Hilfskreuzer 33 Breakout Part II

Krüder now had a choice of two routes in his attempt to break out into the North Atlantic. He could either take the shortest way out, passing between the Faeroes and Iceland or continue north to round Jan Mayen Island, and thence south-west through the Denmark Strait. The latter route would add something like 700 miles to the passage, but Krüder, unaware that the Faeroes Channel was temporarily unguarded following the sinking of the Andania by U-A, opted for the longer northerly route. He was also not aware that, as a direct result of the loss of the AMC, the Admiralty had ordered the cruisers Newcastle and Sussex to reinforce patrols in the Denmark Strait.

At 2300, when on the latitude of Trondheim, Krüder altered course to 320° to head for Jan Mayen. It was Midsummer’s Night, with no real darkness, and, perversely, the foul weather that had provided invaluable cover for the Pinguin since sailing now took a turn for the better. The wind dropped to a mere fresh breeze, the sea went down and the rain cleared away. The heavy overcast remained, but visibility improved dramatically. Then, early on the 23rd, the wind veered to the north-east and the sun broke through.

With no darkness to hide his ship Krüder felt dangerously exposed to his potential enemies, but he had little choice. The only course of action open to him was to make all possible speed for Jan Mayen and take cover in the fog banks normally found shrouding the island at this time of the year. Once hidden in the fog, he could then bide his time, waiting for suitable murky weather to cloak his breakout through the Denmark Strait.

Krüder was to be disappointed, for the weather beyond the Arctic Circle is as unpredictable as in any other part of the globe. As the day progressed and the Pinguin pushed north-westwards, although the wind was light and the sea a flat calm, the hoped-for fog did not materialize. The air was in fact crystal clear, so clear that at 0400 on the 24th, when it was fully light, the tip of the 7,500-ft Beerenberg, Jan Mayen’s volcanic peak, was visible at a distance of almost 100 miles.

Although Jan Mayen was said to be uninhabited, except for a Norwegian weather station, Krüder was reluctant to close the land, but he had no other alternative. Pinguin rounded the northern side of Jan Mayen at noon with all her guns’ crews stood-to and the ship in a state immediate readiness. The weather remained stubbornly fine and clear, but if the raider was seen from the shore she provoked no reaction. Once clear of the island, Krüder set course due west, running for the ice edge off the east coast of Greenland, where the warm summer air flowing over the frozen sea was guaranteed to bring dense fog.

To the great relief of all on board, not least her commander, the Pinguin ran into falling visibility when she was within 100 miles of the Greenland coast. By 1925 she was in thick fog and feeling her way towards the ice edge at slow speed. The ice was sighted just after 2100 and Krüder altered to run south-westwards, parallel to the coast and keeping just to seaward of the ice. Visibility in the fog had improved to around 500 yards, just sufficient for careful navigation, but it was a nerve-wracking business. There were icebergs about and, although the ship was down to a crawl, the danger of collision with one of these drifting monsters was very real, but this was a risk Krüder was prepared to take in the interests of a quick breakout into the Atlantic. For the moment he was grateful for the sanctuary of the fog.

Pinguin’s luck ran out on the morning of the 25th after she had steamed only 75 miles to the south-west. The fog suddenly thinned, then lifted altogether, giving way to the unseasonal clear weather experienced earlier. Krüder was now sorely tempted to make a dash for the Denmark Strait at full speed, but, with British cruisers in the offing, this could be suicidal. The weather forecasts he was receiving from SKL, based on reports sent in by German weather ships which lurked in these waters disguised as trawlers, indicated that conditions were likely to worsen over the next few days as a warm front moved up from the south. Krüder reversed course and steamed back into the fog to await the promised deterioration in the weather. Once hidden in this silent world of swirling mist, he informed SKL of his decision, using a special shorthand code devised for auxiliary cruisers. A ten-second burst of morse was sufficient to pass his message, a signal so brief that it had faded before any of the network of British W/T direction finding stations constantly monitoring the airwaves could home in on it.

The waiting was long and tedious, with the Pinguin, her engines idling, patrolling up and down off the ice edge, her crew largely unoccupied but unable to relax, for the hidden dangers in this fog-shrouded wilderness were many. It was a morale-sapping situation that Krüder had hoped not to meet this early in the voyage. He was very much relieved when, on the morning of the 28th, the barometer began to fall steeply and the wind picked up, sweeping away the fog. In its place came low, overhanging clouds laden with heavy rain. The warm front had arrived.

Running on one engine and making 9 knots, the Pinguin moved south again. The wind settled down in the east, rising to force 6 and building up an ugly beam sea that soon began to send freezing spray flying over the raider’s bridge. The skies came even lower, so that morning became night again, and it seemed that the Pinguin had drifted from one bad dream into another, this one far more malevolent. The sea was short and she rolled jerkily, adding to the misery of those on board. And then the ice came back. It began with isolated floes, which posed no danger to the ship, but soon growlers, and then full-sized bergs, came looming out of the murk. It was a nerve-jangling experience that lasted an agonising twenty-four hours. When the wind eased and visibility improved on the afternoon of the 29th Krüder was exhausted and greeted the clearance with immense relief, even though it did leave his ship exposed to detection by British ships, who might now be patrolling this area in strength.

Krüder need not have concerned himself, for the Royal Navy was elsewhere engaged. When France signed an armistice with the German invaders on 16 June, it immediately became clear that something must be done to avoid her substantial navy falling into enemy hands. The French ships, which included six battleships and two battlecruisers, were tied up in Oran, Dakar and Martinique, and were given the choice of surrendering to the Royal Navy or being sunk where they were. In order to provide the show of force necessary to back up this ultimatum, units of the Home Fleet were called in, leaving much of the North Atlantic, including the Denmark Strait, without adequate cover.

Pinguin emerged from the Denmark Strait on the morning of 1 July, having sighted nothing more threatening than a few isolated icebergs. She was now relatively safe, free to lose herself in the broad reaches of the North Atlantic. Her rendezvous with U-A off Dakar was planned for 18 July, which gave her time to spare. Krüder decided to put this to good use, steaming south along the meridian of 35° West at reduced speed, thereby conserving fuel, and at the same time being on the lookout for any unescorted Allied merchantmen taking the northern route between Canada and Britain. His luck was not good, for in five days he sighted only one ship, and this turned out to be the British armed merchant cruiser HMS Carmania. Believing the Carmania to be faster and more heavily armed than the Pinguin, Krüder turned away and ran. There was no reaction from the other ship, which seemed not to have sighted the raider.

By midday on the 7th the Pinguin was approaching the USA–UK convoy route and it was necessary to proceed with extreme caution. Over the next two days clusters of masts and funnels were seen on the horizon from time to time and evasive action was taken. The weather was fine, with excellent visibility, and, in spite of the Pinguin’s low silhouette, there was always the risk that an inquisitive convoy escort might sight her and come racing over the horizon. The appearance of a Russian ship in these waters would certainly arouse suspicion and could easily result in a gun fight Pinguin might lose. Another disguise was needed, and on the 10th, in fine warm weather, all hands turned to with paint brushes and the Petschura’s bogus voyage ended as it had begun. By nightfall Pinguin had taken on the identity of the Greek cargo vessel Kassos.

As the Pinguin sailed on southwards to her rendezvous with the U-boat, 5000 miles away in the Indian Ocean an encounter took place which would have a profound effect on the war at sea.

On the morning of 11 July the 7506-ton British ship City of Bagdad, outward bound from the UK with a full cargo for Penang, was approaching Sumatra and nearing the end of her long voyage. At 0730 she sighted what appeared to be another British cargo vessel on her starboard beam. There was nothing unusual about this; she was near one of the crossroads of the Indian Ocean frequented by British merchantmen. Then, suddenly, the other ship went hard over and headed straight for the City of Bagdad. She passed close astern and then came round to run on a parallel course, keeping about 1½ miles off. A flag signal fluttered from her yards, but this was unreadable from the British ship, despite the close proximity. However, the suspicions of Captain Armstrong White, master of the City of Bagdad, were already aroused. He ordered his wireless operator to transmit the ‘QQQQ’ signal, indicating that they were being attacked by a disguised enemy merchant ship.

The ‘enemy merchant ship’ was in fact the Atlantis, ex-Goldenfels, sister-ship to the Pinguin, which had sailed from Germany in March under the command of Kapitän-zur-See Bernhard Rogge and had already caused considerable disruption to Allied shipping in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean.

The Atlantis ran up her shutters and opened fire as soon as the first urgent notes of the City of Bagdad’s transmission were heard. The raider’s guns pounded the British ship with salvo after salvo of 6-inch shells, until she was stopped and on fire with three of her crew lying dead and two others injured. A boarding party from the Atlantis then sank her with explosive charges.

The City of Bagdad might have been just another victim for the Atlantis to add to her mounting score but for one important omission by the British ship’s crew. In the confusion of the attack they failed to dump overboard the vital BAMS (Broadcasting for Allied Merchant Ships) code books. These were seized by the boarding party and sent back to Germany via Japan at the first possible opportunity. Within weeks Berlin was reading all coded signals to and from Allied merchant ships. It was some months before the Admiralty became aware that their ciphers had been compromised.

On 12 July, at the request of SKL, the Pinguin broke radio silence to report her position. She was then 700 miles north-west of the Cape Verde Islands, having been continuously at sea for almost three months. SKL’s reply contained the latitude and longitude of the proposed meeting with U-A on the 18th.

The rendezvous position was reached at noon on the 17th. It was a lonely spot midway between Africa and the West Indies and well away from the shipping lanes. Krüder stopped his ship and waited, growing increasingly anxious as the hours dragged by, for, although the Pinguin was in an empty ocean, there was always the risk that a British warship might appear on the horizon. He heaved a sigh of relief when, at first light on the 18th, a long, low grey shape materialized out of the morning mist. U-A was on time.

Unfortunately, the U-boat brought with her an unwelcome change in the weather. A fresh NE’ly wind blew up, raising a choppy sea that made it impossible for the transfer of supplies to take place. Krüder decided to head south in search of calmer waters, on the way passing 70 tons of diesel oil to the submarine, so that she would have sufficient fuel to reach Biscay should it not be possible to store her.

On the 20th the two ships reached a position 720 miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands, where the sea was calm enough to bring U-A alongside the Pinguin. This was the first time ever that a U-boat had been stored at sea by a raider and the inevitable problems arose. It was soon discovered that the submarine’s hydroplanes prevented her from coming close alongside and most of one day was lost in rigging sheer legs to bridge the gap. The torpedoes, eleven in all, were ferried across using flotation bags. It was a slow operation, and it was not until the afternoon of the 25th that the transfer was completed.

The Pinguin then took U-A in tow and set course to the southeast to meet up with the track followed by Allied ships between South American ports and Freetown. Once on this line, U-A had orders to make for the approaches to Freetown and there lie in wait for ships entering and leaving the harbour. Freetown was the assembly point for UK convoys, so Cohausz anticipated he would find more than sufficient targets for his newly-acquired torpedoes.

The opportunity for action presented itself sooner than expected. At 2300 on the 25th the lights of a ship were sighted to port and on a converging course, and U-A at once cast off to investigate. Krüder, being only an interested spectator at this stage, held the Pinguin back in the dark to await developments.

