Battle of Quiberon Bay

Bataille des Cardinaux

20th November 1759
Fought at : Quiberon Bay
Part of : Seven Years' War (1756/05/17 - 1763/02/10)
Previous action : Fortune vs Hebe 19th November 1759
Next action : Action of 28 February 1760 28th February 1760

With the hope of being able to effect something against Commodore Duff, de Conflans put to sea on November 14th. Hawke on the same day got under way from Torbay, and on the 15th was informed by Captain William M'Cleverty, of the Gibraltar (the same who three months earlier had warned Boscawen of the approach of M. de La Clue), that the Brest fleet had sailed, and that it had been seen twenty-four leagues N.W. of Belle Isle, steering S.E. Hawke, with strategical intuition, made for Quiberon Bay with all possible sail, rightly judging that the French would take advantage of their brief liberty in order to make for that neighbourhood, so as to free the transports which were blockaded by Duff in the Morbihan. But he was unable to proceed with the speed he desired. Wind from the S. by E. and S. drove him considerably to the westward and delayed him. On the 19th, however, the wind became fair; and, on that day, Hawke ordered the frigates Maidstone and Coventry ahead of the fleet, one on the starboard and the other 011 the larboard bow. Early in the morning of the 20th he also ordered the Magnanime ahead to make the land.

The contrary wind which had baffled Hawke also retarded de Conflans, and was instrumental in saving Duff, who received his first news that the Brest fleet had put to sea by Captain Gamaliel Nightingale, of the Vengeance, on the morning of the 20th. Nightingale on entering the bay had fired guns to alarm the Commodore. Duff realised at once the danger that was upon him, and immediately made the signal for his ships to cut their cables. In a few minutes they were all under way. He attempted to take them out to sea round the north end of Belle Isle, but, the wind shifting, the Belliqueux, 64, Captain Thomas Saumarez, was the only one which escaped by that passage. She was not able to rejoin until three days after the battle. Duff then tried to escape by the south end of the island and, in doing so, he was observed by de Conflans, who made the signal to chase. The Chatham, 50, which sailed very badly, was almost within gunshot of a French seventy-four, when a man on the main-top-gallant yard of the Eochester hailed that he saw a sail, and, presently, that he saw a fleet. The Commodore quickly made out what the fleet was, and at once ordered his little squadron to tack and chase the enemy. At first the French were puzzled by this change of policy; but, as soon as de Conflans discovered the cause, he recalled his chasers ; and Duff's squadron was thus enabled in the course of the day to join Sir Edward Hawke.

At about 8.30 A.M. the Maidstone signalled that she had sighted a fleet; and at 9.45 the Magnanime announced that the strangers were enemies. The French were at that time relinquishing the chase of the Commodore's squadron, and Belle Isle bore E. by N. 1/4 N. Hawke instantly made the signal for a line of battle abreast, in order to draw up his ships ; and he followed it soon afterwards with the signal for the seven ships which were nearest the enemy to chase, draw into line of battle ahead of him, and endeavour to arrest the French until the remainder of the fleet could get up and bring about a general engagement.


Royaume de France - Chevalier Hubert de Brienne (Comte de Conflans)

French Vanguard, Joseph de Bauffremont
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Le Tonnant (80) 80Antoine de Marges de Saint-VictoretSquadron Flagship
L'Intrépide (74) 74Chevalier Charles Le Mercerel de Chasteloger
Le Thésée (74) 74 Guy-François de Coëtnempren (Comte de Kersaint) Sunk
Le Northumberland (64) 64 Vincent-Jean de Bellingant (Comte de Bellingant)
Le Superbe (74) 74Jean-Pierre-René-Séraphin du Tertre de Montalais Sunk
L'Éveillé (64) 64 Pierre-Bernardin Thierry (Marquis de La Prévalaye)
Brillant (64) 64 Louis-Jean de Kerémar (Seigneur de Boischâteau)
French Main Body, Joseph-Marie Budes (Seigneur de Guébriant)
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Soleil Royal (80) 80Paul Osée Bidé de ChézacFleet Flagship Sunk
L'Orient (80) 80Alain Nogérée de la FilièreSquadron Flagship
Le Glorieux (74) 74René Villars de la Brosse-Raquin
Robuste (74) 74Fragnier de Vienne
Le Dauphin Royal (74) 74 André d’Urtubie (Chevalier d’Urtubie Fagosse)
Dragon (64) 64 Louis-Charles Levassor (Comte de la Touche)
Solitaire (64) 64Louis-Vincent de Langle
French Rearguard, Louis de Saint-André du Verger
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Le Formidable (80) 80Louis de Saint-André du VergerSquadron Flagship Captured
Le Magnifique (74) 74Sébastien-François Bigot de Morogues
Le Héros (74) 74 de Sansay Sunk
Le Juste (74) 70François de Saint-Aloüarn Sunk
L'Inflexible (64) 64Alexandre Tancrède de Caumont d'Adde
Le Sphinx (64) 64 de Gouyon
Le Bizarre (64) 64Louis-Armand-Constantin de Rohan
French Frigates
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
L'Hébé (34) 34Lagadec Mesedern de Kerloury
La Vestale (30) 30 de Montfiquet
L'Aigrette (30) 30 de Longueville
La Calypso (16) 16Paul Alexandre du Bois-Berthelot
Prince Noir (6) 6Pierre-Joseph Kergariou de Roscouet

