Mars vs Hercule

21st April 1798
Part of : The French Revolutionary Wars (1793 - 1802)
Previous action : Marechel de Coburg vs Revanche 25.2.1798
Next action : Operations against Ostend 14.5.1798 - 20.5.1798


République Française

Ship NameCommanderNotes
L'Hercule (74) Louis L'Heritier (1747-1823) Captured 290 killed and wounded

Great Britain

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Mars (74) Alexander Hood (1758-1798), William Butterfield (1766-1842)30 killed, 60 wounded CO Killed

Notes on Action


On January 25th, Lord Bridport detached a division of the Channel fleet, under Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Thompson, Bart., to watch the French in the Bay of Biscay; on April 9th, he detached a smaller division, under Rear-Admiral Sir Roger Curtis, Bart., to cruise off the coast of Ireland; and, on April 12th, the Commander-in-Chief, with the main body of the fleet, left St. Helen's for Brest. On the 21st, at 11 A.M., as the fleet was standing across the Iroise on the port tack, with the wind N.E. by E., the look-out ships to windward sighted and gave chase to two sail, distant about 12 miles to the eastward. At 2 P.M., when the advanced British ships were getting abreast of the strangers, a third and much larger vessel was seen in the E.S.E. distant about 15 miles, working up under the shore towards Brest. This was chased by the Mars, 74, Captain Alexander Hood, Ramillies, 74, Captain Henry Inman, and Jason, 38, Captain Charles Stirling, the only ships of the fleet near enough to see her. At 6.20 P.M., the Ramillies carried away her fore topmast and dropped astern; but the Mars continued to overhaul the French ship of the line for such she was seen to be and also to outsail the Jason.

At 7.30 P.M., when the Penmarcks bore S.E.^E., distant about 7 miles, the enemy betrayed a design to make his escape through the Passage du Raz. A little later the Mars went about on the starboard tack; and at 8.30 P.M., when Bee du Raz bore N. by E. two or three miles, the Frenchman abandoned the effort to work up against the current, and, dropping anchor, furled his sails, and carried out a spring abaft, so as to be able to bring as heavy a fire as possible to bear upon the Mars, then fast coming up. The enemy was the Hercule, 74, Captain Louis L'Heritier, and was on her way from Lorient, where she had been built, to join the Brest fleet.

At 8.45 P.M., the Mars, which had run the Jason nearly out of sight, hauled up her courses, and, at 9.15, received and returned the fire of the starboard broadside of the Hercule; but, prevented by the current from fighting to the best advantage under sail, Hood, at 9.25, ranged a little ahead of his opponent, let go an anchor, and dropped astern, the anchor on the port bow of the Mars hooking the anchor on the starboard bow of the Hercule, so that the two ships lay close, broadside to broadside. From that time until 10.30, the well-matched 74's fought with equal desperation; and then, the Hercule having twice failed in efforts to board, and having suffered terribly, hailed to announce her surrender. The damages of both vessels were chiefly confined to their hulls, and the French ship, by the estimate of her own officers, had lost 290 killed and wounded. The Mars also had lost heavily, but far less so than her gallant foe. She had 30 killed or missing, including among the former, Captain Alexander Hood, Captain of Marines Joseph White, and Midshipman James Blythe; and 60 wounded, including Lieutenants George Argles and George Arnold Ford, and Midshipman Thomas Southey. Hood was wounded twenty minutes after the beginning of the action, by a ball in the femoral artery, and died just after the enemy had submitted./p>

Previous comments on this page

Posted by Ken webber on Tuesday 20th of August 2019 05:03

My Great x 3 Grandfather served on the Mars in that action , Able Seaman John Pile .

Posted by Matiu Baker on Sunday 5th of July 2015 23:35

I am a direct descendant of Captain (then midshipman)Thomas Southey, who fought in this action. Apparently his brother, Poet Laureate Robert Southey, wrote that Thomas led a boarding onto the L'Hercule but was left stranded on board alone as the two ships yawed apart! He was piked in the thigh and thrown overboard. A later despatch Lieut. W. Butterfield to Admiral Bridport follows, "I cannot sufficiently commend the bravery and good conduct of the surviving officers and men. I must particularly commend to your Lordship's notice Mr. Southey, signal midshipman. Lieut. Bowker was put in charge of the prize."

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