After about an hour had passed, Cohausz returned to report failure. He had identified the ship as an Allied tanker, an easy enough target, but his first torpedo had been a ‘rogue’. It ran in circles before turning back to home in on the U-boat that fired it and Cohausz was forced to take violent evasive action to avoid being sunk by his own torpedo. By the time he regained control, the tanker had disappeared into the night, probably not even aware of its brush with disaster.

U-A was taken in tow again, but a heavy swell developed the next day and the towrope snapped. From then on the U-boat proceeded under her own power with the Pinguin keeping company. Cohausz took his leave at noon on the 28th when they were 850 miles to the west of Freetown. The raider, her supply and escort duties at an end, was now free to begin her own war.

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Battle of Quiberon Bay I

HMS “Royal George” first rate ship of the line launch at Woolwich in 1756

‘I was in great pain lest the enemy should have escaped you . . . Allow me to add that no man in England can be more pleased with your good fortune, nor more rejoice to see you reap those advantages from it which you so truly merit.’ Admiral Hawke’s letter to his fellow admiral on 14 September 1759, congratulating him on the victory at Lagos, must have been written with clenched teeth, for Hawke thought himself a better man than Boscawen and secretly resented the way his ‘brother’ officer had been given first refusal on the naval command of the expedition that accompanied Wolfe to the St Lawrence, and then been handed the Mediterranean command. In early September Hawke worried away about how he could sustain the close blockade of France’s Atlantic ports. At the moment he and the Admiralty were involved in a wrangle with the naval victuallers. Hawke and Boscawen might be driven by dreams of glory, but the victuallers were entrepreneurs who cared about the bottom line. The new system of supplying warships at sea was hazardous and there was a high wastage and damage rate, which ate into the entrepreneurs’ profit margins. Although Hawke was angry with the victuallers for their lack of patriotism, he realised that, with people outside navy discipline, conflict meant a war he could not win. He therefore issued two orders that in effect were a capitulation to the businessmen’s demands. He ordained that any merchant sustaining damage while loading should issue a certificate for the damages to the ship’s master, which would form the documentary evidence against which compensation would be paid. And he gave strict orders to his captains that they were never to impress seamen in the employment of the victuallers, who had a certificate of ‘protected’ status.

In September, then, Hawke was concerned mainly with the technicalities of continuing his innovation of close blockade. The French, by contrast, had to weigh the consequences of Lagos while still grappling with the implications of inter-service rivalry – that fatal malaise that had led them to assemble an army of invasion in one port and the accompanying fleet of warships in another. They had spent most of the year preparing an invasion force and supporting flotilla, hampered by money shortages, corrupt administrators and agents, and prima-donna admirals and generals, but so painfully protracted was the process that the enemy had had time to blockade the Atlantic ports and even master the art of revictualling at sea. Commodore Boys was patrolling outside Dunkirk, Rodney along the Normandy coast, Duff was watching Morbihan, while Hawke and Hardy hovered off Brest. Lagos was the writing on the wall and on any rational basis the French should now have jettisoned their invasion project. But there was a serious issue of credibility at stake. It was too late now to back down, and to disband d’Aiguillon’s army would be to make a public admission of naval impotence. Besides, the invasion of Britain was supposed to be the master-stroke that would redress the calamitous losses in India, the West Indies and Canada. If this project was abandoned, what was the fallback plan or worst-case scenario? The dreadful truth was that there was none. Not surprisingly then, after Lagos, Choiseul, Belle-Isle and Berryer bent all their energies to thinking up a new stratagem.

The odds against a happy outcome for France were massive, but a naval victory was not totally inconceivable and even one such triumph, followed by the landing of troops in Britain, could lead to an honourable peace. Louis XV and his ministers therefore decided to place all their bets on Admiral Conflans. This gamble was not totally unwarranted. Conflans had had his successes in the War of Austrian Succession and his record in the years 1740–48 was a good one; he had captured two ships of the line, one of them the prestigious Severn finally retaken by Hawke in October 1747. The Minister of Marine had marked him down as a possible star, promoting him from the rank of Lieutenant-General (thus leaving his eight peers behind him) to one of only two Vice-Admirals in 1756 and thence in 1758 to full Admiral, the only one at the top of the French naval tree. In the same year, in recognition of more than fifty valiant years at sea, Conflans received a baton as a Marshal of France, the first naval commander to be so honoured since Admiral Tourville in 1692. Such a promotion was supposed to be a reward for great exploits already achieved. It was an obvious objection to the theory, that Conflans had as yet accomplished nothing, but the marshalship was supposed to act as a morale-boosting fillip to the navy and as a strong hint to Conflans that great things were expected of him. On 26 August Conflans received his formal instructions from Louis XV, which basically enjoined him to get his fleet out of Brest and onto the open sea as soon as possible. Another set of instructions, of which Conflans must have been aware, was issued on the same day to Bigot de Morogues, who was to command a six-ship convoy assembling at Morbihan, which was to act as the escort for d’Aiguillon’s invasion force.

Meanwhile Choiseul continued his unhappy collaboration with Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his representatives. He summoned Murray of Elibank on 2 August for a full-scale dressing-down of the Jacobites and their ‘Bonnie Prince’, mentioning a number of indiscretions committed both by individual supporters of the Stuart prince and by the man himself. Some of the complaints were pointless rants about matters over which Murray had no control anyway, such as the allegedly stupid and brutal behaviour of members of the Irish Brigade in French ports. Choiseul explained that twenty-four million francs had already been spent on the invasion project but that, because of unforeseen difficulties with barges and transports, the expedition was behind schedule. But he advised Murray that d’Aiguillon would soon be leaving for his headquarters in Brittany and suggested that the Stuart prince come to Paris to confer with the commander before he left. Needless to say, Charles Edward ignored the advice and remained sulking in his tent; his only significant action was to write to Belle-Isle to complain that he had heard nothing of French plans and that his ‘friends in England’ were growing impatient. Both France and the Jacobites were exaggerating the strength of their position. Versailles had secretly already decided to take no account of the Prince in its invasion plans, though he did have more drawing power in Scotland than they realised. For his part, the Prince kept up a mantra about ‘his friends in England’, for whose existence no documentary evidence can be found –nor did the Prince provide it to ministers at the time.

When news of Lagos came in, Mackenzie Douglas, always a shrewder reader of the runes than Murray, immediately saw its likely implication: the French might press ahead with the landing in Scotland but they would certainly abandon the descent on the English coast. But, as ever, Charles Edward continued to insist he was not interested in any scheme that did not involve the French landing in England. When this message was conveyed to him, Choiseul immediately assumed that there was a complete lack of interest in the Scottish expedition and therefore asked Murray, presuming that the Prince did not wish to journey to Scotland, to get his master to issue a manifesto, calling on the loyal clans to rise. Murray replied that he was not authorised to make any such declaration; he would have to consult the Prince. Choiseul, wearying of Charles Edward’s dog-in-the-manger attitude (he would not go to Scotland as in 1745 but did not want the French to go there without him either), decided to play him at his own double game. On 7 September he wrote to the Prince to tell him that all previous arrangements were unchanged (he even reiterated the tired old formula ‘everything will be for and with the prince and nothing without him’). But three days later d’Aiguillon received from Louis XV a true statement of Versailles’s attitude to the Jacobites: he was reminded forcibly that he was not to enter into any engagements whatever with the House of Stuart. A subsidiary anonymous memorandum contained the explanation: ‘This prince has not a steady enough head for him to direct an enterprise so momentous or for anyone to direct it when advised by him . . . He is surrounded by very dubious persons of both sex who, it appears likely, betray him at every point.’

On 13 September, the day Wolfe was winning glory on the Plains of Abraham, Belle-Isle wrote to d’Aiguillon with further, more detailed instructions. After making landfall at Glasgow, d’Aiguillon was to march to Edinburgh and make that city his principal base of operations. Once safely ensconced in Scotland, a second army under Soubise would follow (it is perhaps significant that Belle-Isle did not spell out whether Soubise’s army was still destined for England or had been switched to Scotland as the second wave). There are even hints in the letter that Belle-Isle was not entirely happy with the vanquished General of Rossbach being given such an important role, but both he and d’Aiguillon knew that Soubise was a puppet whose strings were pulled by La Pompadour. Two days later a personal letter from Louis XV, countersigned by Berryer, was delivered to Bigot de Morogues, captaining the Magnifique. He was ordered to take d’Aiguillon’s force to the west of Scotland, having first circumnavigated Ireland, to make landfall at Irvine on the Clyde. After conferring with local pilots and fishermen, Bigot de Morogues was to decide the exact spot for disembarking troops, always of course in consultation with d’Aiguillon. If for any reason a landing was not practicable, he was to sail round the north coast of Scotland to make another landfall on the east coast, where the army would be disembarked. In case of a major setback, he was to burn his ships and proceed to dry land to serve under d’Aiguillon. Both memoranda were long on daring strategic vision but short on practical detail. The cynical conclusion would be that they were both textbook examples of vagueness, where nothing had really been thought through and everything left to chance. Micawberism as military planning would be a good title for the two documents.

The vain and self-regarding Conflans exploded when he heard of these memoranda. If Bigot de Morogues was given such an independent command, this would mean that his battle fleet would lose six men-of-war and, in his opinion, the French squadron even at full strength was no match for the Royal Navy.

Moreover, without those six ships, the balance of power shifted subtly in favour of the army, so that in any joint enterprise d’Aiguillon, and not the Marshal-Admiral, would be the senior partner.

Conflans bombarded Choiseul, Belle-Isle and Berryer with letters of protest, revealing himself a true prima donna and principal player in the inter-service rivalry stakes. Choiseul and Belle-Isle were in a dilemma. They had, so to speak, put all their eggs in the Conflans basket, and so to repudiate him or fail to give him what he wanted quite obviously would jeopardise the entire enterprise. Conflans was confirmed as the supreme leader of the expedition, with Bigot de Morogues firmly under his command; there would be a united fleet and no separate naval support for d’Aiguillon. But since Conflans now had to engage the blockading British and escort d’Aiguillon’s army, the ministers had to think up some ingenious way of squaring the circle. They came up with the lame suggestion that Conflans must attack the blockading squadrons but that, after that, it would be left to his discretion whether he kept to sea or returned to Brest, ready to make a fresh sortie when the Morbihan flotilla was ready. It was thought so important to keep Conflans sweet that on 14 October Louis wrote to his Marshal-Admiral, modifying his earlier (26 August) orders at the Admiral’s request. So much for Bourbon absolutism. Tactful and almost deferential, the King reassured Conflans and reminded him that the paramount objective was the safety of the Morbihan flotilla. Louis included a Parthian shot by saying that, if Conflans were to accompany d’Aiguillon instead of Bigot de Morogues, he must then either go the whole way with him to Scotland or detach six warships (plus some frigates and corvettes) to convey the flotilla to safe anchorage in Scotland.

Meanwhile at Dunkirk a subsidiary expedition under the famous corsair François Thurot was being assembled. A protégé of Belle-Isle, Thurot had won a great reputation as an intrepid privateer. In 1757, in his flagship the Maréchal de Belle-Isle, named for his protector, and commanding a small group of frigates he had harried British commerce on the North Sea, the Irish Sea and the Baltic, perfecting the technique of never staying long enough in any one area to be tracked down by the Royal Navy. Sweeping in huge arcs from Lough Swilly in Ireland to Bergen in Norway and the Faeroe Islands, Thurot took many prizes and severely disrupted trade between Liverpool and North America. His success in 1758, when France was on the retreat in most theatres in the world, determined Belle-Isle to use him in the great 1759 invasion project. Lionised at Versailles, where he was received by Louis XV and became a great hit with the ladies, Thurot was in 1759 at the very peak of his achievement and reputation. Belle-Isle’s idea was to employ him on a feint to Ireland that would keep the enemy guessing and that could bring him and his financial backers great riches. The conquistadores had gone to the New World to serve God and grow rich; Thurot, a latterday conquistador, aimed to serve France and grow rich.

