1758-04-29 - Combat of Cuddalore
Marginal French victory
Prelude to the Battle
In March 1757, a naval squadron under admiral d'Aché had been sent from France to reinforce the French posts in India. This squadron was delayed on its way, arriving at Île Maurice (Mauritius) only on December 17.
On January 27 1758, d'Aché sailed from Île Maurice and made for the coast of Coromandel in India. Owing to the monsoon, he was much delayed.
On April 28 at daybreak, d'Aché's squadron finally arrived in the roadstead of Fort St. David. Upon its arrival, the French squadron, consisting of 11 vessels, had already lost about 350 men through sickness. It carried on board II./Lally Infanterie and 50 French artillerymen, together with comte Lally himself, who had been appointed to the supreme command of the French in India. The French cut off the escape of the Bridgewater (24) of captain John Stanton, and Triton (24) of captain Thomas Manning, which were lying there, and which, to save them from capture, were run ashore and burnt.
Lally's instructions from Versailles directed him first to besiege Fort St. David. Accordingly, d'Aché detached the Comte-de-Provence (68) and the Diligente (24) to carry M. de Lally to Pondicherry (actual Puducherry) to give the necessary orders. The rest of the French fleet then worked down 3 km to southward and dropped anchor off Cuddalore.
Description of Events
On April 29, at 9:00 am, Pocock sighted the French squadron, which then consisted of 8 ships fit for the line, at its moorings before Cuddalore. Pocock, who had 7 ships of the line, signalled for a general chase. D'Aché at once weighed anchor and stood out to sea E. by N., with the wind from the S.E.
At 12:30 pm, Pocock got within 5 km of the enemy, who waited for him in line of battle ahead. He then hauled down the signal for a general chase and made that for line of battle ahead, with the ships at a distance of half a cable apart. Owing to the heavy sailing of some of the British vessels it was not until the afternoon that Pocock could engage.
Finally at 2:15 pm, the Cumberland (66) and Tiger (60), sailing badly, got into their assigned positions and Pocock bore down on the Zodiaque (74), d'Aché's flagship, which occupied the centre of the French line. The captains of the Newcastle (50) and Weymouth (60) unfortunately mistook the signal for the line, and did not close up to the ships ahead of them. Furthermore, when the vice-admiral signalled for closer action, these ships did not obey. The French opened fire as the British approached. The Cumberland was so long in getting up that the vice-admiral, and the 3 ships ahead of him, had, for some time, to sustain the whole fire of the French. Yet, Pocock did not return a shot until his ship had hauled up exactly abreast of the Zodiaque.
At 3:55 pm, Pocock being now abreast of the Zodiaque, made the signal to engage. Commodore Stevens, with the ships ahead of the vice-admiral, behaved magnificently, but the 3 ships astern did not properly support the van. This might have been serious, and even fatal, if there had not been corresponding mistakes and derelictions of duty on the French side. The captain of the Duc-de-Bourgogne (64) took up a post behind the French line, and, in the most cowardly manner, fired across it at the British. The Sylphide (36), a weak ship, which seems to have improperly found a place in the line, was driven out of it at the first broadside. The Condé (44) lost her rudder, and was also obliged to fall out. In the van and centre, however, the action was for the most part fought with the greatest determination on both sides. In her somewhat belated attempts to get into action, the Cumberland nearly fouled the Yarmouth (64), and forced her to back her topsails, thus obliging the Newcastle and the Weymouth to back theirs likewise. But when the Cumberland had at length gained her station, the Newcastle held back, in spite of signals from the vice-admiral, and in spite of the Weymouth's hailing her to close up; whereupon the Weymouth hauled her wind and, passing to windward of the Newcastle, got into line ahead of her and quickly obliged the Moras (44) to bear away. The Cumberland in the meanwhile engaged the Saint-Louis (54), so materially relieving the Yarmouth.