Great Britain - Sir Edward Hawke

Van Division, Sir Charles Hardy
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Warspite (74) 74Charles Holmes, Sir John Bentley
Kingston (60) 60James Shirley
Swiftsure (68) 68Sir Thomas Stanhope
Duke (90) 90Samuel Graves
Union (90) 90Thomas EvansSquadron Flagship
Hercules (74) 74William Fortescue
Intrepid (64) 60Jervis Maplesden
Montagu (60) 60Joshua Rowley
Main Division, Sir Edward Hawke
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Revenge (70) 64John Storr
Dorsetshire (68) 68Peter Denis
Torbay (90) 74Augustus Keppel
Royal George (100) 100Alexander Arthur Hood, John CampbellFleet Flagship
Magnanime (74) 74Lord Richard Howe (4th Viscount Howe)
Burford (68) 68James Gambier
Chichester (68) 68William Saltern Willett
Rear Division
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Dunkirk (60) 60Robert Digby
Temple (68) 68Washington Shirley
Namur (90) 90Matthew Buckle
Mars (74) 74James Young
Resolution (74) 74Henry Speke Sunk Wrecked on Le Four shoal
Essex (70) 64Lord Richard Howe (4th Viscount Howe), Lucius O'Brien Sunk Wrecked on Le Four shoal
Defiance (58) 60Patrick Baird, James Gambier, William Williamson, Patrick Baird
Hero (74) 74George Edgcumbe
Independant Squadron, Robert Duff
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Portland (50) 50Marriot Arbuthnot
Rochester (50) 50Robert Duff, Robert Duff
Falkland (50) 50Francis William Drake
Chatham (50) 50John Lockhart
British Frigates
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Venus (36) 36Thomas Harrison
Minerva (32) 32Alexander Arthur Hood
Sapphire (32) 32John Strachan
Aeolus (32) 32John Elliot
Vengeance (28) 28Gamaliel Nightingale
Coventry (28) 28Francis Burslem
Maidstone (28) 28Dudley Digges
Thunder (8) 8Archibald Millar
Pluto (8) 8James Johnston
Proserpine (8) 8Robert Keeler

Notes on Action

The ActionTRN3

Upon realising that they were in the presence of the British, the enemy fell into some confusion, but, in the course of a short time, seemed to arrive at a determination to fight, and endeavoured to form a line. While they were executing this manoeuvre, the British approached very rapidly, the wind being then nearly  west. De Conflans then suddenly altered his mind, and, instead of waiting to engage, made off. He was near his own coasts, with the difficulties and dangers of which he was fully acquainted and presumably knew well how to avoid, while the British were on a lee shore, with which they were unfamiliar. The weather was tempestuous and was rapidly growing worse; and the November day would soon end. De Conflans therefore endeavoured to keep his fleet together, and steered right before the wind for the land, which was not more than about twelve miles distant.

