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Ambuscade vs Bayonnaise

14th December 1798
Part of : The French Revolutionary Wars (1793 - 1802)
Previous action : Capture of the Loire 16.10.1798 - 18.10.1798
Next action : Action of 4 January 1799 4.1.1799


Great Britain

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Ambuscade (32) 1773-1798
British 32 Gun
5th Rate Frigate
Henry JenkinsBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1780-1799

République Française

Ship NameCommanderNotes
La Bayonnaise (28) 1794-1803
French 28 Gun
6th Rate Corvette
Jean Baptiste Edmond RicherFrench
Naval Sailor
Service 1762-1820

Notes on Action

Description of the ActionTRN4

On December 14th occurred one of the very few actions in this war which are disgraceful to the British arms. The Ambuscade, 32, Captain Henry Jenkins, whilst cruising off the Gironde, expecting to be joined by the Stag, 32, sighted a sail approaching. No private signals were made or asked for; a discreditable degree of carelessness prevailed on board, and the men went to breakfast. Suddenly, at about 9 A.M., the stranger, having approached almost within gunshot, went about under a press of sail. She was the French corvette Bayonnaise, 24, Lieutenant J. B. E. Richer. The Ambuscade, when Captain Jenkins discovered his mistake, hurried in pursuit and towards noon was near enough to the chase to open fire. The Bayonnaise shortened sail and courted battle. The two fought for an hour, when one of the Ambuscade's 12-prs burst doing much damage to the ship and wounding eleven men. Such an incident, as a study of the minor actions proves, has a disastrous effect on the moral of the ship wherein it occurs. The only exception to this is in the case of the action between the Serapis and Bonhomme Richard. The Bayonnaise seized the opportunity of the confusion which this occurrence caused in the Ambuscade to make off. She was pursued by the Ambuscade, which came up to leeward, and shot a little ahead under a press of sail.

The French had so far suffered severely. At that juncture they determined to board. They had a much larger crew than had the Ambuscade; and serving in the Baijonnaise were thirty veteran soldiers of the Alsace regiment. The French ship ran on board the Ambuscade, which was becalmed as the French ship wore under her stem, carrying away the tiller ropes, starboard quarter-deck bulwarks, mizen shrouds and mizen-mast, and locking the wheel with her sprit-sail yard, and then dropped under the British vessel's stern, but did not clear her. The French soldiers from the Bayonnaise 's bowsprit swept the Ambuscade's deck, which was not barricaded with hammocks, with a deadly fire. In a few minutes five officers were killed or wounded in quick succession, and the command devolved upon the Purser, Mr. William Bowman Murray. An explosion of cartridges, left on the rudder-head, blew out a portion of the Ambuscade s stern, and caused panic amongst her men. Most of the British crew left their quarters. At that moment the French boarders rushed on to the Ambuscade's deck and carried it. The British crew was, according to James, an ill-disciplined one, and Captain Jenkins a most indiscreet and incompetent officer. The management of the Ambuscade left much to be desired, and, as often is the case, bad management was attended by bad luck. The two explosions, and the great weakness of the British crew, from which not less than thirty-one officers and men had been detached and placed on board a prize, must be taken into account. All the French officers except two were wounded; all the British executive officers killed or wounded. The action shows clearly that superiority of force is useless with a bad or weak captain and an ill-disciplined crew. The French may none the less be proud of their victory.

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