1757 - British expedition against Louisbourg

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1757 - British expedition against Louisbourg

The campaign lasted from May to September 1757

Description

At the beginning of 1757, Loudon was commander-in-chief in North America. He planned to conquer the Island of Cape Breton by capturing the Fortress of Louisbourg. This done, he intended to capture Québec the same year.

On January 3, Loudon laid a general embargo on all outward-bound ships in American colonial ports. His objects were, firstly, to prevent the communication of intelligence to the enemy; secondly, to obtain the necessary transports; and thirdly, to secure additional seamen for his Majesty's ships. From a military point of view, these measures were justifiable but they were also very detrimental to commerce and produced strong dissatisfaction in America. Furthermore, since Great Britain desperately needed corn, the embargo was soon lifted.

British and French reinforcements for the Americas

At the beginning of 1757, the French were very busy in fitting out two great fleets at Brest and Lorient.

In January, British transports arrived at New York with large body of troops from Great Britain to reinforce the army in North America. Loudon billeted the troops in public and private houses, causing some protests in the population.

At the end of March and the beginning of April, several British squadrons were equipping at Portsmouth and Plymouth.

The French Court was informed that a great British fleet was fitting out for North America. It reacted immediately by ordering three squadrons across the Atlantic, with instructions to rendezvous at Louisbourg, the conjectured point of attack. A large British fleet under Sir Edward Hawke was lying off Brest harbour to observe the French fleet. Despite all these precautions, a French squadron managed to get out of Brest and another one from Lorient. The French squadron under the command of M. de Beaufremont consisted of 15 ships of the line and 5 frigates and convoyed some 5,000 men for the West-Indies. The other French squadron set sail for the East-Indies.

The third French squadron under the command of M. de Revest sailed from Toulon for America. Admiral Saunders was then at Gibraltar with a British squadron. When Saunders was informed that the French had appeared off Málaga, he pursued them with 5 ships.

On April 5, Saunders saw the French squadron and, being to leeward, formed a line. The French did the same. Some of the ships began to engage at a distance but the British then lost sight of the French and could not re-establish contact. The French squadron successfully passed the strait of Gibraltar and sailed for America.

With these French reinforcements heading for America, part of it for the West-Indies, the British West-India fleet under Admiral Townshend was threatened because it then consisted only of 4 ships of the line and 3 frigates.

On April 16, a British squadron under Admiral West sailed from St. Hellen’s. It was designed for Ireland to pick up troops on its way to America and consisted of 11 ships of the line, 1 frigate, 1 bomb ketch and a convoy of 50 transports.

On May 3, M. Dubois de la Motte escaped from Brest with a further reinforcement (9 ships of the line, 4 frigates and 2 battalions of Berry Infanterie) and reached Louisbourg. Dubois was enabled to escape by the fact that the blockading British squadron before the place, under Vice-Admiral Temple West, had been driven from its station by bad weather.

On May 5, after much delay, the British fleet, now under the command of Admiral Holbourne, sailed from Cork in Ireland for Halifax, where Loudon was to meet it with additional forces. Holbourne's fleet consisted of 15 ships of the line and 3 frigates, with 8 battalions (about 5,000 troops) on board.

West was afterwards relieved in front of Brest by Rear-Admiral Thomas Broderick, who remained cruising till June, when Vice-Admiral Edward Boscawen took the command of the squadron for about a month. Prizes were made, but there was no meeting between the fleets of the two countries.

British preparations for the expedition against Louisbourg

From March 18 to 27, Loudon assembled the governors of the neighbouring colonies in Philadelphia where they decided upon the defensive measures to undertake and upon the number of troops that each colony should supply.

In April, Loudon prepared 90 transport vessels in Boston and New York and additional ones at Philadelphia.

By May 5, all transports were assembled at New York. Sir Charles Hardy, governor of New York, was commissioned as rear-admiral of the Blue. His squadron consisted of:

Admiral Holbourne's fleet was expected at Halifax from Great Britain at about this time. In fact, as mentioned in the preceding section, it was just getting to sea.

