Attack on Ver Huell\'s squadron

16th May 1804 - 19th May 1804
Part of : The Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815)
Previous action : Capture of the Vincejo 8.5.1804
Next action : Action at Lavandon 11.7.1804


United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

British squadron, William Sidney Smith (1764-1840)
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Antelope (50) John Melhuish (d.1804)Fleet Flagship no casulaties
Penelope (36) William Robert Broughton (1762-1821)no casulaties
Aimable (32) William Bolton (d.1817)7 killed, 14 wounded
Cruizer (16) John Hancock1 killed, 4 wounded
Rattler (16) Francis Mason (1779-?)2 killed, 5 wounded
Galgo (16) Michael Dod
Inspector (16) Edward James Mitchell (d.1806), Henry Samuel Butt, Edward Killwick
Minx (12) Patrick Manderson
Stag (6)  

Allied (République Française & Batavian Republic)

Franco-Batavian squadron, Charles Henri Verhuell (1764-1845)
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Le Ville d'Anvers (12)  Fleet Flagship
Le Ville d'Aix (12)  
Gun-vessels, Charles René Magon de Médine (1763-1805)
Ship NameCommanderNotes

Notes on Action


Of the various light flying squadrons stationed off the enemy's coast, one, which especially watched Flushing, Hellevoetsluis, and Ostend, was under the orders of Commodore Sir William Sidney Smith, in the Antelope, 50. On May 15th, the inshore part of this squadron consisted of the Cruiser, 18, Commander John Hancock, and Rattler, 16, Commander Francis Mason. Another British force, which was cruising off Calais, could be communicated with by means of a line of four gun-brigs, which, under Lieutenant Patrick Manderston, of the Minx, was stationed between the two bodies. On the evening of the day in question, twenty-three gun-vessels were seen to haul out of Ostend harbour, and to anchor to the westward of the lighthouse. This induced Commander Hancock to make a signal to recall the four gun-brigs, which, he felt, would be of great help to him in case he should succeed in bringing the enemy to action, and to dispatch the hired armed cutter Stag, Lieutenant William Patfull, to Sir William Sidney Smith, who then lay in Schoneveld, with news of what was going forward. As darkness came on, Hancock got under way with his two sloops, and re-anchored within long range of the pier batteries, in order, if possible, to prevent the escape of the enemy. On the morning of the 16th, it was perceived that the four gun-brigs had either not seen or not understood the signal of recall, and the signal was again made. At 9.30 A.M. the Rattler, which lay somewhat to the eastward of the Cruiser, signalled, first five sail, and then a fleet, to the E.S.E. As subsequently appeared, the strangers were a Franco-Batavian flotilla which, under Rear-Admiral Carel Hendrik Ver Huell, had quitted the Inner Wieling early that morning in order to enter Ostend; and they consisted of the two ship-rigged 12-gun prames, Ville d'Anvers and Ville d'Aix, nineteen schooners, and thirty-eight schuyts, mounting together upwards of one hundred long guns, besides carronades and mortars, and having on board about four thousand troops of the army of invasion. At 10 A.M., the Cruiser and Rattler, taking the earliest possible advantage of the tide, weighed and began to work towards the enemy. An hour later, the wind shifted to S.W., and, becoming favourable to the sloops, induced Ver Huell to bear up and put back towards Flushing. Sir William Sidney Smith, apprised of the movements of the foe, weighed from Schoneveld between 10 and 11 A.M. in the Antelope, 50, with the Penelope, 36, Captain William Robert Broughton, and the Aimable, 32, Captain William Bolton; and at about noon he sighted the two sloops. But Hancock and Mason, instead of waiting for him, pressed on; and at 1.30 P.M. the Cruiser overhauled, fired at, and obliged to strike one of the rearmost schuyts. Ordering the Rattler to take possession, she stood on after one of the prames. In the meantime the wind had slightly shifted; and Ver Huell, perhaps a little ashamed of the part which he had been playing, took advantage of it to stand back towards Ostend with the whole of his force, except eight schuyts, which continued to make for the Inner Wieling. At 1.45 P.M. the Ville d'Anvers was able to fire a shot which passed over the Cruiser. A little later, a considerable shift of wind caused both sloops to fall off their course, and to find themselves nearly abreast of the leading prame, and upon the lee beam of the flotilla. Thereupon the Ville d'Anvers and several schooners and schuyts opened a heavy fire upon the sloops, which presently fought their way into the midst of the enemy, in spite of a storm of projectiles from the Blankenberghe batteries. In a short time Hancock and Mason had driven ashore the Ville d'Anvers, bearing Ver Huell's flag, and four of the schooners.

It was not until afterwards that any part of Sir William Sidney Smith's force was able to take part. At 3.45 P.M. the Aimable opened upon some schuyts which were close under Blankenberghe; and at about 4.30 P.M. the Antelope and Penelope also got inta action, and began to drive other schooners and schuyts ashore. So the action went on until about 7.45 P.M., when Smith signalled to cease firing, his ships having hardly any water under them. The remnants of Ver Huell's flotilla, covered by the gun-vessels which had hauled out of harbour on the previous evening, and which were under Rear-Admiral Charles Magon, got into Ostend. In this gallant action the Cruiser lost 1 killed and 4 wounded; the Rattler, 2 killed and 5 wounded; and the Aimable, 7 killed (including a Master's Mate, and a Midshipman), and 14 wounded (including Lieutenant William Mather). The enemy admitted a loss of 18 killed and 60 wounded. In the early morning of May 17th the four gun-brigs, having joined, were sent in to endeavour to destroy or bring off the grounded Ville d'Anvers; but she was so well covered by guns drawn up on the beach, and by guns and mortars on the sandhills behind it, that, although they fortunately suffered no loss, they were obliged to haul off. On the 19th, assisted by the Galgo, 16, Commander Michael Dod, and the Inspector, 16, Commander Edward James Mitchell, the gun-brigs made another ineffectual effort. Ultimately the Ville d'Anvers and five out of eight grounded schooners and schuyts were re-floated and taken into the basin. Ver Huell was considered by the emperor to have behaved very well, and was made an officer of the Legion of Honour; but neither Hancock nor Mason received any immediate recognition, although they both had certainly behaved with far greater distinction.

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