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Battle of Minorca

20th May 1756
Part of : Seven Years' War (1756/05/17 - 1763/02/10)
Previous action : Action of 17th May 1756 17.5.1756
Next action : Dispatch vs Unknown Privateer 7.10.1756

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.

 

Great Britain

 
British Fleet,
The Hon. John ByngBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1718-1757
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Defiance (60) 1744-1766
British 60 Gun
4th Rate Ship of the Line
Thomas AndrewsBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1741-1755
,
Patrick BairdBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1738-1761
14 killed, 15 Wounded CO Killed
Portland (50) 1744-1763
British 50 Gun
4th Rate Ship of the Line
Patrick BairdBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1738-1761
6 killed, 20 wounded
Lancaster (66) 1749-1773
British 66 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
George EdgcumbeBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1732-1782
1 killed, 14 wounded
Buckingham (68) 1751-1779
British 68 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
1777 Renamed "Grampus"
Michael EverittBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1732-1776
Squadron Flagship 3 killed, 7 wounded
Captain (64) 1743-1777
British 64 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
1777 Renamed "Buffalo"
Charles CatfordBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1714-1756
6 killed, 30 wounded
Intrepid (64) 1747-1765
British 64 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
James YoungBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1737-1778
9 killed, 36 wounded
Revenge (64) 1742-1787
British 64 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
Frederick CornewallBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1718-1779
Princess Louisa (60) 1744-1766
British 60 Gun
4th Rate Ship of the Line
Thomas NoelBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1731-1756
3 killed, 13 wounded CO Killed
Trident (64) 1747-1763
British 64 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
Philip DurellBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1722-1769
Ramillies (90) 1749-1760
British 90 Gun
2nd Rate Ship of the Line
Arthur GardinerBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1730-1758
Fleet Flagship no casualties
Culloden (74) 1747-1770
British 74 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
Henry WardBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1727-1757
Kingston (60) 1740-1762
British 60 Gun
4th Rate Ship of the Line
William ParryBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1728-1778
 
British Frigates
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Fortune (14) 1746-1770
British 14 Gun
Unrated Sloop
Jervis MaplesdenBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1721-1727
Deptford (50) 1732-1767
British 50 Gun
4th Rate Ship of the Line
John AmherstBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1730-1778
Chesterfield (44) 1745-1762
British 44 Gun
5th Rate Ship
Edwin CarterBritish
Merchant Sailor
Service 1747-1761
,
William LloydBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1740-1795
Dolphin (24) 1751-1777
British 24 Gun
6th Rate Ship
Carr ScropeBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1733-1762
Experiment (24) 1740-1763
British 24 Gun
6th Rate Ship
James GilchristBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1726-1759
Phoenix (24) 1743-1762
British 24 Gun
6th Rate Frigate
John KnightBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1727-1766
 

Royaume de France

 
French Fleet,
Ship NameCommanderNotes
L'Orphee (64) 1749-1758
French 64 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
Pierre-Antoine de Raymondis d'ÉouxFrench
Naval Sailor
Service 1722
10 killed, 0 wounded?
L'Hippopotame (50) 1749-1784
French 50 Gun
4th Rate Ship of the Line
1777 Renamed "Fier Rodrigue"
Henri II de RochemoreFrench
Naval Sailor
Service 1718-1776
2 killed, 10 wounded
Le Redoutable (74) 1752-1759
French 74 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
Pierre-André de Glandevès du CastelletFrench
Naval Sailor
Service 1702-1764
Squadron Flagship 3 wounded
Le Sage (64) 1751-1768
French 64 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
DurevestFrench
Naval Sailor
8 wounded
Le Guerrier (74) 1753-1798
French 74 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
René Villars de la Brosse-RaquinFrench
Naval Sailor
Service 1718
13 wounded
Le Fier (50) 1745-1782
French 50 Gun
4th Rate Ship of the Line
d'HervilleFrench
Naval Sailor
Service 1759
4 wounded
Le Foudroyant (80) 1750-1758
French 80 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
 Fleet Flagship 2 killed, 10 wounded
Le Téméraire (74) 1749-1759
French 74 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
15 wounded
Le Content (64) 1747-1793
French 64 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
5 killed, 19 wounded
Le Lion (64) 1751-1785
French 64 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
2 killed, 7 wounded
La Couronne (74) 1749-1766
French 74 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
 Squadron Flagship 3 wounded
Le Triton (64) 1747-1794
French 64 Gun
3rd Rate Ship of the Line
Antoine MercierFrench
Naval Sailor
Service 1729-1768
5 killed, 14 wounded
 
French Frigates
Ship NameCommanderNotes
La Junon (44) 1747-1757
French 44 Gun
5th Rate Demi-Batterie
 
La Rose (30) 1752-1758
French 30 Gun
5th Rate Frégate-Vaisseau de 2ème Ordre (Demi-Batterie)
 
La Gracieuse (26) 1750-1781
French 26 Gun
6th Rate Frigate
de MarquisanFrench
Naval Sailor
Service 1756
La Topaze (26) 1750-1775
French 26 Gun
6th Rate Frigate
 
La Nymphe (24) 1752-1757
French 24 Gun
6th Rate Frigate
 
 

Notes on Action


DescriptionTRN3

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
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 tight. 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. The justice of this conclusion depends upon the view that is taken of the true end of naval war."

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 :

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

    1. Whether an attack by the British fleet in its present state upon that of the French would nut endanger Gibraltar, and expose the trade in the Mediterranean to great hazards? Resolved: It would.

 

    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."




Previous comments on this page

Posted by Cy on Sunday 3rd of September 2017 21:36

Unfortunately there is no current handling of flag officer on ships at an action, only as commanders of divisions within a fleet or squadron.


Posted by TONY WILLOUGHBY on Sunday 3rd of September 2017 19:25

elsewhere you correctly point out that Temple West was the flag officer on the Buckingham

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