Thurot raised the capital for his venture in an early example of public-private initiative, securing 500,000 livres from Berryer as the state’s contribution and attracting large amounts of capital from private investors and banks in Paris, St Malo, Boulogne and Dunkirk. Apart from the forty-four-gun flagship, his flotilla contained the thirty-eight-gun Begon, the twenty-four-gun Terpsichore and the eighteen-gun Amaranthe, as well as a small cutter, the Faucon. Meanwhile 1,500 troops were earmarked for the Irish venture, under the command of Brigadier Flobert. Unfortunately, right from the start Thurot and Flobert did not get on. Flobert despised the great corsair for his humble origins and resented having to be under his command. When Belle-Isle realised that there was bad blood between them, he should immediately have replaced Flobert; instead, for reasons unknown, he simply decided that the two men should exchange copies of their written instructions. It was pellucidly clear from Louis XV’s orders that Thurot was to be the unquestioned leader. But Flobert was not Thurot’s only problem. The long wait at Dunkirk ate into his financial reserves and soon his creditors began clamouring for their money. It was only when the Prince de Soubise wrote a letter pledging payment of any debts incurred by Thurot that a Dunkirk merchant withdrew his threat to impound the Maréchal de Belle-Isle as surety for unpaid bills.

By the summer of 1759 Louis XV had another of his changes of mind. He decided to reinstate Soubise as commander of an expedition to England, and gave Chevert a consolation prize by making him Intendant of Dunkirk; there, if it was thought necessary to reinstate the Maldon coup de main, Chevert would be on hand. Now aged sixty-four, General François Chevert was, like Thurot, a man of no ‘birth’, the bravest of the brave and the toughest of the tough. Old enough to be Thurot’s father (Thurot was just thirty-three in 1759), he was a good choice to liaise with the privateer and make straight his ways. Chevert was given the difficult task of ensuring that none of Thurot’s creditors prevented him from leaving Dunkirk, while not appearing to flout the spirit of the law. When pressed hard by a Thurot creditor named Tugghe, Chevert passed the buck to Belle-Isle, who ‘leaned on’ the merchant as only an ancien régime grandee could, telling Tugghe he should waive his claims for the time being, ‘it being very detrimental that Thurot’s departure should be held up for any reason other than the winds’. Unfortunately, by the time Thurot was finally ready to sail, on 6 September, the British blockading squadron was in place outside Dunkirk, with Commodore Boys having three men-of-war, thirteen frigates and seven cutters on station outside the port. As a consequence Thurot’s fleet sat idle in Dunkirk Roads, waiting for favourable winds, while all the time the embarked soldiers languished and fell sick in their cramped bunks aboard ship. By the end of September Chevert told Thurot that if the fleet did not get away soon, the troops would have to be brought ashore. As it was, when Thurot did get the chance to sail at a moment’s notice, he had to leave 360 of his troops behind.

The contrast between the bickering, indecision, negativity and self-destructive impulses of the French and the aplomb of the British in the autumn of 1759 can hardly be over-stated. Between 21 August and 22 October the bellringers at York Minster were paid four times for celebrating victories, beginning with Minden and ending with Quebec. If anything, the British were over-confident. Pitt, animated by Minden, wanted to send 10,000 new troops to Europe and ostentatiously refused to be distracted from his objectives in Europe and North America by the French invasion threat. The Duke of Newcastle, who always fumed and fretted whenever an invasion threat from France loomed, thought Pitt rash to the point of folly and his words to his crony Earl Hardwicke on 25 October, reporting Pitt’s triumph with the news of Quebec, do not sound entirely happy: ‘No one will have a majority at present against Mr Pitt. No man will, in the present conjuncture, set his face against Mr Pitt in the House of Commons.’ Pitt’s argument, made again and again to a sceptical Newcastle, was that the habit of being mesmerised by French invasion threats was precisely what had led to the absurdly defensive strategy in 1756 and hence the loss of Minorca. The situation was utterly unlike that in 1745–46, both as regards the Jacobites and North America. In the War of Austrian Succession Britain had to abandon the conquest of Canada after taking Louisbourg, because the French hit back by invading the Low Countries. This time they did not have to worry about French designs on the Low Countries, precisely because of the reversal of alliances.

Hawke was still on ceaseless patrol outside Brest. Having perfected the technique of revictualling at sea, he was now mainly concerned with maintaining the health of his 14,000 sailors and, in particular, preventing scurvy. His correspondence with the Admiralty is full of references to beer, bread and fresh meat. Although the importance of vitamin C was not yet appreciated, the sailors’ improved diet just enabled them to scrape by without contracting the dread disease. Although vegetables sometimes featured in the ships’ menus, the all-important greens and citrus fruit did not; ironically apples, low in scorbutic acid, were plentifully supplied. Some have speculated that Hawke’s personal hygiene-mania helped to ward off typhus, but whether the ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ ethos of the Admiral percolated to the lower decks must be considered doubtful. But it is clear that Hawke had to battle throughout his blockade with dishonest provisioners and peculating officials: there are frequent complaints about the shortage of cheese and, especially, about poor-quality beer – often so bad that ships’ captains simply ordered it thrown overboard. Bread was another problem: sometimes loaves were found to be crawling with weevils and maggots and thus threatening to contaminate all the good bread. Although the Admiralty responded to Hawke’s complaints about the beer by ordering wine to replace it, they could do little to prevent swindling contractors supplying stinking and brackish water, and since it was customary on board to mix Guernsey wine with water, Hawke often found himself back at square one in terms of providing his men with a decent beverage.

By September the Royal Navy’s efforts had shifted away from bottling up Conflans’s warships to finding and destroying the transports. On 26 August, Hawke announced this new bearing in policy (explicitly mandated by the Admiralty) when he ordered Reynolds to cruise between Port Louis and Nantes and attempt to destroy the French flat-bottoms and other troop carriers; he was not to get diverted into chasing enemy cruisers. Reynolds began by blocakading Nantes with a ship of the line and twelve cruisers. Evidently Reynolds did not act with the élan Hawke required, for in mid-September we find the Admiral proposing that Reynolds come under Duff’s command. But before this change could be implemented, Reynolds reported that he was in pursuit of the Nantes transports, which had emerged from the Loire and given him the slip and, accompanied by three frigates, were sailing north to join the troopships at Vannes. Hotly pursued, the French found refuge at Auray, where Reynolds could not pursue them. Both Auray and Vannes were secure havens for Morbihan, an extensive inlet on the north-east side of Quiberon Bay, which was indented by shoals and islets, and led to Vannes and Auray by a series of narrow, twisting channels. To penetrate this labyrinth required the services of expert pilots, and none was available to the British.

Duff meanwhile arrived at the entrance to Morbihan on 22 September and conferred with Reynolds. Together they and other captains landed on the island of Meaban at the entrance to the Morbihan gulf and climbed to an eminence from where there was a clear view of the Auray river. Having viewed the maze for himself, Duff made the obvious conclusion that the Royal Navy could not harm the transports where they were; on the other hand, he could not see how the French could ever sortie from their fastnesses onto the open ocean. Duff therefore left most of his squadron in Quiberon Bay to watch the French flotilla and took up station in the Rochester with some frigates off the Île de Croix, where he could bottle up St Louis.

Battle of Quiberon Bay II

There was good news from other theatres. Although Rodney’s attack on flat-bottoms in September had to be called off because of high seas, which threatened to smash his ships onto the coast, the endeavour confirmed his opinion that flat-bottoms could operate only on a millpond sea, and as autumn wore on there would be fewer and fewer of those. Then, at the end of September, Commodore Hervey directed a daring boat attack close to the entry of Brest harbour, engaged four ships in Camaret Bay and captured a schooner. The blockade was hurting the French badly, as they later admitted. Even at the simplest level, their matelots were cooped up in inaction and inertia while constant vigilance meanwhile kept Royal Navy crews at a high pitch of readiness.

One of the crosses Hawke had to bear was that the Admiralty constantly nagged him and tried to micro-manage his blockade, forcing him to pile up a mountain of paperwork in which he justified his every action. The Lords of the Admiralty put a negative ‘spin’ on Hawke’s demands by giving out that he required a superiority in capital ships before he would take decisive action against the French. Anson and Hawke were particularly at odds over the putative threat from Bompart’s West Indies squadron. Hawke’s only concern was that this might try to reinforce Conflans at Brest, possibly catching the Royal Navy between two fires, but he felt confident enough to intercept Bompart if he made for Rochefort without breaking stride on the blockade of France’s northwest coast. Anson, though, was adamant that Hawke had to have local superiority at Brest, and instructed him (with some asperity) that if Bompart did not interfere with the blockade and headed straight for Rochefort, Hawke should ignore him. Reluctantly accepting these orders, but hoping to make a virtue of necessity, Hawke decided to forget about Rochefort altogether and transferred Geary’s squadron there to the Brest theatre, to reinforce his local superiority. In Hawke’s opinion, the entire Admiralty brouhaha about Bompart was a storm in a teacup since, to move from the metaphorical to the actual realm, the hurricane season in the Caribbean (August–September) meant it was extremely unlikely that Bompart would soon sail for France anyway.

October saw the pace of French preparations quickening, especially when the Due d’Aiguillon arrived at his command headquarters at the Jesuit seminary in Vannes. Conflans had a golden opportunity to clear from Brest in mid-October when ferocious storms battered the Royal Navy. Reynolds, on surveillance at Île de Croix, was forced to rejoin Duff at Quiberon Bay when heavy gales blowing continuously from 11 to 14 October obliged his ships to strike topgallant masts. The united force contemplated an attack on the transports in the River Auray as a way to turn the storms to immediate advantage, but a council of war on the Rochester on 15 October concluded that an attack on the Morbihan transports was far too dangerous, especially as the Achilles struck a rock and was nearly wrecked; treacherous or venal pilots were blamed for the mishap. Off Ushant, Hervey was buffeted by heavy gales from the south-west, which swept in on a long heavy swell. Forced back to the Lizard peninsula, he was however able to return to Ushant when the weather moderated and to report that there was still nothing stirring at Brest. Hawke, aware that his men were weary after six months’ cruising in unpleasant waters, raised the blockade of Brest and returned to Plymouth, where he took the opportunity to lay in a three-month supply of fresh water. Normally the onset of winter meant an end to naval campaigning, and Hawke might have been confident that Conflans would not put to sea in such weather. But these were not normal times and nothing could be taken for granted.

Ominously, when Boys was driven off station at Dunkirk by a violent gale on 15 October, Thurot took the opportunity to escape with five frigates and 1,100 men. It was perhaps fortunate for Britain that he was detained by bad weather in Gothenburg and then again at Bergen.

