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This was the second in a series of three actions between the British under Vice-Admiral Vice-Admiral George Pocock and the French Admiral Comte d'Ache in the Indian Ocean. The other actions were Cuddalore and Pondicherry.
The French squadron, excepting Le Zodiaque, belonged to the French Compagnie des Indies and were not French naval vessels.
|French Squadron, Anne Antoine d'Aché (Comte d'Aché de Serquigny) (1701-1780)|
|Name : Le Zodiaque (74)||Jacques-Antoine de Gotho||Fleet Flagship|
|Name : Le Comte de Provence (68)||Jean-Jacques de La Chaise|
|Name : Le Duc de Bourgogne (54)||Jean-Baptiste d’Après de Mannevillette|
|Name : Le Vengeur (64)||Jean Baptiste Christy (Seigneur de la Pallière) (1719-1787)|
|Name : Le Duc d'Orléans (54)||Jean-François de Surville|
|Name : Le Saint Louis (54)||Louis de Joannis|
|Name : Le Moras (60)||Louis-Toussaint de Becdelièvre-Du Bouexié|
|Name : Le Condé (50)||Jacques Kerlero de Rosbo|
|Name : La Diligente (26)||Marc-Joseph Macé Marion du Fresne (1724-1772)|
|British Squadron, George Pocock (1705/6-1792)|
|Name : Elizabeth (64)||Richard Kempenfelt (1715-1782)||Squadron Flagship|
|Name : Yarmouth (64)||John Harrison (c.1720-1791)||Fleet Flagship|
|Name : Tiger (60)||Thomas Latham (c.1720-1762)|
|Name : Weymouth (60)||John Stukley Somerset (d.1805)|
|Name : Cumberland (66)|
|Name : Salisbury (50)||William Brereton (1728-1800)|
|Name : Newcastle (50)|
|Name : Queenborough (24)||Digby Dent (1739-1817)||Not in the line|
|Name : Protector (44)||Storeship, not in the line|
At daylight on the 2nd, the enemy was not to be seen. In the evening, however, four sails were sighted inshore to the north-west; and on the 3rd, at 5 A.M., the British sighted the French fleet off Negapatam, about three miles to windward, formed in line of battle ahead, with the starboard tacks on board.
Pocock also formed his line of battle ahead on the starboard tack, and stood towards the French; and, seeing that the Comte de Provence, 74, led their van, he ordered the Elizabeth, 64, to take the place of the Tiger, 60, an inferior ship, as the leader of his own line. At 11 A.M., the wind dying away, the British were becalmed; though the enemy still had a light breeze from off the land, and, with it, stood on, their line stretching from east to west. On that course the French passed at right angles so close to the rear of the British that they might almost have cut off the Cumberland and Newcastle, the sternmost ships. At noon a sea breeze sprang up, and gave Pocock the weather-gage. Both fleets thereupon formed line afresh; and at 12.20 P.M. Pocock signalled to bear down and engage. The Elizabeth and Comte de Provence began the action; but, the latter's mizzen catching fire, she had to quit the line and cut away the mast. The French charge Pocock with throwing inflammables on board of them; but the Vice-Admiral does not seem to have taken any special measures for setting his opponents on fire, though certainly in this battle they were unusually unfortunate in that respect. The Elizabeth's next opponent was the Duc de Bourgogne, which, being hardly pressed, would have been assisted by the Zodiaque, had not the latter had her wheel carried away by a shot from the Yarmouth, her first antagonist. To repair it, she went under the lee of the Duc d' Orleans; but, as soon as she returned to the line, one of her lower-deck guns burst, and a fire broke out near her powder room. In the consequent confusion, her new steering gear gave way, so causing the ship to fall on board the Due d' Orleans; and, while the two ships were entangled together, both were heavily cannonaded with impunity by the Yarmouth and Tiger. By that time the Conde and Moras had been driven out of the line; and, at 2.8 P.M., the Zodiaque being free, M. d'Ache bore away. He was followed in about a quarter of an hour by the rest of his ships.
Pocock signalled for closer action; and the retiring enemy was badly mauled as he went off under all possible sail. The signal for a general chase followed; whereupon the French cut away the boats which most of them had towing astern; and crowded to the N.N.W. A running fight was maintained till about 3 P.M., when the French were out of range. Pocock, however, pursued until dark, and, at about 8 P.M., anchored three miles off Carical, while the French pursued their course to Pondicherry.
The fight, considering its indecisive character, was a very bloody one, especially on the side of the French, who lost 250 killed and 600 wounded. The Zodiaque alone lost 183 killed or dangerously wounded. On the British side, however, only 31 were killed and 166 wounded. Both d'Ache and Pocock received slight injuries; and Commodore Stevens had a musket wound in his shoulder. Aloft the British suffered more than the French; and, had the weather not been fine, many of them must have lost their masts.