1755 - French reinforcement of Canada
The campaign lasted from April to November 1755
This description is mostly a translation of Jean-Louis Vial's articles related to the French reinforcement of Canada published in Nec Pluribus Impar. It also incorporates excerpts from various other sources now in the public domain and refers to some modern works.
At the beginning of January 1755, the British Government was informed that 17 French ships of the line had been ordered to be equipped at Brest and Rochefort. Indeed, as soon as the French Court heard that British reinforcements under Braddock had been sent to North America at the beginning of 1755, it had decided to prepare a counter expedition that would transport some 3,200 men along with a large quantity of supplies and armaments to Canada. When the British heard of these preparations, they rushed to arm their own fleet which was ready half a month before the French fleet.
On March 14, the French frigate Diane (24) under Captain Froger de l'Éguille was sent ahead to Canada to announce that reinforcements were being assembled.
On March 11, a proclamation was issued in Great Britain, offering bounties for seamen and able-bodied landsmen.
On March 14, 35 British sail of the line and numerous small craft were commissioned; a hot press for men was instituted in each of the chief ports, and fifty companies of Marines were ordered to be raised.
At the beginning of April, 18 French ships of war were fitted for sea at Brest and Rochefort.
The second battalions of six French regiments (about 3,200 men) were ordered on board. They were taken from the following regiments:
- La Reine Infanterie (1 bn)
- Bourgogne Infanterie (1 bn)
- Languedoc Infanterie (1 bn)
- Guyenne Infanterie (1 bn)
- Artois Infanterie (1 bn)
- Béarn Infanterie (1 bn)
Upon their arrival at Brest, the French battalions were reviewed by M. de Crémille. Each battalion was then completed to have 13 companies of 40 men each, including a company of grenadiers. The troops also received new equipment and uniforms. However, the muskets were of the old 1746 model and mostly in bad condition. Furthermore, the new uniforms would not be delivered to them before their arrival in Canada. The uniforms of the officers were not yet made and would be tailored later in Canada.
Between April 4 and 14, the French troops progressively embarked aboard the fleet.
On April 10, the French frigate Fidèle (24) under Captain de la Jonquière was sent ahead to Canada to announce the arrival of an important convoy.
The expedition was placed under the command of Baron Jean Armand de Dieskau, a German veteran who had served under the Maréchal de Saxe. The new governor of French America, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, was also accompanying the expedition to succeed Duquesne, whose health was failing.
These troops and supplies were distributed among a fleet consisting of two divisions. The first division was under Admiral Comte du Bois de la Motte and the second under M. Périer de Salvert.
The first division was destined to Québec. It consisted of 9 ships of the line and 1 frigate. Among the ships of the line, 7 were armed as flute (cargo vessel) with their armament reduced accordingly to allow more space for freight. More precisely, this first division consisted of:
- Ships of the line
- Entreprenant (74) under Admiral du Bois de la Mothe, transporting the Governor of Canada, M. de Vaudreuil, and the Commander-in-chief of the French troops, Maréchal de camp Dieskau, as well as the commissaire ordonnateur of land troops, M. Daureuil
- Alcide (64) under Captain Hocquart de Blincourt, transporting Colonel de Rostaing, second in command of the French troops along with two engineers
- Algonquin (72) under Captain de Villéon, armed as a flute for this expedition, reducing her armament to 24 guns to transport 9 coys of La Reine Infanterie
- Actif (64) under Captain Chevalier de Caumont, armed as a flute for this expedition, reducing her armament to 22 guns to transport 9 coys of Languedoc Infanterie
- Illustre (64) under Captain de Praslin-Choiseul, armed as a flute for this expedition, reducing her armament to 22 guns to transport 9 coys of Guyenne Infanterie
- Léopard (62) under Captain de Chiffrevas, armed as a flute for this expedition, reducing her armament to 22 guns to transport 4 coys of Guyenne Infanterie and 4 coys of Béarn Infanterie
- Lys (64) under de Lorgeril, armed as a flute for this expedition, reducing her armament to 22 guns to transport 4 coys of La Reine Infanterie and 4 coys of Languedoc Infanterie
- Opiniâtre (64) under Captain de Moëlien, armed as a flute for this expedition, reducing her armament to 22 guns to transport 9 coys of Béarn Infanterie
- Apollon (56) under Captain Gomain, armed as a flute for this expedition, reducing her armament to 12 guns to serve as hospital ship
- Sirène (30) under Lieutenant de Tourville
The second division was destined to Louisbourg on Isle Royale (present-day Cape Breton Island). It consisted of 4 ships of the line and 2 frigates. Among the ships of the line, 3 were armed as flute (cargo vessel) and transported the regiments of Artois and Bourgogne. More precisely, this second division consisted of:
- Ships of the line
- Bizarre (64) under Captain de Marolles, carrying the Chef d'escadre Périer de Salvert
- Défenseur (74) under Captain de Beaussier de l'Isle, armed as a flute for this expedition, reducing her armament to 24 guns to transport 9 coys of Artois Infanterie
- Espérance (74) under Captain Louis Jubert de Bouville, armed as a flute for this expedition, reducing her armament to 24 guns to transport 4 coys of Artois Infanterie (including its grenadier company) and 3 coys of Bourgogne Infanterie
- Dauphin Royal (74) under Captain du Tertre de Montalais, armed as a flute for this expedition, reducing her armament to 24 guns to transport 9 coys of Bourgogne Infanterie
On the British side, Vice-Admiral Boscawen was ordered to intercept the French reinforcements bound to Canada and to capture or destroy any French vessels.