Since for five days (15–20 October) there were no significant forces investing the French Atlantic ports, why did Conflans not put to sea, pick up the transports and proceed to Scotland, especially as he had just received a direct order from Louis XV to counterattack the blockade at Brest and Morbihan? Conflans, though, was no seafaring buccaneer in the Nelson or John Paul Jones mould, but a by-the-book plodding precisian. He was still bombarding the Ministry of Marine with requisitions, refusing to put to sea until he was completely crewed and victualled. He pointed out that provisioning was a particular problem, since storeships destined for Brest had been driven by the Royal Navy into Quimper and the victuals then had to be unloaded and trundled for 100 miles over very bad roads to Brest. On 7 November Conflans wrote a letter to Berryer that positively drips with sarcasm: ‘I see neither money nor ship’s timber nor workers nor provisions. I am sure you made arrangements to deal with all these contingencies.’ To an extent one can sympathise with him. The horse transports had been rotting away in the roads for the past three years and the battleships were not ready for action, except for the occasional star like the eighty-cannon Soleil Royal – state-of-the art warship and pride of the French navy. But Conflans was not just short of supplies and stores. Manpower was an even bigger headache, with Captain Guébriant of the Orient complaining that he had only thirty good seamen in his entire ship. It was all very well to press raw recruits, but they were incompetent at carrying out the complex battle manoeuvres necessary in any meaningful engagement with Hawke. Whatever the excellence of Conflans’s reasons for delay, the King and the ministers at Versailles were tearing their hair out. Infuriated with Conflans, Choiseul tried to encourage d’Aiguillon by mendaciously assuring him in October that Sweden was secretly with France and was only waiting for the French landing in Scotland to show its hand and declare war on Britain.

The weather ‘window’ passed, and on 20 October Hawke resumed his station off Brest. His confidence was rising daily, especially when he learned that Conflans’s ships were still nowhere near ready to come out, as all their topmasts and topgallants were still down. He also heard from Duff that, although there were now five regiments at Auray and eight at Vannes, all sixty vessels there had their sails unbent. Hawke had recently received reinforcements from Boscawen’s fleet, and was particularly pleased to be joined by Captain Sir John Bentley, a veteran of both battles of Finisterre in 1747, a fleet captain in the Royal Navy, and recently knighted for his sterling performance at Lagos. The only irritant was that the Admiralty had now changed its mind on the Bompart squadron. It turned out that after all they did want Hawke to intercept it, so he suggested sending Geary back to Rochefort to do the job. Confident that his advice would be accepted Hawke sent Geary on his way, only to be forced to recall him when the Admiralty lords, possibly heeding Bocsawen, who thought Geary was an idiot (‘a stupid fellow’), ordered Hawke to do so and suggested that he was not keeping the principal objectives (the blockades of Brest and Morbihan) clearly enough in the forefront of his mind. Hawke might have been justified in asking the noble lords whether the information about Bompart was meant to be taken at some metaphysical level only.

From the beginning of November it was the wind and waves rather than the tactical acumen of the rival naval commanders that determined the progress of the campaign. The volatility of the weather can be tracked in wind direction and velocity: westerly at the end of October, the wind then blew from the south-south-east on 1–2 November, from the south-southwest on the 3rd, from the south-west on the 4th and from the north-northwest on the 5th, when it began blowing a full gale. By this time Conflans was being deluged with urgent messages from Versailles, and Choiseul especially, demanding that at least the d’Aiguillon part of the invasion should be attempted, with Conflans picking up the transports at Morbihan before clearing for Scotland via the west coast of Ireland. Having evaded Hawke, Conflans was to blast passage through Duff’s blockading squadron off Morbihan; if a general engagement became necessary, Louis XV would accept the risk. The Admiralty’s spies intercepted Choiseul’s latest letter and the order went out from Anson that all ships should converge at Brest for a general engagement. These orders reached Hawke on 5 November, just as the sea began making up alarmingly. On the very same day Conflans wrote to Minister of Marine Berryer that he was determined not to abort the invasion project but would try to avoid a general engagement at sea. Naturally, if caught he would fight hard and acquit himself well, but the evasion of Hawke by stealth remained the prime objective. Conflans’s critics allege that this determination to avoid battle finally became an obsession, with disastrous results.

The bitter westerly gale of the 5th became a ferocious storm by the night of 6–7 November. Hawke’s fleet was battered mercilessly by heavy squalls of wind and rain as it tried unsuccessfully to work to the westward. As the wind backed gradually from northerly to westerly, the damage to the ships increased inexorably, with split sails and damaged masts. Topgallant yards were got down and topsails close-reefed, but the heavy western swell bore the armada increasingly off station. On the morning of the 7th Hawke reluctantly gave up the unequal struggle and bore away for Torbay. Duff and the cruisers were left to watch Brest and to send a frigate to Torbay if Conflans sortied. Later the very same day the winds of storm that had sent Hawke back to England brought Bompart’s squadron from the West Indies into Brest. Here was serendipity. Not only did Bompart learn from an unimpeachable source that Hawke’s fleet was no longer blockading, but Conflans’s crewing problems were solved at a stroke: although Bompart’s vessels were no longer battle-worthy, he simply transferred the seasoned crews and the supplies and matériel to his own battle fleet. But the French wrongly concluded that Hawke had returned to England for the winter. Had the Duke of Newcastle had his way, this would indeed have been the outcome. Afraid that the fleet would sustain severe damage if it had to struggle further with the winter storms, Newcastle strongly counselled the path of discretion. But, after some warm exchanges of opinion, Pitt, adamant that Hawke must put to sea again, had his way.

In Torbay, Hawke chafed in inactivity and frustration. Although a period of rest and recuperation was necessary for the storm-tossed ships, many of which had suffered badly split sails, Hawke worried that this lull might play straight into Conflans’s hands. But the hard gales of 10–11 November meant that getting out to sea was not possible. On the 12th the wind moderated, and Hawke momentarily hoped he could return to station. He cleared with nineteen men-of-war and two frigates, but he was barely into the Channel before the wind speed and wave height increased steeply. Faced with a south-west gale and a heavy swell, and with the warships again suffering split sails while not even out of sight of land, Hawke hung on grimly until the morning of the 13th when the savage state of the foam-flecked seas forced him to return to Torbay. At least there was some consolation, for Admiral Saunders and the Quebec fleet arrived back in England after a perilous Atlantic crossing. After his heroic work on the St Lawrence, Saunders would have been justified in taking leave, but he immediately volunteered himself and his ships for Hawke’s service. The British Quebec fleet for the French West Indian one, Saunders for Bompart: truly all paths now seemed to be leading to Quiberon Bay. There was a general sense of anticipation in the air as Anson rushed additional workmen to Portsmouth and Plymouth to get every available warship ready for seagoing.

It was not until 14 November that the storms abated sufficiently to allow the first of Hawke’s fleet to put to sea; many did not get away until the 19th. He was supremely confident in his own abilities and those of his sailors, whose morale, diet and health he had worked on so assiduously. Perhaps his only worry was that he had not been able to achieve a systematic charting of the French coast, so that he did not have an accurate picture of the reefs, shoals, fathom soundings, tides, anchorage grounds and batteries in all the Atlantic locations. Even as he toiled down the Channel towards Ushant on the 16th, Hawke met four victualling boats, whose captains informed him that Conflans had emerged from Brest on the 14th and the day before had been just sixty miles from Belle-Île, the large island off the coast of the Quiberon peninsula. Since it was obvious that the Admiral-Marshal was heading for Morbihan, Hawke sent fast cutters to all his captains to alert them that the prey was afoot. He wrote to the Admiralty: ‘I have carried a press of sail all night with a hard gale at S.S.W. and make no doubt of coming up with them at sea or in Quiberon Bay.’ The timorous Duke of Newcastle, who earlier glumly concluded that nothing could now prevent a French invasion – though he thought it was aimed at Ireland – wrote ecstatically to the Duke of Bedford: ‘It is thought almost impossible that M. Conflans should escape from Sir Edward Hawke . . . As to fighting him, which is given out by the French, my lord Anson treats that as the idlest of notions.’

Once he cleared from Brest, Conflans stood away to Morbihan on a north-west breeze; he was just over 100 miles from his destination and had a 200-mile lead over Hawke. In his fleet were twenty-one ships of the line in three divisions, under Budes de Guébriant, St André du Verger and the Chevalier de Bauffremont; but, fatally, there were just five cruisers to watch for enemy movements. By midday on 16 November Conflans was halfway from his target, about sixty-nine miles west of Belle-Île. But that afternoon the wind blew in fiercely from the east and built up into a gale, with heavy, breaking seas. Forced to run before the wind, and unable to stop until they were 120 miles west of Belle-Île, the French in effect lost three days to the storm, being exactly in the same position three days later. It was only on the 18th that Conflans could start reaching back, and even then not on a true course. The wind had settled in the north-north-east, which meant that to make easting he had to stand away far to the south. When the breeze died away on the afternoon of the 19th, he found himself becalmed about seventy miles south-west of Belle-Île. Incredibly, he was no nearer his destination than when he had been spotted by the British victualling ships on the 15th. Conflans has been bitterly criticised for his tardy performance but, although his crews may not have been as skilful as Hawke’s, the adverse weather explains most of the delay. Some poor seamanship there may have been, but Hawke did not clock up a much better mileage with a superior fleet.

It was not until nearly midnight that the wind sprang up again, now blowing from the west-north-west. From having been becalmed, Conflans was soon once again exposed to the fury of a gale. The seas were so high that he dared not approach close to land, even though he had issued orders late on the 19th to prepare for landing at Morbihan the next day. He signalled to his ships to proceed under short canvas, to ensure they did not reach land before dawn.

Compelled to reef all sails to prevent his being driven onto the shore, Conflans lolled perilously on the waves, hove to about twenty-one miles west of Belle-Île and there, at daybreak, Duff’s five-ship patrol spotted them. The French had no difficulty in chasing off the patrol, but now the secret of their position was out. Fortune meanwhile had smiled on Hawke. At first the winds drove his fleet westward, but on 18–19 November, though variable, they were more favourable, so Hawke followed a south-easterly track. By now he was running parallel with Conflans on a north-north-east wind and got to within seventy miles of Belle-Île before the following wind ceased. By noon on the 19th he found himself beset by heavy squalls from the south-east, west by north of the island, flying double-reefed topsails. The gale that hit Conflans at midnight reached Hawke five hours earlier, so that at 7 p.m. he signalled the fleet to send up topgallant masts, shake out reefs and make for Morbihan under a press of sail. The night, which began with light south-westerly breezes and fine weather, ended with gale-force westerly winds, together with cloudy skies and heavy squalls. He held on until 3 a.m while Conflans was hove to, but was then forced to lie to until 7 a.m. with topsails backed. At dawn on the 20th Hawke was forty miles west by north of Belle-Île.

If there was a hero on the morning of 20 November it was surely Commodore Duff. There was nearly a disastrous breakdown in communication between him and Hawke, as the Admiral had sent a Lieutenant Stewart on the sloop Fortune to liaise with Duff, but Stewart reprehensibly got sidetracked into an attack on a French frigate. Only apprised at 3 p.m. on the 19th that Conflans was at sea, by superb seamanship Duff got his ships out to the open ocean. He discovered Conflans at dawn on the 20th and then led the French a dance back towards Hawke’s fleet. When Conflans saw Duff’s squadron, he ordered a general chase, with all ships cleared for action. Duff divided his squadron and stood inshore, sending half of his ships south and the other half north, hoping the French would disperse. Conflans took the bait and divided his force in three: the vanguard and centre were to pursue the two detachments of British frigates separately while the rearguard marked time and identified some strange sails just starting to appear on the seaward horizon. The French fleet was becoming badly scattered in the pursuit of Duff’s vessels when they suddenly changed tack and veered off. To his horror, Conflans was now aware of Hawke’s presence and frantically signalled to his own ships to abandon the pursuit of Duff and close up on the flagship. Hawke already had his ships in line of battle, all abreast ‘at the distance of two cables asunder’, and, seeing that the enemy was not in battle formation, immediately signalled a general chase. By noon the vanguard of the chasing Royal Navy vessels were just nine miles west of Belle-Île on a northerly bearing.

