1710-11-09 – Engagement of Syracuse

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Battles and Encounters >> 1710-11-09 – Engagement of Syracuse

French victory

Prelude to the Battle

At the beginning of September 1710, a convoy of 84 French merchant ships arriving from Smyrne was blocked in the port of Syracuse in Sicily by a few British ships.

On 8 November, a French squadron of 5 ships of the line under Captain Jacques Cassard sailed from Toulon to lift the blockade of Syracuse.

On 9 November, when Cassard’s squadron arrived off Syracuse, the largest part of the British squadron blockading the harbour had sailed away to resupply at Port Mahon on the Island of Minorca, only two ships had been left before Syracuse to watch the French convoy. Cassard decided to take advantage of the absence of the British squadron and to at once attack the two ships left behind.

Description of Events

On 9 November, Cassard ordered de Feuquières to weigh anchor and proceed to Marseille with the convoy.

Meanwhile, Cassard attacked the Pembroke (60) and the Falcon (32) with the Parfait (76), Sérieux (58) and Phénix (60).

The British ships tried to escape but the French ships caught up with them.

Cassard directed M. de l'Aigle and M. de Haies with the Sérieux (58) and Phénix (60) to engage the Pembroke (60). whilst he attacked the Falcon (32) with his Parfait (76).

The unequal combat was not of long duration, though the defence of the Falcon (32) was marked by much determination and much gallantry. Unable to escape from her more powerful and swifter-sailing adversary, the little ship determined to sell herself as dearly as possible, and when the Parfait (76) ranged up alongside, and succeeded in lashing her bowsprit to the fore-chains of the Falcon (32), the British captain, Constable, forestalled Cassard's intention by pouring over one hundred well-armed boarders on the Parfait's decks; this attempt to carry Cassard's ship was quickly repulsed, not, however, without serious loss, and when Cassard attempted to throw his own boarders on to the Falcon (32) he found that the grappling-irons had been cast loose, and the Falcon, filling, was standing away from him. The heavy metal of the Parfait (76) soon put an end to the Falcon's flight, and once more Cassard grappled to her rigging, endeavouring to carry the frigate by boarding. This second attempt was also driven back; but the crew of the Falcon (32) had made their last effort: Constable and 17 of his men, had been left dead on the Parfait's decks in their first gallant attempt to carry the Frenchman, and in beating off Cassard's assaults, 43 killed had been added to the total. Number now began to tell, and though the crew of the Parfait (76) was also much weakened, she was able to bring into action three men to every one the Falcon could show. At last, seeing two-thirds of his crew hors-de-combat, and seeing also that the Pembroke (60) was too hard pressed to offer him any assistance, the First Lieutenant of the Falcon (32) hauled down his colours. Placing a prize-crew on board, with orders to its commander to bear up after De Feuquières' convoy, Cassard stood on to aid the Sérieux (58) and Phénix (60).

These two ships had until then been merely indulging in a cannonade with the Pembroke (60). On noticing the approach of the Parfait (76), Captain Rumsey at once bore down on the newcomer, with the intention of throwing his boarders on her; in manoeuvring to avoid the shock of collision, Cassard laid himself open to a raking fire from the broadside of the Pembroke (60), which, tearing through his stern galleries, killed over 30 men on his lower deck. Broadsides now were exchanged at close quarters, yard-arm to yard-arm, muzzle to muzzle: the two ships fought on, but the Pembroke (60) was doomed to capture. The Sérieux (58), ranging up on her other quarter, exposed her to a raking fire as she took up her position, and in a few moments her main top-mast and her mizzen went by the board, lumbering her decks with their wreckage and disabling many men in their fall. After 30 minutes of this unequal combat the Pembroke (60) struck her colours, and on taking possession of her, Cassard found that her captain, the gallant Rumsey, and 74 men were dead, and 6 officers and 134 men lay wounded, out of a total of 320 men.

Outcome

Captain Rumsey was killed, and Captain Constable was severely wounded.

Cassard’s squadron escorted the French merchant fleet to Marseille.

Order of Battle

British Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Captain Edward Rumsey

  • Pembroke (60), Captain Edward Rumsey
  • Falcon (32), Captain Charles Constable

Franco-Spanish Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Captain Jacques Cassard

  • Parfait (76), Captain Jacques Cassard
  • Toulouse (62), Captain de Lambert
  • Sérieux (58), Captain de L’Aigle
  • Sirène (56)
  • Phénix (60), Captain Michel de Haies

References

This article incorporates 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. II, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898
  • Norman, Charles Boswell: The Corsairs of France

Other sources

Harrison, Cy: Battle of Syracuse, 9th November 1710 in Three Decks - Warships in the Age of Sail

Wikipedia