Battle of Minorca
|20th May 1756|
|British Fleet, John Byng|
|Defiance||60||Thomas Andrews†||14 killed, 15 Wounded|
|Portland||50||Patrick Baird||6 killed, 20 wounded|
|Lancaster||66||George Edgcumbe||1 killed, 14 wounded|
|Buckingham||68||Michael Everitt||Squadron Flagship 3 killed, 7 wounded|
|Le Captain||64||Charles Catford||6 killed, 30 wounded|
|Intrepid||64||James Young||9 killed, 36 wounded|
|Princess Louisa||60||Thomas Noel†||3 killed, 13 wounded|
|Le Trident||64||Philip Durell|
|Ramillies||90||Arthur Gardiner||Fleet Flagship no casualties|
|Phoenix||24||Augustus John Hervey|
|French Fleet, Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière|
|Orphee||64||10 killed, 0 wounded?|
|Hippopotame||50||2 killed, 10 wounded|
|Redoutable||74||Squadron Flagship 3 wounded|
|Foudroyant||80||Fleet Flagship 2 killed, 10 wounded|
|Le Téméraire||74||15 wounded|
|Le Content||64||5 killed, 19 wounded|
|Lion||64||2 killed, 7 wounded|
|Couronne||74||Squadron Flagship 3 wounded|
|Triton||64||5 killed, 14 wounded|
|Notes on Action|
|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 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. Glandevez, 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 M. de La Galissonniere, 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.
Captain Mahan's account of the action which followed may be here quoted, as it admirably summarises "The two fleets," he writes, " 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 degrees. 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
The losses (see following page ') 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 Ramillies, 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 :
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.
It was unfortunate for Byng that the first detailed news of what had happened off Minorca reached the Government through French channels. M. de La Galissonniere's dispatch cannot now be found in the Archives de la Marine in Paris, and possibly it no longer exists; but a copy of it, or a translation, reached the Secretary of the Admiralty some time before Byng's own dispatch arrived in England; and upon the former the Government took action, recalling Byng and West, and sending out Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke and Rear-Admiral Charles Saunders to supersede them. The important part of this dispatch of La Galissonniere's is as follows :
"At half-past two in the afternoon the two squadrons were in line of battle and began the engagement. The English consisted of eighteen sail, of which thirteen were of the line, and ours, of twelve sail of the line and four frigates. The action lasted almost three hours and a half, but was not general during the whole of the time. The English ships that had suffered most from our broadsides got away to the windward, out of gunshot. They continually preserved this advantage that they might keep clear of us as they pleased. After having made their greatest efforts against our rear division, which they found so close and from which they received so hot a fire that they could not break in upon it, they made up their minds to sheer off, and did not appear again during the whole of the next day, the 21st. Speaking generally, none of their ships long withstood the fire of ours. Our vessels suffered but little. They were repaired in the night, and on the following morning were fit for action." ..." Our total killed was thirty-eight, and wounded one hundred and fifteen."
|TRN3||The Royal Navy : a history from the earliest times to the present Vol III||William Laid Clowes||Digital Book|