Between May 22 and 25, troops embarked on board the transports at New York. The fleet then sailed to Sandy Hook where it anchored.

On June 5, Loudon joined the fleet and removed his flag to the Sutherland (50). He decided to wait for Holbourne because 5 French ships of the line and 1 frigate had been reported at Louisbourg. Indeed the same day, part of Beauffremont's squadron, which had previously reinforced the West Indies, arrived at Louisbourg where it made a junction with 4 ships of the line which, a few days earlier, had arrived from Toulon under M. de Revest.

The French squadron then cruised off Halifax. Meanwhile, Loudon sent two sloops to reconnoitre the coast. They soon came back without spotting the French vessels.

On June 20, after waiting in vain for Holbourne, Loudon finally put to sea and sailed from Sandy Hook to Halifax where he arrived without meeting any opposition on June 30. The troops were soon landed and encamped at Halifax. Parties of rangers were also sent to patrol the surrounding woods. Meanwhile, vessels were sent to reconnoitre the harbour of Louisbourg.

The British and Colonial contingents make their junction at Halifax

On July 7, all of Holbourne's fleet was finally at anchor before Halifax. Once combined with Loudon's squadron, the fleet counted 17 ships of the line, 14 frigates and sloops, 2 bomb ketches and 1 fire ship escorting 179 transports. More precisely, the war fleet consisted of:

(1) : from these vessels, 1 ship of the line (Sutherland) and 12 frigates were already in America.

The combined land forces consisted of 15 regiments, 500 men of the train, 500 rangers and 100 carpenters, amounting to nearly 12,000 men. They were landed at Halifax and several weeks were spent drilling them.

Meanwhile, some attempts were made to learn the state of Louisbourg. Captain Gorham and some of his rangers reconnoitred it from a fishing vessel and brought back an imperfect report. Based on this report, it was resolved to proceed to the attack of Louisbourg.

On June 29, another French squadron under M. Dubois de la Motte reached Louisbourg where the united French squadrons now totaled 18 ships of the line (including the recently captured Greenwich (50)) and 5 frigates, a force much superior to that which Holbourne and Hardy were able to dispose of.

Vice-admiral Holbourne sent Captain Rous with the Winchelsea (24) and other frigates, to look into Louisbourg. Rous returned and made his report which grossly underrated the strength of the French forces.

The enterprise is abandoned

On August 1 and 2 in consequence of Rous report, the British army was re-embarked and a rendezvous was appointed in Gabarus Bay, 10 km west of Louisbourg.

On August 4, all was ready when a sloop came from Newfoundland, bringing letters found on board a French schooner lately captured. According to these letters, it appeared that all three of the French squadrons were now united in the harbour of Louisbourg and 4,000 regulars besides its garrison (3,000 men) were available for its defence. Indeed, La Motte, the French admiral, had with him a fleet carrying an aggregate of 1,360 guns, anchored in a sheltered harbour under the guns of Louisbourg. Success was now hopeless, and the costly enterprise was at once abandoned.

For his part, Dubois de la Motte had been expressly ordered to protect Louisbourg and on no account to hazard an engagement with the British fleet unless he should be in such overwhelming force as to place the question of his success beyond a doubt. For this reasons, he made no attempt to attack Holbourne's squadron, nor to blockade the British in Halifax.

Judging his force strong enough, La Motte sent the 2 battalions of Berry Infanterie to Québec aboard the Bizarre (64) and Célèbre (64).

The fate of Holbourne's squadron

On August 10, Holbourne resolved to reconnoitre Louisbourg for himself. Leaving, a few vessels for the defence of Halifax, he sailed for Louisbourg.

On August 16, Loudon with his troops sailed back for New York while some regiments remained in Halifax and others, under convoy, went to the Bay of Fundy, Fort Cumberland, and Annapolis Royal. Loudon was still at sea, off the coast of Nova Scotia, when a despatch-boat from Governor Pownall of Massachusetts informed him that Fort William Henry was attacked. A few days later, he learned by another boat that the fort had been taken. He ordered Webb to hold his position without risking a battle till he should himself arrive.

