1758-08-03 - Combat of Negapatam
Prelude to the Battle
On July 25, vice-admiral Pocock had sailed from Madras (actual Chennai) with a favourable wind southward along the shore to seek admiral d'Aché's fleet. He sighted the French squadron in the road of Pondicherry (actual Puducherry) on the evening of July 27. The following day, the French put to sea. For several days, Pocock vainly tried to engage the French. On August 3 at 5:00 AM, the British sighted d'Aché's squadron off Negapatam, about 5 km to windward, formed in line of battle ahead, with the starboard tacks on board.
Description of Events
Pocock formed his line of battle ahead on the starboard tack, and stood towards the French. Seeing that the Comte-de-Provence (68), led their van, he ordered the Elizabeth (64), to take the place of the Tiger (60), an inferior ship, as the leader of his own line.
At 11:00 am, the wind dying away, the British were becalmed; though the French still had a light breeze from off the land, and, with it, stood on, their line stretching from east to west. On that course the French passed at right angles so close to the rear of the British that they might almost have cut off the Cumberland (66) and Newcastle (50), the sternmost ships.
At noon, a sea breeze sprang up and gave Pocock the weather-gage. Both fleets thereupon formed line afresh.
At 12:20 pm, Pocock signalled to bear down and engage. The Elizabeth (64) and Comte-de-Provence (68) began the action but, the latter's mizzen catching fire, she had to quit the line and cut away the mast. The French charge Pocock with throwing inflammables on board of them; but the vice-admiral does not seem to have taken any special measures for setting his opponents on fire, though certainly in this battle they were unusually unfortunate in that respect. The Elizabeth's next opponent was the Duc-de-Bourgogne (64), which, being hardly pressed, would have been assisted by the Zodiaque (74), had not the latter had her wheel carried away by a shot from the Yarmouth (64), her first antagonist. To repair it, she went under the lee of the Duc d'Orléans (54); but, as soon as she returned to the line, one of her lower-deck guns burst, and a fire broke out near her powder room. In the consequent confusion, her new steering gear gave way, so causing the ship to fall on board the Duc d'Orléans (54); and, while the two ships were entangled together, both were heavily cannonaded with impunity by the Yarmouth (64) and Tiger (60). By that time the Condé (44) and Moras (44) had been driven out of the line.
At 2:00 pm, the Zodiaque (74) being free, M. d'Aché bore away. He was followed in about 15 minutes by the rest of his ships.
Pocock signalled for closer action; and the retiring French ships were badly mauled as they went off under all possible sail. The signal for a general chase followed; whereupon the French cut away the boats which most of them had towing astern; and crowded to the N.N.W.
A running fight was maintained till about 3:00 pm, when the French were out of range. Pocock, however, pursued until dark, and, at about 8:00 pm, anchored 5 km off Karikal, while the French pursued their course to Pondicherry.
The combat, considering its indecisive character, was a very bloody one, especially on the side of the French, who lost 250 killed and 600 wounded. The Zodiaque (74) alone lost 183 killed or dangerously wounded. On the British side, however, only 31 were killed and 166 wounded. Both d'Aché and Pocock received slight injuries; and commodore Stevens had a musket wound in his shoulder. Aloft the British suffered more than the French; and, had the weather not been fine, many of them must have lost their masts.
D'Aché refitted at Pondicherry and, being apprehensive of an attack there, anchored his ships close under the town and forts. Feeling also that he could not, in his then state, again fight the British, and that his remaining on the coast might lead to disaster, he again announced his intention of proceeding to Île de France (Mauritius). M. de Lally and the French military and civil officers were astounded at this new determination, and endeavoured to dissuade him but he was supported by his captains and, having landed 500 marines and seamen to reinforce the army on shore, he sailed for his destination on September 3.
Order of Battle
British Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: vice-admiral George Pocock
Summary: 7 ships of the line, 1 frigate
- Ships of the line
- Yarmouth (64) under captain John Harrison carrying vice-admiral Pocock
- Elizabeth (64) under captain Richard Kempenfelt carrying commodore Charles Stevens
- Tiger (60) under captain Thomas Latham
- Weymouth (60) under captain John Stukley Somerset
- Cumberland (66) under captain William Martin
- Salisbury (50) under captain William Brereton
- Newcastle (50) under captain James Colville
- Queenborough (24) under captain Digby Dent (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
- Zodiaque (74) carrying admiral d'Aché
- Comte-de-Provence (68) captain Jean-Jacques de la Chaise
- Saint-Louis (54)
- Vengeur (60) under captain Jean Christy de la Pallière
- Duc d'Orléans (54) under captain Jean-François de Surville
- Duc-de-Bourgogne (64) carrying only 60 guns under captain Joseph Bouvet
- Condé (44)
- Moras (44) under captain Louis-Toussaint de Becdelièvre-Du Bouexié
- Sylphide (36) carrying only 24 guns
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. 178-181