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Phoenix vs Didon

10th August 1805
Part of : The Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815)
Previous action : Action of 1805-08-06 6.8.1805
Next action : Battle of Trafalgar 21.10.1805


United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Phoenix (36) 1783-1816
British 36 Gun
5th Rate Frigate
Thomas BakerBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1781-1837
12 killed, 28 wounded

Empire Français

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Didon (40) 1799-1805
French 40 Gun
5th Rate Frigate
  Captured 27 killed, 44 wounded

Notes on Action


In the end the Didon did not escape. She was sighted on August 10th by the Phoenix, 36, Captain Thomas Baker (1), at daylight. Baker immediately gave chase, and, strange to say, the French vessel made no attempt to get away, having received very erroneous information from an American craft as to the Phoenix's force. The American had represented her as a 20-gun ship, and her appearance, at a distance, gave some support to this story, since she had been disguised to look like a sloop. What happened is a good illustration of the folly of captains who are charged with despatches giving way to their instinct of pugnacity.

At about 8.45 A.M., the Didon opened on the Phoenix, which ship was steering to close on the French vessel's leeward quarter, so as to frustrate any attempt to escape. The Didon, also with the object of preventing the British ship's escape, wore three times as the Phoenix approached, on each occasion delivering a broadside at the British vessel's rigging. Her adroit manoeuvres compelled the Phoenix to abandon her attempt to pass round the enemy, and forced her to bear down and draw up on the windward side. At 9.15 A.M. the two ships were within close range, both standing on the port tack, when they began a broadside action. The Phoenix, however, had so much way on her that she speedily shot ahead, upon which the Didon passed under her stern, and fired some shots at her, but at too long a range to do much damage. The Didon was then to leeward, and used her position with effect, suddenly bearing up, passing a second time under her opponent's stern, and delivering a raking broadside, which, nevertheless, failed to inflict heavy loss, as the British crew, as soon as the manoeuvre was noted, was ordered to lie down. Again the French ship attempted to cross the Phoenix's stern, but was foiled by the British crew smartly backing her sails. The way on the Phoenix was arrested, and the Frenchman, as he attempted to turn, ran his port bow against the Phoenix's starboard quarter. In that position the French endeavoured to board, but were beaten back, though in greatly superior force. Meantime, one of the Didon's 36-pr. forecastle carronades poured in a steady fire upon the British ship.

It had become a matter of absolute necessity for the Phoenix, if she was not going to be beaten, to bring one or more of her main-deck guns to bear. Singularly enough, though action after action had showed the want of gun-ports which would allow the heavy guns to play upon an enemy in any position, British frigates, and the Phoenix amongst them, were built without ports on the quarters. But in the Phoenix's case the mistake of the constructor had in some degree been remedied by the Captain's forethought. A port on each quarter had been cut. Unfortunately, however, the gunner had failed to provide the tackle needed for the transfer of the aftermost maindeck guns to their new position. In consequence, whilst the crew were with makeshift appliances moving one of the guns, under Baker's direction, very heavy losses were inflicted by the fire of the French small-arm parties, directed through the Phoenix's stern windows. When, at length, the 18-pr. could be brought to bear, it fired with devastating effect. Its first shot is said to have killed or wounded 25 of the French.

Slowly the Didon drew ahead, and one by one the broadside guns in each ship came into action. Happily the Phoenix's people had been thoroughly trained in gunnery, practising with powder and shot where most Captains would have been content to go through the gunnery drill. They fired three shots to the Didon's two, and each shot was more effective. They brought down the enemy's main topmast, and so badly wounded the fore mast that it fell a little later. On her part, the Phoenix had her main royal-mast, main topsail yard, and gaff shot away. The two ships parted and made what repairs they could. The British crew, however, showed such smartness that the Phoenix was ready first; and this ability of hers to resume action whilst her antagonist was still disabled, virtually decided the issue of the engagement. There was a brief interchange of broadsides, and then, at about 12.15 P.M., the Didon struck, after a most gallantly fought encounter.