On April 27, Vice-Admiral Boscawen got to sea from Portsmouth, convoying two regiments. His squadron consisted of:
- 11 ships of the line:
- 1 frigate
- 1 sloop
Boscawen sailed to the entrance of the gulf of the Saint-Laurent, near the southern coast of Newfoundland, to intercept the French Fleet. Boscawen was supposed to be reinforced by several vessels who had previously transported Major-General Braddock and his troops to New England. Indeed the Centurion (60) and Norwich (50) were in the Chesapeake Bay.
On April 29, the Baron de Dieskau complained about the bad quality of the weapons supplied to his troops. He wrote to d'Argenson:
"...the muskets that I had the honour to account for a short while ago are increasingly of bad quality. This inconvenience is very embarrassing and I can see only one remedy which is to send us others next Fall and, if possible, that they are of the new model with new ramrods since the actual ones break as glass."
On May 1, two small transport vessels, the "Macreuse" and the "Fauvette" sailed from Brest towards Canada.
On May 3 around 10:30 a.m., the French fleet finally put to sea after much delay. Besides the two divisions of the fleet destined to Canada, Admiral MacNamara, was also ordered to escort the expedition to a certain distance from the French coast with a squadron of 9 vessels. More precisely, MacNamara's squadron consisted of:
- Ships of the line
- Formidable (80) under Captain de Coetnempren de Kersaint with Admiral MacNamara aboard
- Palmier (74) under Captain Chevalier de Bauffremont
- Héros (74) under Captain de Kermabon with Chef d'escadre Bullion de Montlouet aboard
- Éveillé (64) under Darot de Fontais
- Inflexible (64) under Captain de Guébriant
- Aigle (50) under Captain de la Rochefoucault-Cousage
Overall, it was a fleet of 19 ships of the line and 6 frigates who left the harbour of Brest. Among these vessels, 13 ships of the line and 3 frigates were destined to Canada. The Formidable (80) and Entreprenant (74) sailed at the head of the fleet.
On May 5, three British frigates were in sight. Two of them followed from the distance until May 8 while the third, the Seaford (22), immediately sailed for Penzance to announce that the French fleet had finally set sail from Brest.
On May 7 at 1:00 p.m., the Entreprenant (74) fired a cannon shot to signal to the flutes to follow him while the squadron under MacNamara, who was charged to escort the French fleet destined to Canada, halted before returning to France. At 4:00 p.m., the two fleets lost sight of each other. During the following days, the sea was calm and the fleet advanced slowly.
On May 8, the news of the departure of the French fleet reached London and it was decided to send additional ships to chase it.
On May 9, Admiral MacNamara returned to Brest with 9 ships of the line after escorting the French expedition to the high sea.
On May 11, Rear-Admiral Holburne's Squadron left Great Britain to join Boscawen if it could. Holburne's orders were similar to those previously given to Boscawen: to capture or destroy any French vessels bound to North America. Holburne's squadron consisted of:
- 6 ships of the line
- 1 frigate
The same day, the Espérance (74) suffered damage to her foremast, forcing the French fleet to slow down while she was repairing.
On May 25, in a foggy weather, the Comte de la Mothe ordered the fleet to stall and assembled the officers of the fleet aboard the Entreprenant (74) to instruct them about their final destinations. The division under M. Périer de Salvert (6 vessels transporting the battalions of Artois Infanterie and Bourgogne Infanterie) would sail for Louisbourg while the division under the personal command of the Comte de la Mothe would continue towards Québec.
