1759 - Naval operations in the Mediterranean
The campaign took place from April to August 1759
Description of events
At the beginning of 1759, the French planned to collect as large a naval force as possible at Toulon and then to send it round to join her main fleet at Brest. These combined fleets would then escort a force of about 17,000 men, under the command of the duc d'Aiguillon, from Vannes in Bretagne to Ireland. The British had a squadron stationed in the Mediterranean, under the command of vice-admiral Broderick.
The fleet at Toulon counted about 12 ships of the line, a third of which had been disarmed for lack of money.
Early in the spring, Broderick's small squadron was reinforced by several ships from Great Britain and he was able to carry out, orders to watch Toulon.
On April 14, admiral Edward Boscawen, with 3 additional ships of the line and some frigates, left Spithead to take over for a time the chief command on the Mediterranean station.
On April 27, Boscawen arrived at Gibraltar. There he made arrangements as to the dispositions of cruisers and convoys.
On May 3, Boscawen sailed from Gibraltar.
On May 16, Boscawen joined vice-admiral Broderick off Cap Sicié, near Toulon, and assumed the command of the British squadron.
The French squadron assembled at Toulon was in charge of M. de La Clue. When the British arrived off the port, it was almost ready for sea. The French were carefully blockaded, or rather, watched with a view to preventing them from leaving without being detected and followed.
On June 7, before the French attempted to come out, Boscawen chased 2 French frigates and drove them into a fortified bay near Toulon.
On June 8, Boscawen ordered the Culloden (74), Conqueror (68) and Jersey (60), under the orders of captain Smith Callis, to proceed, and, if possible, destroy the 2 French frigates trapped into the fortified bay near Toulon. The ships were gallantly taken in. However, they were becalmed while under the batteries and, after a sharp engagement of 2 hours, they had to be recalled without having accomplished their object. The Culloden (74) lost 16 killed and 26 wounded; the Conqueror (68), 2 killed and 4 wounded; and the Jersey (60), 8 killed and 15 wounded ; and all the vessels were badly damaged aloft.
Boscawen continued to maintain the blockade of Toulon.
At the beginning of July, Boscawen was compelled to go to Gibraltar for provisions and repairs.
On July 8, Boscawen put in Salou, 12 km south-west of Tarragona, for watering purposes, remaining there until July 24.
On August 4, Boscawen finally reached Gibraltar. Meanwhile he ordered the Lyme (28), captain James Baker, to cruise off Malaga, and the Gibraltar (20), captain William McLeverty, to cruise between Estepona and Ceuta to keep watch for the French fleet.
On August 5 de la Clue left Toulon.
On August 17, de la Clue's fleet (10 ships of the line, 2 50-gun ships and 3 frigates) passed the straits of Gibraltar where it was sighted by the Gibraltar (20). Captain McLeverty made at once for Gibraltar and arrived off Europa Point at 7:30 PM. When he signalled the force and situation of the French fleet to the admiral, Boscawen sent off an officer to the Gibraltar (20), ordering her to keep sight of the foe and from time to time to signal to him accordingly. The British squadron was not quite ready for sea and Boscawen's flag-ship, the Namur (90), in particular, had not so much as a single sail bent. Still, a little before 10:00 PM, the whole fleet, of 13 ships of the line and 2 50-gun ships besides frigates, was out of the bay.
During the night of August 17 to 18, 5 of de la Clue's ships lost sight of his flagship and steered for Cadiz.
On the morning of August 18, owing to the haste in which they had gone out, and to the admiral, after leaving harbour, carrying a press of sail to the westward, the British were in two well defined divisions. The Warspite (74), Culloden (74), Swiftsure (70), Intrepid (64), America (60), Portland (50), and Guernsey (50), which had lain at anchor near the Namur (90) and had put to sea along with her, were still with her. Vice-admiral Broderick, in the Prince (90), with the rest of the squadron, was many km astern. In the afternoon, Boscawen's fleet engaged de La Clue's squadron in the battle of Lagos. By 5:00 PM, the outnumbered French ships set all possible sail to get away.
During the night of August 18 to 19, Boscawen pursued the French squadron. Meanwhile, 2 of the French ships (Souverain (74) and Guerrier (74)) altered course to the west, and escaped.
On August 19, battle resumed near Lagos in Portugal and the British captured 2 ships of the line and destroyed 2 others. After the battle, Boscawen rehoisted his flag in the Namur (90) and despatched captain Matthew Buckle in the Gibraltar (20) to Great Britain with dispatches.
As soon as his fleet had repaired damages, Boscawen returned to Great Britain, in accordance with his instructions, taking with him the Namur (90), Warspite (74), Swiftsure (70), Intrepid (64), America (60) and Portland (50), the Salamander (8) and Aetna (8) fire-ships, and the prizes Téméraire (74) and Modeste (64). These were afterwards followed by the Edgar (60), Princess Louisa (60), and the prize Centaure (74). Vice-admiral Broderick, who remained in the straits, blockaded Cadiz, in which still lay that part of the French squadron which had taken refuge there.
Boscawen's rewards were a membership of the Privy Council and a generalship in the Marines. Captains Bentley, of the Warspite (74), and Stanhope, of the Swiftsure (70), were knighted for their share in the action. The 3 prizes were purchased and added to the Navy under their French names.
On November 9, Broderick, who was blockading Cadiz, was driven from his station by a storm and was obliged to send his flagship to Gibraltar to refit. He then hoisted his flag on board the Conqueror (68). The Newark (80) and Culloden (74) had to cut away all their masts and run for port.
Returning off Cadiz, Broderick continued the blockade as before but the French, though by that time superior in strength, declined to come out and offer him battle. The vice-admiral being a second time driven from his station by a storm, the French at length ventured forth and got safely back to Toulon.
This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- 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. 210-215
Mordal, Jacques, 25 siècles de guerre sur mer, vol. 1, Robert Laffont, 1959, pp. 168-176
Wikipedia - Battle of Lagos