Captain Bakers LetterBG

Phoenix, at Sea, August 13,1805.
I Cannot but exult in ,the Honor of imparting to you the extreme good Fortune of His Majesty's Ship under my Command on the 10th Instant, Latitude 43 Deg. 16 Min. N. Longitude 12 Deg. 14 Min. W., in the Capture of La Didon, a remarkable fine, and the fastest-failing Frigate in the French Navy, of Forty-four Guns and Three Hundred and Thirty Men, which had failed but a few Days from Corunna, and was upon a secret Cruize. The Action commenced at a Quarter past Nine in the Morning, (La Didon having waited my Approach, to Leeward,) and lasted Three Hours, never without Pistol-shot, during which all our Ropes were cut to Pieces, our Main topsail Yard shot away, and most of our Masts and Yards severely wounded. The Necessity for our engaging to Leeward, in order to prevent the Possibility of the Enemy's Escape, exposed us to several raking Broadsides before it could be
prudent to return the Fire; and the Superiority of La Didon's sailing, added to the adroit Manoeuvres of Captain Milins, convinced me of the Skill and Gallantry I should have to contend with, which has been fully evinced by the stubborn Defence of his Ship until she became a perfect Wreck, and his subsequent honorable Deportment. Owing to the Lightness of the Wind, and La Didon's Attempt to board, brought our Starboard Quarter in Contact with her Larboard Bow, in which Position we remained full Three Quarters of an Hour, subject to a galling Fire of Musketry, that robbed me of such Support of Officers and Men, as there could be no Compensation for but in complete Victory.

With Sorrow I transmit you a List of the Killedand Wounded; and have the Honor to be, &c.
To the Honorable Admiral Cornwallis, Commander in Chief, &c. &c. &c.

A List ofthe Killed and Wounded on beard the Phoenix and La Didon, on the 10th August 1805.

Phoenix 12 killed, 28 wounded. Total 40.
La Didon 27 killed, 44 wounded, Total 71.
Difference, 15
killed, 16 wounded. Total 31

A list of the Killed And Wounded on board tbe Phoenix.


John Bounton, Lieutenant.
George Donelan, Master Mate
John Towers, Quarter-Master.
James Smith, Seaman.
Benjamin Thomas, ditto.
James Taylor, ditto.
William Goddard, ditto,
James Bell, ditto.
Samuel Stubbs, ditto.
Edward Gadsby, ditto.
George Chandler, ditto.
Thomas Hill, ditto.


Henry Steel Lieutenant of Marines, dangerously.
Aaron Tozer, Midshipman, dangerously.
Edward B. Curling Midshipman, badly.
James Bird, Coxswain, slightly.
George Gaward, Captain's Servant, slightly.
John M'Donald, Captain's Steward, dangerously.
Thomas Hall, Seaman, slightly.
George Renny, Sail-Maker, dangerously.
Bernard MCarthy, Seaman, dangerously.
Patrick Edwards, Seaman, dangerously.
John C. Bringer, Seaman, badly.
Thomas M'Maken, Seaman, badly.
John Binstead, Seaman, slightly.
Edward James, Private of Marines, dangerously.
Joseph Robinson, Seaman, slightly.
William Henderson, ditto, slightly.
John-Agnew, ditto, Sightly.
Lewis Burnett, Serjeant of Marines, badly.
Charles Morgan, ditto, dangerously.
Thomas Mason, Private of Marines, slightly.
Charles Harley, ditto, dangerously.
Alexander Bateman, ditto, dangerously.
Stephen Sprawles, ditto, dangerously.
Thomas Martin, ditto, dangerously.
William Harbour, ditto, dangerously.
Thomas Davis, ditto; badly.
Samuel Walker, ditto, badly.
William Mills, ditto, slightly.


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