The wind, as the short afternoon drew to its close, was variable between N.W. and W.N.W., and blew in heavy squalls. Yet both fleets crowded sail, the French to escape, and the British to overtake them. At 2 P.M. the enemy began to fire at the leading ships of the British fleet ; and, half-an-hour later, when the Warspite and Dorsetshire were close up with the enemy's rear, Hawke made the signal to engage. The British fleet was then to the south of Belle Île. A little later the Revenge, Magnanime, Torbay, Montagu, Resolution, Swiftsure and Defiance got into action, and hotly engaged the French rear. Yet this fact did not prevent the French admiral, who was in the van, from leading round the Cardinals. The Formidable, carrying the flag of Rear-Admiral du Verger, was attacked by the Resolution, and, in addition, received a broadside or two from every other British ship that passed her; and, having been severely treated, she struck about 4 o'clock. The loss on board of her was terrible, M. du Verger and upwards of two hundred others being killed. The Formidable was taken possession of by the Resolution. In the meantime, the ships of the British rear were straining to get into action. The Thésée, Captain de Kersaint was hotly engaged by the Magnanime, but was relieved by the disablement of the British ship, which,being fouled by one of her consorts, fell astern. Very soon afterwards the Thésée as tackled by the Torbay; and, in the contest which resulted, she capsized and foundered, chiefly owing to the fact that her captain, from motives of self-pride, persisted in fighting his lower deck guns, regardless of the stormy state of the weather. All her crew of about eight hundred men, except twenty, were lost. The Torbay, owing to similar causes, was at one time in danger of a
like fate; but Captain Keppel closed his ports in time, and saved her. Another French ship, the Superbe, foundered at about the same time.

Owing to the gale, the lee shore, and the gathering darkness, there was at that time great confusion ; and it is almost impossible to tell exactly what happened. But it would appear that after having engaged the Thésée, and having been fouled first by the Warspite and then by the Montagu, Lord Howe, in the Magnanime, observed the French Héros somewhat disabled to leeward, and, bearing down and ranging alongside, quickly obliged her to strike. The Héros anchored, but, owing to the  weather, no boat could be sent to take possession of her and, later, her captain ran her ashore and landed his crew. As night fell, the enemy's fleet divided part, under M. de Bauffremont, the vice-admiral, making to the southward within the Four Bank, and probably designing to attract the British into danger.

But Hawke would not be tempted to pursue them. Night was come; islands, rocks, and shoals were all around; no pilots were on board; the charts were indifferent, and the weather was terrible. Hawke, therefore, made the signal to anchor, and came to in fifteen fathoms of water, the Isle de Dumet bearing E. by N. two or three miles distant, the Cardinals W. 1/2 S., and the steeples of Le Croisie S.E., as was discovered in the morning. Unfortunately, the signal was not taken in, and, consequently, was not obeyed, by many ships of the British fleet. According to the code then in use, the signal to anchor by night was made by firing two guns from the flagship, without using lights or any other indications to distinguish the particular purpose for which the guns were fired. At a moment when there was still a certain amount of firing going on on all sides, the discharge of two guns from the flagship could of course not be recognised as a signal except hy the few vessels which chanced to be so near the Admiral as to be aware that he had anchored. The others either stood out to sea or anchored, as prudence suggested. Had the French only known the dangerous position in which the unsatisfactory nature of the signal book had left their enemy during that stormy night, they might, in the  morning of the 21st, have attacked the small body remaining at anchor near Hawke, and perhaps have won a decided and complete victory by the mere strength of superior forces.

The night was dark, and even more boisterous than the evening had been ; but, though guns of distress were heard from all sides, it was not possible to send assistance to anyone. On the morning of the 21st the Resolution was seen to be ashore, and the French Héros was on the Four Bank. De Conflans flagship, the Soleil Royal, in the obscurity overnight, had come to anchor in the very midst of the British; and, when at daylight she perceived her situation, she slipped her cable and tried to get away, but presently went ashore near the town of Le Croisie. No sooner was she observed to be in motion than Hawke signalled the Essex to slip and pursue her; but in the ardour of the chase the Essex unfortunately got on the Four Bank and was also wrecked. It was seen that, while the French vice-admiral had gone to the southward with part of the fleet, the remainder had stood to the N. and was engaged in the mouth of the river Vilaine in getting out guns, stores, etc., and endeavouring to find a haven up the river. On the 21st and 22nd, by taking advantage of the flood tide and of what wind there was under the land, all of them got into the river, whence several of them could never be brought out again. On the 22nd Hawke ordered the Soleil Royal and Héros to be set on fire. The French, however, anticipated him by themselves burning the former.



TRN3 The Royal Navy : a history from the earliest times to the present Vol IIIWilliam Laid ClowesDigital Book

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