Battle of Algeciras Bay

6th July 1801
Part of : The French Revolutionary Wars (1793 - 1802)
Previous action : Speedy vs Gamo 6th May 1801
Next action : The Gut of Gibraltar 12th July 1801

 

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

 
British Squadron, Sir James Saumarez (Baronet )
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Caesar (80) 80 Fleet Flagship 9 killed, 33 wounded or missing
Pompee (80) 80 15 killed, 69 wounded
Spencer (74) 74 6 killed, 27 wounded
Venerable (74) 74 8 killed, 25 wounded
Hannibal (74) 74 75 killed, 66 wounded or missing Captured
Audacious (74) 74 8 killed, 32 wounded
 

République française

 
French Squadron, Charles Alexandre Léon Durand de Linois (Comte de Linois)
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Formidable (84) 84 †Fleet Flagship CO Killed
L'Indomptable (84) 84 † CO Killed
Desaix (74) 74 
La Muiron (44) 44 
 

Notes on Action


Description of the ActionTRN5

At 8 A.M. the Caesar signalled to prepare for battle, and to be ready to anchor by the stern, and bore away for the strait with a good breeze from N.W., although the Superb and Pasley, which were just visible in the N.W., were at that time becalmed. The breeze soon also failed the main body, which, however, was carried to the eastward by the current, and was soon out of sight not only of the Superb and Pasley but also of the Thames. These three vessels, having been subsequently informed by an American ship that Linois had left Algeciras with but three sail of the line, concluded that they would not regain Saumarez in time to be of use, and that in any case their services would be superfluous. They therefore returned to their station off Cadiz. Light airs from the W.N.W. and more calms succeeded one another until about 3 A.M. on July 6th, when, there being again some breeze, the rest of the squadron, which had been joined by the Plymouth, 10, lugger, from Gibraltar, crowded sail. Saumarez had already issued a memorandum prescribing the course to be pursued by his command.



" If the Rear-Admiral," he directed, "finds the enemy's ships in a situation to be attacked, the following is to be the order in which it is to be executed:



Venerable: To lead into the bay, and pass the enemy's ships without coming to anchor


Pompee: To anchor abreast of the inner ship


Audacious, Caesar, Suberb and Hannibal To anchor abreast of the enemy's ships and batteries.



"The boats of the different ships to be lowered down and armed in readiness to act where required."



The Venerable had been chosen to lead because of the local knowledge of her Captain. At 7 A.M. she opened Cabareta Point, and reported that she saw the French, who were then occupied in warping towards the batteries. The Caesar at once signalled to engage the enemy in succession upon arriving up with him.



Linois moored his ships in from nine to twelve fathoms, and with intervals of about five hundred yards, in the positions shown in the plan. The southern end of his line was covered by a battery of seven long 18 and 24-prs. on Isla Verde: its northern end, by five long 18-prs. in the battery of Santiago. There were also guns on shore in Fort Santa Garcia, about a mile and a half south of the anchorage, and in the towers of La Villa Vieja and Almirante. Further protection was afforded by the presence in the shallow of fourteen heavy Spanish gunboats, of which three lay S.W. of Isla Verde, four off Santiago, and seven to the northward of Almirante. But the French had not warped as far in as they desired when the British attacked.





The partial and failing nature of the breeze prevented the ships from getting into action in the order which had been assigned to them. The Pompee, having been distantly fired at while rounding Cabareta Point at 7.50 A.M., passed close to Santa Garcia and Isla Verde, and, receiving in succession the broadsides of the Muiron, Indomptable, Desaix, and Formidable, to the two latter of which she replied, dropped her anchor at 8.45 A.M. near the Formidable's starboard bow, so near, indeed, that she brought up inside the French ship's anchor-buoy. About five minutes later, the Audacious, baffled by the wind, anchored abreast of, but not so close to, the Indomptable; and at 8.55 A.M., the Venerable, similarly hindered, anchored still further from the Desaix and from the starboard quarter of the Formidable. As soon as these ships had clewed up their sails, they began a furious action, in the course of which the Formidable, if not the other French ships also, continued to warp slowly shorewards. This withdrawal of the Formidable proved to be a fortunate thing for the Pompee; for at about 9.15 that ship was so swung by the current that her head lay towards the French flagship's broadside; and, had the two vessels then been as close to one another as they were when the Pompee anchored, the latter might have been raked with frightful results. It was at that time that the Caesar, having anchored ahead of the Audacious, sprang her port broadside upon the Desaix. At 9.20, the Hannibal also got up, and anchored on the Caesar's starboard bow; but the Spencer, having fallen too far to leeward, and being, in addition, as much baffled as her consorts, failed to approach near enough to exert much effect upon the French ships, though she was still near enough to suffer from the fire of the Spanish batteries.