By now Conflans had signalled to his fleet to make for the entrance to Quiberon Bay in single file. For this decision he has been much criticised, especially by his own countrymen, and it is true that by this time he had allowed himself to be psychologically intimidated by Hawke, to the point where he feared the very thought of a sea battle, even though he was little inferior in numbers. His motives, as he later explained them, were threefold. He feared that he was no match for Hawke in the open sea on a lee shore in bad weather. Secondly, he thought that if he got all his ships inside Quiberon Bay before the British could enter, he could haul to the wind, form battle line on the weather side of the bay and thus redress his numerical superiority. Hawke would then be put in the tricky position of having to decide whether to come in close and risk the myriad shoals and reefs. Thirdly, Conflans could then embark the army of invasion and wait for the weather to drive Hawke away, as it had done twice already in this autumn campaign. But most of all, he considered that Hawke would not pursue him in such wild seas; to fight during a storm was against all the precepts of naval warfare. As he put it to the Minister of Marine:

The wind was very violent at west-north-west, the sea very high with every indication of very heavy weather. These circumstances, added to the object which all your letters pointed out, and the superiority of the enemy . . . determined me to make for Morbihan . . . I had no grounds for thinking that, if I got in first with twenty-one of the line, the enemy would dare to follow me. In order to show the course, I had chosen the order of sailing in single line. In this order I led the van; and in order to form ‘the natural order of battle’ I had nothing to do but take my station in the centre, which I intended to do . . . as soon as the entire line was inside the bay.

Battle of Quiberon Bay III

Swaine, Francis; The Battle of Quiberon Bay, 20 November 1759; National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-battle-of-quiberon-bay-20-november-1759-175715

Certainly it was against all the canons of naval warfare to fight a battle in such weather. Under a thunderous cobalt-grey sky the Royal George crowded on sail in pursuit of the French, spray scudding from her bows as she drove before the wind. Hawke was pushing as hard as he dared, and his officers anxiously scanned the cracking and heaving canvas above them. All hands stood ready at sheets and braces, and the decks were cleared for action. At about 10 a.m. the Royal George shook out the second reef in her topsails and set studding sails. Seeing land ahead – which he took to be Belle-Île – Hawke hoist his colours and ordered the topgallant sails set, a very risky manoeuvre in such high seas. Hawke’s other ships did not find his hard driving easy to accommodate: the Magnanime sustained damage in the topgallants and had to slow for repairs. The atmosphere in the other vessels is best described as controlled panic. Several ships stove in their launches and longboats and jettisoned them, while the Burford threw its livestock overboard. At noon the wind was blowing so hard that the Royal George was forced to take in two reefs in her foresails. As Hawke explained conditions to the Admiralty: ‘All day we had very fresh gales at north-west and W.N.W. with heavy squalls. M. Conflans kept going off under such sail as all his squadron could carry and at the same time keep together; while we crowded after him with every sail our ships could carry.’

Conflans might have been justified in thinking that the enemy would not attempt to follow him into Quiberon Bay – even if high seas were not running, there were simply too many Royal Navy ships. And there were other rational grounds for his action. All he had to do was wait until the next westerly gale blew Hawke off station, which would enable the invasion flotilla to come out. French critics always think Conflans should have fought and risked his fleet to put Hawke out of action. Against this was the consideration that, even if the two fleets knocked each other out, there were still dozens of Royal Navy frigates left to destroy d’Aiguillon’s transports. The fallacy in Conflans’s thinking was, however, twofold. For even if he was not being pursued by his most deadly foe, how did he hope to get all his ships through the narrow harbour entrance while such a ferocious storm was blowing? And, however strategically sound Conflans’s ideas, in war so much depends on the unexpected. Doubtless nobody could have foreseen that Hawke would hurl himself onto a lee shore with a press of sail, when the shoreline was known to be studded with reefs and shoals. But a commander must always try to read his opponent and gauge his desperation. Here was Hawke, who had been itching to finish off the enemy since the beginning of the year, and obsessed with the notion that he was plagued by supernatural ill luck.

Conflans should have known Hawke was desperate, and a desperate man, like a gambler, will risk the entire pot on a single throw.

If courage is the art of taking minutely calculated risks, Hawke was a great practitioner of the art. Ever since Finisterre in 1747 he had been working on a range of battle orders that would cover every contingency. Part of the fleet drill was that in a general chase the warships nearest the enemy should form line of battle and engage without regard to their position in the overall battle line; as new ships came up, they would also engage without worrying about their regular stations. Since Howe was now in the van with seven men-o war, these conditions were fulfilled. Undeterred by the weather, Hawke hoist his flags and set topgallant sails, despite the rising sea, and the other ships were compelled to follow his example. This was an extremely dangerous manoeuvre and, like everything Hawke did that day, strictly against the book. There was nearly an early disaster, for Keppel carried so much sail that water poured into his lee ports and he had to come up into the wind very quickly to avoid capsizing. All this time the wind speed was increasing from the west-north-west, with heavy gusts, driving rain and sudden squalls. Not even Hawke dared to flout the odds in such conditions, so he very soon took in his topgallant sails, while ordering them reset the moment the wind abated.

The result of Hawke’s headstrong, risky pursuit was to wreck Conflans’s plan for getting all his ships to safety before the British could engage. Making way with perilous rapidity on a rising sea, Howe in the Magnanime began to gain on the enemy. Conflans realised he might not have time to get all his ships inside the bay and then form line under the shelter of the western shore. Now it looked as though the French would not have time to haul to the wind and come about. To his incredulity, the rising gale, high seas and dangerous lee shore coruscating with rocks and shoals did nothing to make the British slacken their speed, and the Magnanime and Royal George were even prepared to set their topgallants. The Bay of Biscay was in full ferocity, with pyramidal waves, a heavy swell and foam-flecked confused seas, where the dark green of the ocean, the grey of the ‘white caps’ and the lowering black clouds on the horizon produced an atmosphere of Stygian gloom even at midday. The menacing seas found their complement in the rocky shore – one of the most dangerous of all Atlantic coastlines. The French were making for the entrance to the bay between Dumet Island and the Cardinal rocks to port – the last of the long range of rocks and islets that continue the Quiberon peninsula; beyond that was a lee shore sticklebacked with reefs. By noon Hawke was off the south coast of Belle-Île and could see huge breakers smashing against the cliffs. In the distance he could make out the foam-drenched Hoedik rocks and the surf-beaten Cardinals. A heavy breaking sea was crashing over the Guérin and other rocky banks flanking the approach to the southern entrance to Quiberon Bay, which lay between the Cardinals and the Four shoal to starboard, a perilous rocky bank about seven miles east-south-east.

For two hours the Royal Navy steadily closed the gap between their vanguard and the four ships in the French rear – Formidable, Thésée, Héros and Superbe. At around 2 p.m. the leading vessel in the British van, the Coventry, came under fire from the French. But as the French stood in for land, Howe, commanding the British van, signalled to his crews to keep their nerve and refrain from firing back until they were close enough to touch the muzzles of the enemy guns. But the gunners on HMS Warspite disregarded the orders and, without any word of command from their captain (Sir John Bentley), opened up on the hindmost enemy ship, which was out of range. It was about 2.30 p.m. when Conflans in his flagship the Soleil Royal reached the Cardinal rocks. As he entered and hauled round them, Conflans heard the sound of gunfire and realised that his slow rear had been caught. The four French ships toiling along eight to ten miles behind their Admiral were now being attacked by nine Royal Navy warships. Conflans, who had already committed the grave error of not using his flagship as a focus around which his other vessels could cluster, now committed another by not turning round and going to their rescue; there was still time to save the rearguard before Hawke’s main force came up. His excuse was that when he saw the rearguard giving a good account of itself, he thought it could escape without his help. Moreover, he could not turn round until he had shown the way into Quiberon Bay to the ships immediately behind him.

By this time, isolated and abandoned, the four French ships in the rear were fighting tigerishly against the nine men-of-war in the Royal Navy van. By about 2.45 p.m. Magnanime, Swiftsure, Torbay, Dorsetshire, Resolution, Warspite, Montague, Revenge and Defiance were within gunshot of the French, with Hawke and the rest of the British fleet about six miles behind. Just before 3 p.m. the Revenge engaged the eighty-gun Formidable, flagship of Rear-Admiral St André du Verger, but the Frenchman stood away to rake the Magnifique, which soon had its topmast and foreyard carried away. The captains of the Dorsetshire and Defiance decided that their colleagues were strong enough to deal with the French rear and overtook them, taking fire as they went, hoping to catch up with Conflans. Soon after the action began, the elements took a hand and a heavy squall struck both fleets, with the Royal Navy ships taking a particular battering. The Temple was forced to double-reef her topsails; the Dorsetshire, with lee ports under water, had to luff in order to clear the water between decks; and the Torbay almost broached to and took so much water in the lee ports that the captain had to bring her up in the wind with all speed. At about 3.17 p.m. Hawke’s fleet was hit by such a heavy squall that the Chichester’s fore-topsail was carried away. The Magnanime, Warspite and Montague ran foul of each other, and in the collision all three lost jib-booms and sprit-sail yards. The Montague later reported the loss of jib-boom, spritsail, spritsail-topsail yard, driver boom and spare anchor as well as severe damage to the main chains and quarter.

The collision of the three Royal Navy ships momentarily halted the pursuit, but once the Magnanime got clear she overhauled the Formidable and engaged her in ferocious combat. Soon joined by the Warspite, the Royal Navy ship began to make steady inroads on the Formidable’s defences; in half an hour, despite much heroism, the French ship was fought to a standstill. But the Formidable’s stupendous performance should never be forgotten: completely surrounded, she battled on like a wounded panther, taking fire from successive ships. The admiring British assailants reported that she looked like a gigantic colander and still continued to fight, though virtually a floating wreck. At about this time the Magnanime detached to pursue the seventy-four-gun Héros, which had been in the thick of the fighting and had lost fore and mizzen topmasts. As the French vessel tried to make off for the south, the Magnanime overhauled her and raked her. The Chatham too came up, and shortly afterwards the Héros struck its colours. The devastation wrought by the Magnanime was such that every officer down to the rank of midshipman had been killed. There were 400 dead and wounded on board, the helm was shot away and the decks were strewn with wreckage. The surrendered Héros came to anchor but the gale was so fierce that no boats could be lowered to board her.