On August 20, Holbourne arrived before Louisbourg. Near the harbour's mouth some of his ships got close enough in to draw the fire from the island battery. The vice-admiral was thus able to satisfy himself that the strength of the enemy had not been exaggerated. Dubois de la Motte signalled his fleet to unmoor, whereupon the British tacked, stood off, and at nightfall bore away.

On August 31, Loudon reached New York and heard that the French had withdrawn. He nevertheless sent his troops up the Hudson.

On September 11, Holbourne was again at Halifax, where he found reinforcements of 4 ships of the line from Great Britain (Somerset (64), Devonshire (74), Eagle (58) and York (60)), under Captain Francis Geary.

Vice-Admiral Holbourne, after watering and rewooding his fleet, which by that time consisted of 19 ships of the line, 2 fifty-gun ships, and several frigates; sailed for Louisbourg with the intention of blockading the French, until the approach of winter and shortness of supplies should oblige them to come out and fight him.

HMS Grafton fitted with a jury rudder for her voyage to Great Britain after the strom off Louisbourg, 1757
Source: W. L. Clowes, The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, p. 168

On September 24, Holbourne's squadron was only about 100 km south of Louisbourg, when a fresh easterly gale sprang up. In the night it veered to the southward and blew an awful hurricane until about 11:00 a.m. on September 25. Then, fortunately, it again veered to the north, otherwise the fleet could scarcely have been saved from destruction. The Tilbury (58), with nearly all her crew, was lost 11 km from Louisbourg, struck and went to pieces. The Grafton (70), bearing the broad pennant of Commodore Charles Holmes, also struck, but was got off. She lost her mainmast, foretopmast, and rudder; but the ship was safely steered to Great Britain by means of a jury-rudder devised by Commodore Holmes. The Ferret (14), Commander Arthur Upton, foundered with all hands. All the other ships of the fleet were seriously damaged, no fewer than 12 being dismasted either wholly or in part. Not one was left fit for immediate action. Had La Motte sailed out of Louisbourg, he would have had them all at his mercy.

Vice-Admiral Holbourne sent his most damaged ships direct to Great Britain, under Sir Charles Hardy and Commodore Charles Holmes, and went with the rest to Halifax.

After refitting, Holbourne too sailed for Great Britain, leaving a few ships under Captain Lord Colville, of the Northumberland (70), to winter at Halifax. Lord Colville had orders to endeavour, when the season should permit, to prevent supplies from getting into Louisbourg.

Holbourne's squadron returned to Great Britain in a very bad condition. On December 7, it arrived at Spithead. Holbourne was then appointed port admiral at Portsmouth.

The French squadron returns home

On October 22, a fleet of 15 sail of the line and several frigates, under Admiral Sir Edward Hawke and Vice-Admiral Edward Boscawen, sailed from Spithead. It was sent to sea with a view to intercept the home-coming French squadron from Louisbourg.

At the end of October, the French naval forces in Louisbourg put to sea and recrossed the Atlantic, suffering from very bad weather during the voyage.

When on its station, the British squadron was dispersed by a gale.

On November 23, the vanguard under Captain Robert Swanton sighted the French squadron of M. Dubois de la Motte. Swanton's vanguard was engaged by some of the French ships. Dubois de la Motte finally called off his chasers for fear of attracting the attention of the British fleet. Indeed, the British main squadron had not yet regained its assigned position and the French squadron got into Brest unmolested.

On December 15, Hawke and Boscawen returned to Spithead with no tangible results.

References

This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Anonymous: A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 201-206, 227-235
  • 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. 167-169, 171-172
  • Lévis, Chevalier de: Journal des campagnes du chevalier de Lévis en Canada de 1756 à 1760, Montréal, Beauchemin, 1889, pp. 110-112
  • Parkman, Francis: Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 272-274

Other sources

Castex, Jean-Claude: Dictionnaire des batailles terrestres franco-anglaises de la Guerre de Sept Ans, Presse de l'université Laval, Québec: 2006, pp. 319-321

Phillip, Michael: Ships of the Old Navy