Until after 10 A.M. the cannonade on both sides was extremely heavy, and very little intermittent, although at one time the Formidable had been for a short space nearly silent, and although, owing to the manner in which she had swung, the Pompee was able to use only her foremost guns. It was, probably, with a view to relieving the Pompee that Saumarez, at about 10.12 A.M., ordered the Hannibal to "go and rake the French admiral."



Captain Ferris instantly cut his cable and made sail to the northward with such light wind as there was. When he dared proceed no further for fear of the shoals, he tacked so as to place himself between the Formidable and the shore; but at 11 P.M., when she was nearly abreast of the Almirante Tower, the Hannibal grounded. Some of her foremost larboard guns bore upon the French flagship, some of her starboard foremost ones upon the Almirante Tower and the battery of Santiago, and yet others upon the Spanish gunboats; and she opened as brisk a fire as possible upon every enemy whom she could reach, while she tried by every conceivable means to get herself off. As soon as she had made known her unfortunate situation, boats were sent to her by the Caesar and the Venerable. The Caesar's boat was sunk alongside by a round shot; and, as the men were of no use to him, Captain Ferris sent them all back.



Apprehensive lest other British ships might endeavour, with better success, to get between his line and the shore, and encouraged by the fact that, soon after the Hannibal had grounded, a light and puffy breeze sprang up from the north-east, Linois, at about 11.15 A.M., signalled to his vessels to cut their cables and to allow themselves to run ashore. He was obeyed, but, owing to the nature of the wind, his ships were long getting round. In the meantime Linois seems to have repented of his decision so far as his own ship was concerned, for, instead of running ashore, the Formidable brought up again, when she had but a few inches of water under her bottom. The Desaix and Indomptable, however, grounded, the one in front of Algeciras, and the other north-east of Isla Verde.



The movements of the French left the British ships at too great a distance to use their guns with full effect. Saumarez, therefore, ordered the cables to be cut, and set the example of endeavouring to stand into a position more favourable for continuing the action; but the untrustworthiness of the breeze, the unfavourable current, and the rocks and shoals to leeward, finally confounded the effort; and, in the meantime, it was found necessary to direct the boats of the squadron to tow out the Pompee, the situation of which had become precarious. Nearly all such boats as were not thus employed had been destroyed. In consequence, the Rear-Admiral was also forced to forego an intention of sending his Marines to storm the island battery, which had been reinforced by the French; and at 1.35 P.M. l he signalled to cease action, and withdrew his five un-compromised ships, leaving the Hannibal, partially dismasted, shattered, silent, and aground, but still with her flag flying.



Captain Ferris, when he saw that to prolong an active resistance would be only to needlessly sacrifice his people, ordered firing to cease and directed his officers and men to shelter themselves from the enemy's shot. At about 2 P.M., realising that he could hope no more to save his ship, he hauled down his colours. A little while afterwards these colours were rehoisted upside down, and, in consequence, the Calpe, which had approached from the direction of Gibraltar, sent a boat to the Hannibal's assistance. The French had by that time taken possession; and the boat's crew was therefore made prisoners.



The losses on both sides were very heavy. The Caesar had 9 killed and 33 wounded or missing; the Pompee, 15 killed and 69 wounded; the Spencer, 6 killed and 27 wounded; the Venerable, 8 killed and 25 wounded; the Audacious, 8 killed and 32 wounded; and the Hannibal, 75 killed and 66 wounded or missing: total 373 killed, wounded, and missing, besides the prisoners taken with the Hannibal. The officers killed were: Masters William Grave (Casar), and Kobert Koxburgh (Pompee); Midshipmen Steward (Pompee), and William Gibbons (Venerable); Captain's Clerk David Lindsey (Hannibal); and Lieutenant of Marines James D. Williams (Hannibal). Among the officers wounded were Lieuts. Richard Cheeseman, Arthur Stapledon, and Thomas Innes (Pompee), and John Turner (Hannibal). The Hannibal had her fore and mainmasts shot away and many of her guns disabled; the Pompee had not a mast, yard, shroud, rope, or sail uninjured; the Caesar had all her masts and yards more or less wounded, and several shot in her hull; but the remaining British vessels had received no very serious injuries. Captain Ferris, after his return to England, was tried, with his officers and ship's company, for the loss of the Hannibal, and was most honourably acquitted. The French lost, according to their own reports, 306 killed, and 280 wounded, among the former being Captains Moncousu and Laindet Lalonde. Their ships were much damaged as well aloft as in their hulls; and of the Spanish gunboats five had been driven ashore or sunk.



Sources

IDDescriptionAuthorType
TRN5 The Royal Navy : a history from the earliest times to the present Vol VWilliam Laid ClowesDigital Book

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