Just before the Héros struck, an even greater disaster hit the French. Shortly after 4 p.m. the seventy-four-gun Thésée bore down to engage the Torbay. Manoeuvring in a giant swell, both ships took the immiment risk of being swamped in order to use their main batteries. The French ship blasted four of the enemy sails and had the better of the gunnery, but Captain Kersaint de Coetnempren of the Thésée lacked Keppel’s brilliance as a seaman. Keppel flung the Torbay round into the wind as soon as water began to burst into his gun-ports. But the Thésée suddenly shipped an enormous sea through the cannon holes, capsized and went to the bottom in seconds. Kersaint, one of the rising stars of the French navy, perished alongside 650 of his men; only twenty-two survived. Horrified by the sea’s cruel treatment of a fellow mariner, Keppel launched boats into the seething sea-cauldron. His courage was matched by the grit of his tars: one boat’s crew picked up nine French survivors and floundered in the savage sea until after dark, when it finally found its way back to the Torbay. Part of the problem here was that Keppel after his narrow escape took his ship alongside the stricken Formidable to finish her off, administering the coup de grâce with a double broadside. On board the French ship were scenes of horror. After seeing his ship’s fore-topmast shot away, the wounded Duverger continued to direct operations from a chair on the quarterdeck until he received a fatal shot; his brother then took over and was shot in the same way; finally a second captain assumed command until he too was killed; then at last the Formidable struck, to the Resolution. It was no more than a floating carcass, its decks littered with corpses and torn to pieces by bullets and cannon-shot.

The saga of woes of the ships in the French rearguard was not yet ended. By this time the running battle had taken the combatants to the edge of the Cardinals where Conflans in the Soleil Royal had emerged at the entrance, still hoping to form his ships up in battle line or at least to double the Four head near Croisic and thus draw the English fleet away onto the open sea. The attempt to form line just inside the bay soon had to be abandoned as a total disaster; Conflans did not even manage to take up station in the centre. Before he could draw up his ships in a tight, defensive formation, they all had to be inside the bay, and they were not. Then the Magnanime swept into the bay, with French assailants swarming around her like killer whales around a rorqual. Before long other Royal Navy ships had come to her rescue, but by then Conflans’s would-be defensive line was thrown into confusion by a fresh development. The wind shifted to the north-west, making it impossible for the French to go about. They were now in a funnel with rocks on one side and the Royal Navy on the other.

With fifty ships of the line crammed into an area five miles long and six and a half broad, hemmed in by islands and shoals, Conflans’s fleet had no room to manoeuvre. There was a press of French ships in the bay, with the Royal Navy slavering nearby and the whole drama being played out under a grey, darkening sky, lit up by fires and mottled by clouds of smoke. Thousands of spectators, who had run out from Croisic and nearby villages, watched as the British and French ships rolled heavily on the great ocean swell that had followed them into the bay. Total confusion reigned and in places seemed likely to turn into pandemonium. A French officer wrote: ‘The confusion was dreadful when the van, in which I was, tried to go about. Part could not do it. We were in a funnel, as it were, all on top of each other, with rocks on one side of us and ships on another.’ Seeing that it was impossible to form a defensive line, Conflans opted for the escape scenario. Having now definitely decided to make for the open sea, accompanied by two other ships, he was making rapidly for the exit when Hawke in the Royal George rounded the Cardinals. Conflans was unlucky. On the way out he had shot up the Swiftsure, destroying her fore-topsail yard and causing her to broach to; in the open ocean this would have been the end of her. Taking additional damage in her tiller rope, the Swiftsure limped out of action, and lay to under a mizzen – the only sail she had left to set. But the ten-minute delay in sweeping her out of his path meant that Conflans did not get clear before Hawke spotted his ensign.

Hawke ordered the Royal George’s master to lay her alongside the Soleil Royal. The master protested vociferously that, in failing light and with a rising sea, such a manoeuvre was madness. It was then that, according to legend, Hawke made his famous reply: ‘You have done your duty in apprising me of the danger; let us next see how well you can comply with my orders. I say, lay me alongside the French Admiral!’ Hawke’s flagship caught up with Conflans and his flotilla at about 4.25 p.m., only to receive a heavy broadside from all three French ships. The two flagships exchanged broadsides, but then swept past each other as more ships became sucked into the confused mêlée, partly by osmosis, partly because they were uncontrollable in the weather. Astern of Hawke’s vessel other ships (the Union, Mars and Hero) were coming up to help him. Seeing Hawke manoeuvring to rake Conflans, the seventy-gun Intrépide, the only survivor of the five French ships in the rearguard, interposed itself between the two flagships and took the full force of the murderous gunnery from the Royal George. At 4.41 p.m. she sank almost instantly, dragging down with her 630 Breton sailors. There were no survivors and the tragedy was made more poignant as these were poor, conscripted peasants who had never been to sea before Conflans cleared from Brest. The fact that Captain Monthalais was himself a Breton did nothing to assuage the depression that fell on north-western France, as Brittany mourned its lost sons for months.

Meanwhile, while manoeuvring to avoid being raked by the Royal George, the Soleil Royal fell to leeward and then, in trying to tack, fouled two of the ships following her. Consequently she was unable to weather the Four and had to run back and anchor off Croisic. It was now past 5 p.m., the dark of a winter’s night had descended, it was blowing harder than ever and high seas were running even inside the bay; outside in the ocean enormous waves were building up. Hawke considered his options. Ahead of him lay the wave-besieged shore of Dumet Island, while close at hand and uncharted were the killer rocks and shoals of Croisic; even more peril lay to the south in the form of a seething chaos of breakers and combers washing around the dangerous Four shoal. All around him were unknown reefs and shoals just waiting for an unwary vessel, while outside in the Atlantic it sounded from the din of crashing surf as if the world was coming to an end.

Hawke had been lucky so far and he knew it; but he also knew when to cut his losses and not push his luck. At 5.30 p.m. he hauled down the signal for engagement, though not all his captains heeded the signal, continuing the fight until around 6 p.m. in their eagerness to prevent the enemy’s escape. Some of the Royal Navy ships thus came within an ace of running aground in the dusk. Finally, just after six o’clock, all firing ceased. It was said that the very last shots fired were by L’Orient. Then Hawke gave the signal to anchor – two guns fired from the flagship, without lights, so that only the vessels directly adjacent to the Royal George knew where it was anchored. Most of Hawke’s fleet anchored between Dumet Island and the Cardinals, but a few spent the night at rest in another part of the bay, while some intrepid souls (Swiftsure, Revenge, Dorsetshire and Defiance) actually stood out to sea.

Both sides spent the night in some anxiety and uncertainty, but the French were most beset by gloom. All that terrible day they had endured the moaning of the savage gale, the ceaseless rattle of blocks and creaking of yards. While the storm crashed around them, the infernal din was counterpoised by the slatting of canvas and the clatter of sheets, the booming of guns, the crash of falling spars, the shivering and splintering of woodwork, the groans of wounded men and the shrieks of poor souls drowning in the foam-flecked brine. Even the pitch, roll and yaw of the ships and the thrumming of backstays had been an agony to their taut-stretched nerves. And now they had to face the uncertainty of a hellish, black night. The French were the first to crack. Seven of their ships, led by Villan de Brosse in the Glorieux, tacking to avoid the rocks and shoals they at least knew about and which lay all around them, made their way deeper and deeper towards the estuary of the River Vilaine. Another French ship, the Juste, got out of the bay and headed north to the Loire estuary. Since both captains (the brothers Saint-Allouarn) had been killed, the First Lieutenant took command and managed to navigate the vessel out onto the open sea. They survived the storm and struggled all night to repair the smashed rigging and plug leaks but in vain. Next morning they had a fair wind for entering the Loire and made for St Nazaire. Miscalculating the falling tide and thus coming too close to land, the Juste struck a rock, pitching its complement into the sea. Although the crew took to the boats as the ship broke up, only a handful of the 630 men on board survived – and again the dead were all Bretons.

Unknowingly, Conflans had anchored right in the middle of the Royal Navy vessels and when morning came would be easy prey. There was no hope of rescue for eight ships were already out of the reckoning, seven in the Vilaine river and another a wreck on the Brittany coast. The masters of these ships had at least acted for the best according to their own lights. But in the case of Conflans’s deputy, the Chevalier de Bauffremont, the suspicion of cowardice, incompetence or dereliction of duty must be entertained. Bauffremont’s pilot warned him that to stay in the bay in the middle of reefs and shoals was supremely hazardous and advised him to make for the open sea. Bauffremont (on the Tonnant) conferred with his nearest colleague, Captain Guébriant of the L’Orient, whose pilot gave him the same advice. Concluding that Conflans ‘must have’ been similarly warned and must therefore be exiting the bay, Bauffremont, without sending out boats to try to locate the flagship, simply headed out to sea and sailed down to Rochefort. He claimed to be astonished to discover both that five vessels from the fleet were already there and that Conflans was not one of them. Taxed with running away, Bauffremont pointed out that a return to Brest was out of the question because of contrary winds, and that six ships (including his own) from three different divisions in the fleet had all independently come to the same conclusion he had reached; they had not all arrived at Rochefort together. Moreover, he was simply obeying standing orders, which stated that in the aftermath of a lost battle a captain should always steer for the nearest unobstructed port.

Battle of Quiberon Bay IV

The morning of the 21st dawned, still stormy. The bulk of the Royal Navy fleet was anchored about three miles from Dumet Island at the mouth of the Vilaine river. To his astonishment, Hawke saw the Soleil Royal anchored nearby and only eight other French vessels in sight, beyond and inshore of the British line. Finally understanding his desperate position, Conflans slipped anchor and tried to reach Croisic Roads where there were protecting batteries. Hawke sent the Essex in pursuit but both she and her quarry ran aground on Four shoal, hard by the Héros, similarly disabled. This was now a veritable graveyard of ships, for at 10 p.m. the night before the Resolution had also struck a reef here and run aground. Hawke meanwhile weighed anchor and gave the signal to attack the other French ships in the Vilaine. But it was blowing so hard from the north-west that he finally considered the attempt suicidal and struck topgallant masts. With the aid of the storm and a favourable wind, the French vessels managed to cross the bar into the Vilaine river – a feat they could probably not have achieved in any other weather conditions; as it was, they had to jettison all guns and gear to get to safety. The conjuncture of the tides and the freak high-water level in Quiberon Bay combined to provide a unique, unrepeatable opportunity.

All that day the gale raged ferociously and unceasingly. Not until evening did Hawke dare even to lower boats to rescue the crew of the stricken Essex. It was only on the 22nd that Hawke sent in three ships to finish off the Soleil Royal and the Héros. Seeing the British about to descend on him, Conflans set fire to his flagship and escaped; he did not even tarry to save the magnificent artillery on board. The British arrived and boarded the blazing flagship but had no time to do more than carry off the golden-rayed figurehead. Duff’s men then completed the French discomfiture by burning the Héros. Hawke worked up as far as the Vilaine estuary and even found an anchorage, but concluded there was no way he could reach the other French ships. Duff and his captains reconnoitred the lower reaches of the Vilaine in small boats and at first there was some hope that they could send in fireships, but this later proved chimerical. The French ships were now, at any rate, out of the war, though some did return to service a year later. Hawke now proceeded to tighten his hold on the Brittany coast. He sent Keppel with a flying squadron to investigate French ships said to have taken refuge in the Basque Roads, but these vessels proceeded up the River Charentin, out of reach of the Royal Navy, so Keppel returned to Quiberon Bay. And he seized Belle-Île, a wonderful base for raids on France’s west coast.