On May 26, the fog intensified and the vessels of the French fleet lost sight of each other. To add to the difficulties, the fleet encountered large icebergs.
Most of the French fleet managed to elude Boscawen and safely made its way. However, seven of the French ships, lost in fog and rain, had become separated from the rest not far from Cape Race at the southern tip of Newfoundland.
On June 4, the Comte de la Mothe spotted vessels at the entrance of the Saint-Laurent. Thinking that they were the seven French ships previously isolated from the main fleet, he sailed towards them. He finally realised his mistake and was saved by a providential fog which allowed him to escape from the British vessels. The same day in France, Admiral du Guay left Brest with the squadron previously commanded by MacNamara to cruise the coast of Portugal to favour the return of the French fleet from Canada. Du Guay cruised in the Atlantic ocean near the straights of Gibraltar; but not meeting with the other French fleet, which did not return till some time afterwards, put into Cadiz.
On June 7, the weather having somewhat cleared, the 7 isolated French vessels were spotted by Boscawen's fleet who chased them. During the morning, the British fleet was within 10 km of him, crowding all sail in pursuit. Four of the French vessels managed to disappear in the fog.
On June 8, the British fleet caught up with the 3 remaining French ships. Towards 11:00 a.m., the Dunkirk (60), came abreast of the Alcide (64) to windward, within short speaking distance. The Torbay (74) (Boscawen's flagship), displaying a red flag as a signal to engage, was not far off. Hocquart called out: "Are we at peace, or war?" He later declared that Howe, captain of the Dunkirk, replied in French: "La paix, la paix". Hocquart then asked the name of the British Admiral and on hearing it said: "I know him; he is a friend of mine." Being asked his own name in return, he had scarcely uttered it when the batteries of the Dunkirk (60) belched flame and smoke, and volleyed a tempest of iron upon the crowded decks of the Alcide (64). She returned fire, but was forced at length to strike her colours. Rostaing, second in command of the troops, was killed and 6 other officers and about 80 men were killed or wounded. At the same time, the Lys (64) (armed as a flute with only 22 guns) was attacked and overpowered by the Defiance (60) and Fougueux (64). She had on board 8 companies of the battalions of La Reine and Languedoc. The third French ship, the Dauphin Royal (74) (armed as a flute with only 24 guns), escaped under cover of a rising fog.
The rest of the French fleet successfully reached its assigned destinations. Some ships went to Louisbourg and disembarked the troops of the Artois and Bourgogne battalions, while others continued towards Québec with the other battalions (La Reine, Languedoc, Guyenne Béarn).
On June 19, the Opiniâtre arrived at Québec.
On June 21, Rear-Admiral Holburne finally joined Boscawen on the Banks of Newfoundland.
On June 22, the Algonquin anchored in the harbour of Québec.
On June 23, the Illustre, Léopard, Apollon, Sirène (30) and Fidèle (24) arrived at Québec. The same day, the companies of La Reine Infanterie and Guyenne Infanterie disembarked from the Algonquin and Illustre.
On July 24, while the French squadron of du Guay was at Cadiz, Sir Edward Hawke and Rear-admiral Temple West were despatched with a strong squadron of 21 ships of the line (including the Barfleur (90)) and 5 frigates to intercept du Guay, who was returning from the West Indies after having carried reinforcements to the Leeward Islands, or any other French ships that might escape Boscawen on their return to Brest. Hawke cruised off Cap Finistère.
Meanwhile, when Boscawen discovered that the French had safely reached Québec and that his own fleet was very sickly, he left Rear-Admiral Holburne with a small squadron to blockade Louisbourg and went to Halifax to refresh his men.
At the beginning of August, Admiral du Guay was informed of Hawke's attempt to intercept him and sailed from Cadiz to Brest using a different tract, steering directly west from Spain into the Atlantic Ocean. Once far away from the coast, he changed his course and stood directly for the land's end of England. He thus arrived safe at Brest. On his way, he met and captured the Blandford (24) which was sailing for Carolina with Governor Lyttleton on board. The Blandford was subsequently restored to the British.
On August 23, Hawke gave verbal orders to Lord Harry Powlett in the Barfleur (90) to give chase to a sail in the south east. The Barfleur pursued this sail all night and, on August 24, was unable to find back the British fleet. The same day, she gave chase to a sail seen in the south-west, ignoring three other sails seen in the north-east which might probably be part of du Guay's fleet. The Barfleur, with her rudder in bad condition, was then obliged to put into port without order. Hawke then sailed back to England where he arrived on September 29.