In the height of the engagement explosions of powder on board both the Zodiaque and the Bien-Aimé (68) caused some confusion. D'Aché signalled for those of his ships which had withdrawn to return to the action but they paid no attention. Still the fight was hot and the Tiger was very hard pressed until she was assisted by the Salisbury (50) and Elizabeth (64). As the battle neared its termination, the ship and frigate which had been detached by d'Aché to Pondicherry, and which M. de Lally had refused to allow to return at once, although d'Aché had signalled for them, were coming up.
At about 6:00 pm, the British rear closing somewhat and the fugitive French vessels not rejoining, d'Aché bore down to his friends, and then, hauling his wind, made for Pondicherry. His final movement, which seems to be thus rightly interpreted, appeared to Pocock to have a different significance ; for he wrote :
- "At half-past four pm the rear of the French line had drawn pretty close up to their flagship. Our three rear ships were signalled to engage closer. Soon after, d'Aché broke the line and put before the wind. His second astern, who had kept on the Yarmouth's quarter most part of the action, then came up alongside, gave his fire, and then bore away; and a few minutes after the enemy's van bore away also."
From this, as captain Mahan points out, it would appear that the French deliberately, before leaving the scene of the action, effected upon the principal British ship a movement of concentration, defiling past her. Pocock hauled down the signal to engage, and rehoisted that for a general chase; but such of his ships as had fought well were too disabled to come up with the enemy, and, night approaching, he stood to the southward with a view of keeping to the windward of the enemy, and of being able to engage him in the morning, if the French did not weather the British. With this object he ordered the Queenborough (24), ahead to observe the enemy.
Pocock continued to endeavour to work up after the French until 6:00 am on May 1, when, as he lost ground and pursuit appeared to be useless, he anchored 5 km south of Sadras.
The British ships lost 29 killed and 89 wounded but their rigging was so much cut up that they were unable to pursue the French and were forced to return to Madras (actual Chennai) to refit. Lally was now free to besiege Fort St. David.
At 10:00 PM on the day of the action, the French fleet anchored some 30 km north of Pondicherry in the roadstead of Alumparva (unidentified location). There, owing to the loss of her anchors and to damage to her cables, the Bien Aimé drove ashore and was wrecked; all her crew, however, being saved.
In the engagement the French had suffered far more severely than the British, having lost 162 killed, and 360 wounded; for the ships had been full of troops and the British fire had been directed, as usual, against the hulls rather than against the rigging. D'Aché afterwards proceeded to Pondicherry, where he landed 1200 sick, and superseded M. d'Apret, captain of the Duc de Bourgogne, by M. Bouvet.
Order of Battle
British Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: vice-admiral George Pocock
Summary: 7 ships of the line, 1 frigate, 1 fireship
- Ships of the line
- Tiger (60) under captain Thomas Latham
- Salisbury (50) under captain John Stukley Somerset
- Elizabeth (64) under captain Richard Kempenfelt
- Yarmouth (64) under captain John Harrison carrying vice-admiral Pocock
- Cumberland (66) under captain William Brereton
- Newcastle (50) under captain George Legge
- Weymouth (60) under captain Nicholas Vincent
- Queenborough (24) under captain James Colville(probably belonging to the East India Company)
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: admiral d'Aché
Summary: 8 ships of the line and 1 frigate
- Ships of the line
- Bien-Aimé (68)* carrying only 58 guns under captain de la Pallière
- Vengeur (60)* carrying only 54 guns under captain Bouvet
- Condé (44)* under captain de Rosbau
- Duc d'Orléans (54)* under captain de Surville
- Zodiaque (74) under captain de Gotho, flagship of admiral d'Aché
- Saint-Louis (54)* carrying only 50 guns under captain Joannis
- Moras (44)* under captain de Becdelièvre-Du Bouexié
- Duc-de-Bourgogne (64)* carrying only 60 guns under captain d'Après
- Sylphide (36)* under captain Mahy
N.B. : * indicates a vessel belonging to the Compagnie des Indes
This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Clowes, Wm. Laird, The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 174-176
- Fortescue, J. W., A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 428-430