1758-08-03 - Combat of Negapatam
Prelude to the Battle
On July 25, Vice-Admiral Pocock had sailed from Madras (present-day Chennai) with a favourable wind southward along the shore to seek admiral d'Aché's fleet. He sighted the French squadron in the road of Pondicherry (present-day Puducherry) on the evening of July 27. The following day, the French put to sea. For several days, Pocock vainly tried to engage the French. On August 3 at 5:00 a.m., the British sighted d'Aché's squadron off Negapatam, about 5 km to windward, formed in line of battle ahead, with the starboard tacks on board.
Description of Events
Pocock formed his line of battle ahead on the starboard tack, and stood towards the French. He then stood to the southward with an easy sail.
At 7:00 a.m., observing that the French kept their wind, Pocock signalled to make more sail to get to windward and possibly bring them to action as they generally sailed better than the British squadron.
At 8:30 a.m., the French squadron began to edge down upon the British squadron.
At 9:00 a.m., the two squadrons were separated by less than 5 km. Seeing that the Comte-de-Provence (68), led their van, Pocock ordered the Elizabeth (64), to take the place of the Tiger (60), an inferior ship, as the leader of his own line.
At 10:00, the French squadron bore away and steered for the rear of the British squadron.
At 11:00 a.m., the wind dying away, the British were becalmed; though the French still had a light breeze from off the land, and, with it, stood on, their line stretching from east to west. On that course the French passed at right angles so close to the rear of the British that they might almost have cut off the Cumberland (66) and Newcastle (50), the sternmost ships.
At noon, a sea breeze sprang up and gave Pocock the weather-gage. Both fleets thereupon formed line afresh.
At 12:20 p.m., Pocock signalled to bear down and engage.
At 1:00 p.m., the British ships got within random shot of the French; their line being then in the form of a half moon, their van and rear being to windward of their centre.
Around 1:20 p.m., the French ships in the van began firing on the Elizabeth (64) who was within musket-shot of them. Admiral Pocock made the signal for battle and the entire British squadron engaged. D'Aché was then under topsails.
The Elizabeth (64) and Comte-de-Provence (68) began the action but, the latter's mizzen catching fire, she had to quit the line and cut away the mast. The French charge Pocock with throwing inflammables on board of them; but the vice-admiral does not seem to have taken any special measures for setting his opponents on fire, though certainly in this battle they were unusually unfortunate in that respect. The Elizabeth's next opponent was the Duc-de-Bourgogne (64), which, being hardly pressed, would have been assisted by the Zodiaque (74), had not the latter had her wheel carried away by a shot from the Yarmouth (64), her first antagonist. To repair it, she went under the lee of the Duc d'Orléans (54); but, as soon as she returned to the line, one of her lower-deck guns burst, and a fire broke out near her powder room. In the consequent confusion, her new steering gear gave way, so causing the ship to fall on board the Duc d'Orléans (54); and, while the two ships were entangled together, both were heavily cannonaded with impunity by the Yarmouth (64) and Tiger (60). By that time the Condé (44) and Moras (44) had been driven out of the line.
At 2:00 p.m., the Comte-de-Provence (68), who was leading the French line, put before the wind, having cut away her mizen-mast when fire caught in the mizen-top. The Zodiaque (74) and the ships ahead of her bore away
Around 2:15 p.m., the French ships in the rear followed, continuing in an irregular line abreast and increasing their distance a little from the British squadron.
Pocock signalled for closer action; and the retiring French ships were badly mauled as they went off under all possible sail. The signal for a general chase followed; whereupon the French cut away the boats which most of them had towing astern; and crowded to the N.N.W.
A running fight was maintained till about 3:00 p.m., when the French were out of range.
The British squadron continued the pursuit till near darkness when the French got off by outsailing them.
At about 8:00 p.m., the British squadron anchored 5 km off Karaikal, while the French pursued their course to Pondicherry.
The combat, considering its indecisive character, was a very bloody one, especially on the side of the French, who lost 540 men killed or wounded (including d'Aché and his captain). The Zodiaque (74) alone lost 183 killed or dangerously wounded. The French did not appear to have suffered much in their rigging.
In this engagement, the British lost 130 men killed and 116 wounded (including Commodore Stevens and Captain Martin). Aloft the British suffered more than the French; and, had the weather not been fine, many of them must have lost their masts.
D'Aché refitted at Pondicherry and, being apprehensive of an attack there, anchored his ships close under the town and forts. Feeling also that he could not, in his then state, again fight the British, and that his remaining on the coast might lead to disaster, he again announced his intention of proceeding to Île de France (present-day Mauritius). M. de Lally and the French military and civil officers were astounded at this new determination, and endeavoured to dissuade him but he was supported by his captains and, having landed 500 marines and seamen to reinforce the army on shore, he sailed for his destination on September 3.
Order of Battle
British Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: vice-admiral George Pocock
Summary: 7 ships of the line, 1 frigate
- Ships of the line
- Yarmouth (64) under Captain John Harrison carrying Vice-Admiral Pocock
- Elizabeth (64) under Captain Richard Kempenfelt carrying Commodore Charles Stevens
- Tiger (60) under Captain Thomas Latham
- Weymouth (60) under Captain John Stukley Somerset
- Cumberland (66) under Captain William Martin
- Salisbury (50) under Captain William Brereton
- Newcastle (50) under Captain James Colville
- Queenborough (24) under Captain Digby Dent (probably belonging to the East India Company)
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Admiral d'Aché
Summary: 8 ships of the line and 1 frigate
- Ships of the line
- Zodiaque (74) carrying Admiral d'Aché
- Comte-de-Provence (68) Captain Jean-Jacques de la Chaise
- Saint-Louis (54)
- Vengeur (60) under Captain Jean Christy de la Pallière
- Duc d'Orléans (54) under Captain Jean-François de Surville
- Duc-de-Bourgogne (64) carrying only 60 guns under Captain Joseph Bouvet
- Condé (44)
- Moras (44) under Captain Louis-Toussaint de Becdelièvre-Du Bouexié
- Sylphide (36) carrying only 24 guns
This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Cambridge, Richard Owen: An Account of the War in India between the English and French on the Coast of Coromandel from the Year 1750 to the Year 1760 together with a Relation of the late Remarkable Events on the Malabar Coast, and the Expeditions to Golconda and Surat; with the Operations of the Fleet, London: T. Jefferys, 1761, pp. 134-135
- Clowes, Wm. Laird, The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 178-181