In the euphoria of victory Hawke did not observe the precise rules of warfare as understood by eighteenth-century international law, and this embroiled him in an acrimonious and abrasive correspondence with d’Aiguillon. Although he sent the French wounded ashore, he reserved the right to extract the big guns from the Soleil Royal and set about their removal. D’Aiguillon and his second-in-command, the Marquis de Broc, protested that the Soleil Royal and the Héros had never struck, so that Hawke could not claim them and all their contents as lawful prizes of war. When Hawke disregarded the protests, d’Aiguillon ordered local militiamen to open fire on any British working parties attempting to remove artillery from the Soleil Royal. Matters quickly escalated: Hawke opened fire on Croisic and threatened a systematic bombardment if his men were attacked again. He then seized the Île d’Yeu, halfway down the coast to Rochefort, destroyed its defences, rounded up all the cattle there and slaughtered them to feed his hungry sailors. At the end of the year Hawke returned in triumph to England, handing over the continuing blockade of Quiberon to Boscawen.

 

Quiberon Bay was one of the great naval victories in world history. It may lack the totality of Nelson’s later triumphs at the Nile and Trafalgar, if only because many of the French ships never got into the fight; and it was not a decisive event in the sense that Salamis, Actium and Tsushima were. It did not even have the obvious drama of Lepanto. But a sea battle fought in a violent storm will surely remain a unique event in all the chronicles of the ages. Hawke never really got the praise he deserved and there is even something defensive in the way he described the battle to the Admiralty:

In attacking a flying enemy, it was impossible in the space of a short winter’s day that all our ships should be able to get into action or all those of the enemy brought to it . . . When I consider the season of the year, the hard gales on the day of the action, and the coast they were on, I can boldly affirm that all that could possibly be done has been done. As to the loss we have sustained, let it be placed to the account of the necessity I was under of running all risks to break this strong force of the enemy. Had we but two hours more daylight, the whole had been totally destroyed or taken; for wewere almost up with their van when night overtook us.

At Quiberon, Hawke lost two ships and 300–400 men. The French lost five, including their flagships Soleil Royal and Formidable, and more than 2,500 men, most of them drowned. Additionally, four of the seven vessels that had taken refuge in the Vilaine ended up with their backs broken. Essentially Hawke’s victory was the result of superior seamanship and his readiness to risk all to defeat the enemy. His was a stunning achievement in such weather. Ungenerous critics say that Hawke was above all lucky in meeting the victuallers when he did near Ushant, while Conflans lost three days to gales. But against this counterfactual can be set another, which says that if Hawke had not arrived at Quiberon Bay until 22 November, he would have entered the bay and won an even more spectacular victory while Conflans was trying to embark d’Aiguillon’s invading force. Certainly Hawke always attracted contrary opinions. At the very moment of his victory, the British mob, frustrated with the lack of a decisive breakthrough, was burning him in effigy. When news of the victory reached London it was of course a different story. Horace Walpole wrote to his confidant Mann: ‘You would not know your country again. You left it a private little island, living upon its means. You would find it the capital of the world. St James’s Street crowded with Nabobs and American chiefs, and Mr Pitt attended on his Sabine farm by Eastern monarchs, waiting till the gout has gone out of his foot for an audience.’ For all that, Hawke himself was ill requited. He was awarded a £2,000-a-year pension, but nothing else. Since Pitt did not like him and Anson was jealous of him, he waited in vain for further recognition for his triumph at Quiberon. After Finisterre in 1747 he had been raised to the peerage, but the ruling elite, still full of Wolfe-mania, ignored a far greater hero.

But for Conflans and the French, Quiberon was an utter catastrophe. The general opinion in France was that Conflans deserved to live in eternal infamy for the events of 20 November 1759. Opinion in the streets of Paris was inflamed, but not more so than in Brittany, where the people turned violently against the whole idea of foreign invasions; in Vannes the locals tore down theatre posters and would not allow the actors of the Comédie Française to perform for d’Aiguillon and his officers. Conflans lamely told Berryer that he had done his best and acted with ‘firmness and wisdom’. The problem, in his view, was the quixotic attempt to mount an invasion in winter. To d’Aiguillon the day after the battle he was blunter: ‘What can we do with such marked naval inferiority? At least this debacle should put an end to these ill-coordinated land and sea combined operations.’ He left the navy soon afterwards and died, forgotten, in 1777. Conflans was a mediocre by-the-book admiral who did not seriously confront his own errors. Obsessed with avoiding a battle at all costs, he was indecisive for the whole of 20 November. First he headed towards the enemy, then he fled in such haste as to leave his rear unprotected. Once at Quiberon he dithered again: first he wanted to get inside the bay, and then he wanted to get out. As the true hero of the day on the French side, Saint-André du Verger remarked: ‘The circumstances of this day’s work are a disgrace to our Navy, and show only too well that it has but a handful of officers with initiative, courage and skill; that nothing else will do but to reorganise the service from top to bottom, and to provide it with commanders who are capable of commanding.’

Yet the real villain of 20 November was Bauffremont, who disobeyed standing orders and also the particular command from Conflans that he should never lose sight of the flagship. He was later accused of having deliberately ignored signals from Conflans out of jealousy and personal dislike; the fact that he was aided and abetted by Bigot de Morogues, still smarting after Conflans went above his head to Choiseul, adds circumstantial colour to the charge. That Bauffremont acted like a coward or a dullard seems scarcely disputable; the only serious argument is about whether he was guilty of treason or just terminally stupid. Bauffremont’s protestation that he acted on his pilot’s advice is irrelevant, if that meant ignoring explicit orders. But he soon added bluster to his other blemishes and indignantly wrote to Berryer to know why he was being cross-questioned. When Berryer on i December ordered him and all the ships at Rochefort to clear at once for Brest, Bauffremont sulkily replied that it was impossible, yet he would try to perform the miracle requested. On 21 December he sent a long screed of apologia to Berryer. Surely his action in sailing for Rochefort, thus saving eight ships, was better than staying with Conflans, where these vessels would either have been gutted or bottled up, useless, on the Vilaine? He then got on his high horse and declared that he should by now have had Berryer’s express commendation for what he had done. Bauffremont remained completely unapologetic and, in a bellicose letter to Choiseul in 1762, demanded to know why he was being held responsible for the disaster at Quiberon when French commanders genuinely responsible for debacles like Crefeld and Minden were never censured. The Ministry of Marine formed its own opinion on Bauffremont and made him wait until 1764 for the Lieutenant-Generalship he solicited two years earlier.

The contrast between the mild treatment of Conflans and Bauffremont by France and the savagery meted out by England to Admiral Byng in 1757 is clear. One shudders to think of the likely treatment of Bauffremont by the Admiralty. His self-defence (all the later blustering aside) was essentially twofold: he always obeyed orders but did not see Conflans’s signals; and he exercised the sort of discretion that he imagined his leader was even then exercising. But Bauffremont really could not have it both ways. If he was not in command, then he had to obey Conflans’s orders; the transparent fiction that he did not see the Marshal’s signals fooled nobody, and he was anyway under a strict professional obligation not to lose sight of the Soleil Royal. He also overlooked his clear duty as chief of squadron -which was to inform all ships in his division of his decision to run for Rochefort. He could not therefore logically state that other captains took the sauve qui peut decision to run for Rochefort independently, but he did so because it was one of the main planks of his defence. Bauffremont therefore stands convicted on a number of moral counts. He neglected his duty both to his superior and his subordinates and sinned against discipline and against the honour of the French Marine. Like other captains guilty of dereliction of duty he forgot the cardinal rule: all initiatives must not be independent but within the context of the Commander-in-Chief’s general orders. By trying to exculpate himself with a number of different arguments, Bauffremont simply impaled himself with self-contradiction.

Bauffremont probably escaped court martial only because Berryer had more important things on his mind. On 25 November he informed d’Aiguillon that the expedition to Scotland was officially suspended. The troops at Morbihan, almost atrophied from months of inaction, were given furlough. However, because of the continued presence of the British on the Atlantic coast, d’Aiguillon’s army was not disbanded and transferred to service in Germany, but broken up, cantoned, dispersed along the coast and used to repel invaders in Brittany and Gascony. The Basque roads and Belle-Île were now being used as anchorages by the Royal Navy who were so confident of quasi-permanent occupation that they used several islets as extended vegetable gardens. The mighty French fleet had been humiliated and, like the German Grand Fleet after Jutland, never put to sea again during the Seven Years War. Although naval captains and Jacobites continued to lobby Versailles to attempt an invasion of Britain with unescorted transports, the ministers had gone sour on ‘descents’. The debacle at Quiberon played into the hands of those members of the Council of State who wished to concentrate on continental warfare, and even Berryer’s prime interest in the ships that had got away to Rochefort was to disarm them so that he could save money.

For Pitt, Quiberon was the victory that set the seal on the year of victories. 1759 had been like a dream for him. He had made the Royal Navy the pivot of his global strategy and had been successful beyond anything he could have imagined. Seapower had enabled him to win the struggle for the West Indies, to defeat France in the battle for mastery in North America and to devastate all Choiseul’s counter-offensives. With Anson and Hawke, a talented team, he had successfully introduced the innovation of a fleet-in-being, for no armada like Hawke’s had ever been at sea for so long, or would be again for forty years. Britain was now incontestably a great power – perhaps the greatest of all time at this moment – and controlled the world’s sea lanes: to North America, to the Caribbean and to the Orient. Pitt’s triumph gave new heart to Frederick of Prussia, currently at the nadir of his fortunes. By diplomatic finesse had kept Spain out of the war, though Pitt knew that Spain was still fearful that Britain was now all-powerful in all theatres, and that ill-considered schemes, such as Newcastle’s ambition to control the Baltic by seapower, were likely to alienate her and make new enemies. Even so, Anson was able to announce that in 1760 the Royal Navy would have an unprecedented strength of 301 ships and 85,000 sailors. But most of all, Quiberon destroyed for ever any lingering hopes of a Jacobite restoration. Bonnie Prince Charlie might sulk in his lair at Bouillon, like Achilles in his tent, but no deputation of despairing French Achaeans would ever visit him to beg him to re-enter the fray.

The Death of Philip of Macedon


4th Century B.C. Macedonia

Throughout most of his reign Philip of Macedon suffered from bad press and a serious inferiority complex. Though he had built his kingdom into the preeminent power of the Greek world, his far more cultured neighbors to the south, Corinth, Athens, and Sparta, still viewed him and his followers as crude mountain-dwelling barbarians. His own personal history and appearance didn’t aid his acceptance by the upper crust. He was first and foremost a military leader who took armies into battle personally. As a result he had suffered a score of wounds. The two most grievous blows had been the loss of an eye and a spear thrust into his thigh. Neither wound had healed properly and both continued to ooze. The leg in particular emitted a horrible smell. It was also rumored that he had committed the heinous crime of matricide in clawing his way to the throne.

His personal life was equally scandalous. His first wife was a priestess of Dionysius, in modern terminology, a temple prostitute. At that time the practice was far more accepted and she did claim the distinction of being the daughter of a minor king. The real scandal was their very public falling out. She had borne Philip a son, the legendary Alexander, and then proclaimed openly that Philip was not the father; rather it was the god Zeus, who had visited her bedchamber in the incarnation of a snake. Modern political and sexual scandals pale in comparison to the dynamics played out in the royal household in the capital city of Pella. Philip was proclaimed a cuckold by his wife—she was known to hang around with snakes—and the king became notorious for his desire to sleep with anyone who was willing, male or female.

