 14 408 422
Fantasque 64 Ship of the Line Suffren 13 419 432
Sagittaire 50 Ship of the Line Rioms
Chimère 32 Frigate Saint-Cézaire 15 225 240
Engageante 26 Frigate Gras Préville
Alcmène 26 Frigate Bonneval 11 196 207
Aimable 26 Frigate Saint-Eulalie 9 231 240

Naval engagement[edit]

Admiral Barrington was alerted to the presence of the French fleet by the frigate Ariadne and organised his line of battle so that Isis and his three frigates (Venus, Aurora, and Ariadne) were close to shore guarding the windward approach, and he placed his flagship, Prince of Wales, toward the leeward.[1] Barrington in a defensive strategy placed his transports inside the bay but behind his battle line which took him the entire evening of 14 December. By 1100 hours the next day, most of the transports had been safely tucked behind his line.[4]

At 1100 hours 15 December Admiral d’Estaing approached St. Lucia with ten ships of the line, and was fired on by one of the shore batteries. D’Estaing then moved to engage Barrington from the rear, and a "warm conflict" raged between the two fleets, with the British supported by two shore batteries.[1] D’Estaing was repulsed but succeeded in reforming his line of battle, at 1600 hours d’Estaing renewed his assault by attacking Barrington’s centre with twelve ships of the line. Again, heavy fire was exchanged and the French were eventually repulsed for a second time.[10]

Outcome[edit]

On 16 December Admiral d’Estaing appeared to be preparing for a third assault against Admiral Barrington’s line, but then sailed away towards the windward,[1] on the evening of 16 December d’Estaing anchored in Gros Islet Bay, where he landed 7,000 troops for an assault on the British lines at La Vigie. Three assaults were made but British control of the high ground meant each was repulsed, the French troops were re-embarked, and when d'Estaing's fleet left on 29 December, the island surrendered.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Navies and the American Revolution, 1775−1783. Robert Gardiner, ed. Chatham Publishing, 1997, p.88-91. ISBN 1-55750-623-X
  2. ^ Orr, Tamra. St. Lucia. Marshall Cavendish, 2008; pp. 31. ISBN 978-0-7614-2569-4.
  3. ^ a b Ekins, Charles. The Naval Battles of Great Britain: From the Accession of the Illustrious House of Hanover to the Throne to the Battle of Navarin. Baldwin and Cradock, 1828; p. 91.
  4. ^ a b Ekins, p. 93.
  5. ^ a b Ekins, pp. 91–93.
  6. ^ Jaques, Tony. Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A Guide to 8,500 Battles from Antiquity Through the Twenty-first Century. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007; pp. 882. ISBN 978-0-313-33536-5.
  7. ^ Cunningham, George Godfrey. A History of England in the Lives of Englishmen. A. Fullarton, 1853; pp. 133.
  8. ^ Wilson, James Grant, and John Fiske. Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography. D. Appleton, 1900; pp. 5:109.
  9. ^ Cited Rochambeau: A Commemoration by the Congress of the United States of America. DeB. Randolph Keim, ed. Washington, D.C.: 1907; pp. 230. From "Fleet of D'Estaing: Expedition of D'Estaing, 1778-1779." Xenophon Group and Expédition Particulière Commemorative Cantonment Society. Updated: 4/13/2003. Accessed: 12/09/2008. <http://xenophongroup.com/mcjoynt/fleet01.htm>.
  10. ^ Ekins, pp. 92–93.
  11. ^ Clowes, William Laird (1996) [1900]. The Royal Navy, A History from the Earliest Times to 1900, Volume III. London: Chatham Publishing. pp. 431–432. ISBN 1-86176-012-4.