On August 24, the Comte du Bois de la Motte left Québec with all the first division of his fleet. He sailed along the north shore of the Saint-Laurent, passed Anticosti Island, then the Strait of Belle Isle. Navigating several days among icebergs, he managed to escape the British squadron cruising at the entrance of the Saint-Laurent.
On August 31 at night, his mission at Louisbourg now accomplished, Périer de Salvert sent the Comète (30) back to France. During the night, the frigate managed to sail unnoticed, with all her fires extinguished, through the British squadrons cruising near Louisbourg.
On September 19, Périer de Salvert finally left Louisbourg with the Bizarre (64), Défenseur (74) and Dauphin Royal (74). As requested by M. Drucourt, the commander at Louisbourg, who feared for the security of the town, Périer de Salvert let the Espérance (74) and Aquilon (42) behind till mid October.
On September 20 at 5:00 a.m., Périer de Salvert's three vessels, among which only the Bizarre (64) was not armed as a flute, were spotted by British vessels who gave them chase. Despite the favourable wind position of the British squadrons, the Défenseur (74) and Bizarre managed to escape towards 3:00 p.m. Meanwhile, the Dauphin Royal (74) taking profit of her qualities escaped once more from the British vessels towards 6:00 p.m. The same day, the Macreuse, a small transport vessel, was captured by the British.
On September 29, Hawke arrived at Spithead in England.
On October 11, the Dauphin Royal (74) arrived at Isle d'Aix.
On October 14, Vice-Admiral John Byng and Rear-Admiral Temple West sailed from Spithead with 10 ships of the line.
On October 16, the Aquilon (42) left Louisbourg to return to France.
On October 17, the Espérance (74) left Louisbourg after leaving two of her gun to reinforce the defence of the fortress.
The epidemic of putrid fever raging in Boscawen's squadron could not be checked. Before he got home to Great Britain with the main part of his squadron, his ships had lost 2,000 people. Captain Spry, with a few vessels, was left to winter at Halifax.
On November 4, Boscawen and the rest of his fleet anchored at Spithead.
On November 6, the Aquilon (42) arrived at Belle-Isle.
On November 11 towards 10:00 a.m., the slow Espérance (74), carrying only 22 guns, was still more than 400 km west of Yeu Island when four British vessels spotted her and gave her chase. These British vessels were the Buckingham (70) of Counter-Admiral West, the Orford (70) under Captain Charles Steevens, the Weymouth (60) and the Eagle (58). At 4:00 p.m., the Orford presented herself on the portside of the Espérance. She fired the 35 guns of her starboard side. The Espérance could oppose her only 11 guns (18-pdrs and 8-pdrs) of her portside. The combat lasted for three hours, the conduct of the French crew forcing the admiration of its British opponents. At 9:00 p.m., the Espérance was surrounded by the four British ships and a prize crew sent aboard.
On November 13, West's squadrons was joined by the main fleet of Vice-Admiral Byng who noted that:
" The French Ship of War that Admiral West brought into the squadron... was in the most distressed condition I ever saw a ship, extremely leaky and not able to carry any sail, having only her lower masts standing and foretopmasts... ".
On November 15, the pumps of the Espérance being insufficient to keep the ship afloat, the French and British crews were evacuated and the ship finally sank.
On November 21, M. de Rouillé, French Minister to Foreign Affairs, made representations to Great Britain for the violence committed against French vessels, accusing the British Navy of piracy and asking for reparations. The French Court was not unanimous in the proposition of a war plan. M. de Machault, Minister of the Navy, advocated a strictly maritime war while M. d'Argenson proposed an invasion of Hanover in addition to a maritime confrontation with Great Britain.
On November 22, Byng returned to Spithead without having done any action of consequence.
On January 13 1756, Fox replied to M. de Rouillé that the British king was disposed to find arrangements with France but that he would not retrocede the captured ships because they had participated in an act of war initiated by France in peacetime.
Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761
Clowes, Wm. Laird, The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 140-142
Dull, Jonathan R: The French Navy and the Seven Years' War, University of Nebraska, 2005
Lévis, chevalier de, Journal des campagnes du chevalier de Lévis en Canada de 1756 à 1760, Montréal, Beauchemin, 1889, p. 38
Pajol, Charles P. V., Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. IV, Paris, 1891, pp. 17-19
Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 106-109, 214
Vial, J.-L., Nec Pluribus Impar