His interactions with Alexander could be described as a love-hate relationship. On one hand, there seemed to be moments of genuine affection between the two. Philip did everything possible to groom him for command, retaining the most famous scholar of the age, Aristotle, to serve as the boy’s tutor, and he craved Alexander’s acceptance by the high-browed Greeks. For his part, young Alexander, in his first major battle, threw his own life on the line in order to save his father who had been surrounded and was on the point of being overcome. Alexander literally placed his own body between his father and the enemy spears.

And on the other hand hatred flared as well, especially as the boy entered early manhood. The bitterness between the boy’s mother and the king simmered for years, and boiled over when Philip took a new wife, a girl the same age as Alexander. At the wedding feast one of Philip’s drinking buddies toasted the new marriage and the chance to produce a legitimate heir to the throne. As a result father and son came to blows, and on the same night Alexander and his mother fled the city, a wise move since the king might very well have had both slain in his drunken rage. For over a year civil war ensued between father and his wife and son. A truce was finally declared and the two were allowed to return.

Meanwhile, Philip’s dream of bringing all of Greece to heel was at last coming to pass. At the legendary battle of Chaeronea, fought in 338 B.C., Philip defeated a combined Athenian-Theban army nearly twice his size; and the following year, at Corinth, the Corinthian League was proclaimed, an alliance of all of Greece under the aegis of Philip. Though not accepted as a social equal, the strength of his army had created him supreme warlord of all the Greeks, ready to embark on a campaign into Asia against the Persian Empire.

Alexander was the only fly in the ointment. Sent by the Macedonian king to serve as ambassador, the young Alexander had become an instant celebrity, touring Greece like a triumphal hero. The contrast between father and son was remarkable. Here was not a grizzled warrior, smelling of decaying wounds, aged from drink and sexual excess; many proclaimed that the young Alexander seemed like an earthly manifestation of a god, brilliant, witty, good-natured, physically strong and agile, stunningly handsome, the true Greek ideal of perfection. Word of Alexander’s successful tour came back to Philip and caused even more unrest. The old king had led the armies and won the battles, yet it was the young upstart who seemed to be taking all the glory. Furthermore, the dark, unsettling rumors, first spread by his first wife, Olympias, were now being voiced openly: that Alexander had in his veins not the blood of Philip but rather the blood of a god.

In preparation for the campaign into Persia, a religious festival and games were to be held in Pella. As king, Philip was also chief priest, and it was his responsibility to march in procession to the temple and then to the arena to start the festivities. Representatives of all the Greek city-states would be present, many of them traveling to Pella for the first time. The city went all out in preparation, for Pella was no longer a rude barbarian capital, but must now prove itself the new heart of Greek civilization and culture.

Adding additional tension to the festival were Philip’s new wife and his newborn son. Philip’s old drinking buddies and the family of his new wife started to openly whisper that here at last was a true heir untainted by rumors of illegitimacy. There was another undercurrent persisting as well. An old male lover of Philip, a member of his personal guard, had had a falling out with a rival for Philip’s attention. This rival had recently been killed in a skirmish and his dying wish was that his competitor should somehow be humiliated. The dead rival’s wishes were carried out: Philip’s old lover was invited to a party, bound, then tossed out into the street to be abused by servants and slaves. When he went to Philip to complain and demand justice, Philip took the entire incident as an uproarious joke and laughed the young man out of court for being unable to defend himself. These various currents, plots and counterplots now came to a head.

Unfortunately, at this moment Philip seized on what he considered to be an excellent idea. Tired of the gibes about his appearance, his predilections, and his tyrannical behavior, Philip settled on the idea of marching in the procession in the Greek manner…without any armed escorts. Ever fearful of being classified as tyrants, the rulers of most Greek city-states were expected to mingle freely on the streets and at public and private functions like any other citizens; alone, unafraid, without weapons and, most of all, without guards. For only a hated king or dictator needed such men for his protection.

Thus Philip, on the morning of the festival, decked himself out in his finest robes, stepped to the front of the parade and started off alone, limping along, waving, acknowledging the cheers of the crowd. It was a grand gesture, undoubtedly drawing positive comment from foreign observers…and it cost him his life. As he stepped into the tunnel leading into the arena he was suddenly surprised by his old jilted lover, who drew a dagger and plunged it into Philip’s chest. Philip staggered out into the arena and collapsed in a pool of blood.

The hapless assassin was himself dead within seconds, run down by several of Alexander’s friends and cut apart. Within hours, the new wife met her own fate. The bitter ex-wife, Olympias, cornered her, pointed out that suicide was better than a far more painful execution, and oversaw the termination of the young girl and her baby. By the end of the day, Alexander’s hold on the throne was secure.

Conspiracy? The historians of the period, writing during the reign of the great Alexander, absolved him of guilt, leaving the case against Olympias somewhat more open. At least Philip had made his point in his quest for social acceptance; he had died like a true Greek, without any bodyguards around to help.

MiG-15 and Sea Fury

HMS Ocean and her escorts departed Kure on the evening of 8 August resuming operations off the Korean coast the following day. Unlike the previous patrol the weather was exceptionally fine which increased the sortie rate. This would be the day that the Sea Furies of No.802 NAS would tangle with MiG jet fighters. Having launched at 0600 hours in the morning Lt Carmichael, Lt Davis and Sub Lts Ellis and Haines departed Ocean and headed into the Pyongyang area to reconnoitre the railway line. Close to the village of Chinji-ri the flight spotted eight jet aircraft to the north. Quickly recognised as enemy fighters the Sea Furies dumped their external fuel tanks and assumed battle positions. Such was the pace of the battle that Sub Lt Ellis noticed streams of tracer passing each side of his aircraft. Calling ‘Break’ the Sea Furies broke off into a scissors break. It would appear from subsequent events that either the MiG pilots were inexperienced or they believed that their jet powered mounts would see them through without undertaking any clever manoeuvres. The result was that the Communist pilots were being shot at by the Sea Fury pilots from all angles thus Sub Lt Ellis was easily able to place hits on the wings of one MiG which limped away from the battle escorted by two others. Overall the dog fight lasted no more than five minutes after which the MiGs pulled away although there was an explosion on a hillside close by as an aircraft crashed. A call round the flight revealed that all the Sea Furies had survived and it was realised that the Fleet Air Arm had successfully shot down a jet fighter. Although Lt Carmichael as flight leader was accredited with the kill the other members of the flight were credited with a quarter each as it was impossible to ascertain who had fired the fatal shots. Overall this one fight had resulted in one destroyed aircraft with two others badly damaged. Further MiG reports were arriving at Ocean even as the Carmichael flight was heading home. One of the first to encounter this next wave was Lt Clark whose Sea Fury was hit by cannon fire in the starboard wing which began to blaze merrily. The pilot dropped the aircraft’s drop tanks and by careful side slipping managed to put out the fire. Eventually the badly damaged Sea Fury touched down on the deck of Ocean. Escorting Lt Clark was his wingman Lt McEnery who claimed hits on the tail of one of the attacking MiGs. The next attack was against a flight led by Lt Hallam who eventually had to break clear although his aircraft was hit by a 37 mm cannon shell behind the cockpit which left the pilot with no other option but to make a wheels-up landing at Chodo. His wingman Lt Jones managed to return to the carrier while a rescue mission was launched to collect Lt Hallam. Lt Carmichael was awarded the DSC and would eventually become a Commander. While the Sea Furies were tangling with the MiGs the Fireflies were dropping their bombs on a village just south of Chinnampo with great success. The following day was just as eventful. As before the Sea Furies departed to carry out strikes against railway targets led again by Lt Carmichael when yet again MiGs were spotted. External drop tanks were quickly cleared away and another dog fight quickly developed. Eventually the Sea Furies managed to reach cloud thus ending the engagement although at least one MiG was seen to limp away trailing black smoke courtesy of pilots Davis and Ellis. While the MiGs had sacrificed altitude to engage the Sea Furies it was unlikely that this would always be the case. Thus it was proposed that in theatre USAF F-86 Sabres should act as escorts to the Royal Navy fighters. However due to increasing commitments the USAF was not able to provide cover for these flights, therefore, further sorties had to be timed to coincide with F-86 patrols over Korea. When the Sabres were not available the Sea Furies flew in formations of eight aircraft that were intended to give cover to the attack aircraft while presenting the MiGs with too many targets. Even with these restrictions the Ocean air wing carried on regardless hitting all sorts of strategic and tactical targets. On 11 August this sudden flurry of jet fighter activity by the north ceased and on 13 August the carrier underwent a day of replenishment. Flying resumed again on 14 August and was a great deal quieter than before as the air wing concentrated on military targets in the Ongjin area, many of which were mortar positions. Having attacked the military positions the Sea Furies turned their attentions to road and rail bridges. However, No.802 NAS did lose an aircraft after a RATOG launch. Sub Lt Clark had used his RATOG to gain height rather than forward momentum on this occasion but once the rockets had finished firing the aircraft stalled and dived inverted into the sea. The pilot managed to escape and was successfully picked up by the plane-guard helicopter. Over the following days a similar pattern of missions was followed before the carrier departed on 18 August for Kure to avoid typhoon Karen. HMS Ocean arrived at Kure on the evening of 19 August mooring at the jetty opposite HMS Unicorn where replacement aircraft and stores were transferred.

With the squadrons fully re-stored with manpower and aircraft HMS Ocean put to sea on 26 August and resumed operations the following day. Bad weather dampened flying until 30 August when sorties were launched in support of landings near Paengyong-do. Further air support flights were undertaken over the Ongjin peninsula in support of further landings during which one Sea Fury was slightly damaged by ground fire. Other aircraft from Ocean continued to attack the usual range of targets and all aircraft returned safely after which the carrier withdrew for replenishment. Operations resumed on 1 September with the Sea Furies attacking bridges while the Fireflies concentrated on buildings thought to contain stores, ammunition or troops. Over the two following days Ocean’s aircraft continued their usual pattern of sorties although there was a new twist to these operations as a North Korean came on air posing as an American operations controller, however the pilots were suspicious as they were controlling a gunnery shoot for a Royal Navy Frigate. Flying on 4 September was cancelled as Typhoon Mary was moving in the vicinity of South Korea. Combat flying resumed the following day and all missions were completed without loss. Once the last aircraft had returned the carrier departed for Sasebo and arrived on 6 September. After a seven day sojourn in harbour HMS Ocean left Sasebo to resume patrol duties. On 14 September flying resumed with the Sea Furies and Fireflies spending much of their time searching for targets worthy of attention. Over the following few days a similar pattern of events occurred until on 17 September the Sea Furies struck at sluice gates controlling water flow at the mouths of the Haeju and Yonan rivers. All strikes were successful and the gates and supporting walls were destroyed by bombs. Over the following two days the air wing continued to strike their designated targets but on these occasions the crews were warned about the possibility of MiGs in the area although none were encountered. A replenishment day occupied 20 September. The next day MiGs were reported to be much in evidence and, therefore, some missions were diverted away from their primary targets. On 21 September No.802 NAS would have the Sea Fury of Lt Graham struck off charge due to the amount of anti-aircraft fire damage it had suffered whilst another would be totally destroyed when it ploughed into the flight-deck barrier. On 24 September the carrier undertook its final sorties of the patrol and then departed for Kure arriving on 25 September. Mooring alongside the jetty opposite Unicorn the usual process of exchanging aircraft and replenishing stores was undertaken.