1758 - British first expedition against the French Coasts
The campaign lasted from May to July 1758
For its operations in 1758, the British War Minister reverted to his old plan of a descent on the French coast to divert French troops from America and Germany. At Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, etc., several armaments were getting ready with great diligence.
Several British squadrons were cruising the sea:
- vice-admiral Smith in the Downs;
- rear-admiral Cotes in the West Indies;
- admiral Osborn in the Mediterranean.
On March 12, sir Edward Hawke sailed with 7 ships of the line and 3 frigates from Spithead to cruise in the bay of Biscay.
On April 4, Hawke's squadron fell in, off the isle of Aix, with a French squadron of 5 ships of the line, 7 frigates and a convoy of 40 merchantmen. Hawke gave chase to this force. The French ships of the line fled and several merchantmen ran ashore while 2 or 3 were taken.
On April 7, the Essex (70) and 2 frigates, on their way to join Hawke's squadron, fell in with 12 French merchantmen escorted by a frigate of 22 guns. The Essex captured the French frigate along with 5 or 6 merchantmen.
Preparation of the Expedition
In April, the officers of 16 battalions received orders to move to the Isle of Wight by the middle of May. This made for a long notice for a secret expedition...
At the beginning of May, siege artillery was embarked at the Tower of London and conveyed to Portsmouth in 9 transports. The 68th Foot marched from Dover to Portsmouth. It then went by boat to Cowes.
By mid May, the 16 battalions and 3 companies of artillery (some 13,000 men) were encamped in the King's forest between Cowes and Newport on the isle of Wight in the following order:
- Guards Brigade under Major-General Drury
- 1st Brigade under major-general Mostyn
- 3rd Brigade under major-general Boscawen
- 4th Brigade under major-general Elliot
- 2nd Brigade under major-general Waldgrave
- light squadrons of 9 Dragoon regiments (about 540 men)
- Royal Artillery (3 companies for a total of about 400 men)
- a large siege-train
- 15 x 24-pdrs guns
- 35 other guns
- 50 mortars
N.B.: 74th Talbot's Regiment of Foot was initially part of the First Brigade but it was later left behind at Wight to serve in another mission (on July 12, the regiment was ordered to embark for Jamaica).
However, the 9 troops of light horse under the command of brigadier Elliot were left at Portsmouth to ease their embarkation.
On May 20, the troops themselves received their orders.
On May 23, the duke of Marlborough arrived in camp to assume command of the force. He was assisted by lord George Sackville. Under these commanders were lieutenant-general Ancram and 5 major-generals (Waldegrave, Mostyn, Drury, Boscawen and Elliot).
On May 25, the embarkation of the baggage began.
On May 26, the Guards Brigade along with the 1st Brigade embarked on board the fleet at Cowes:
- I./1st Regiment of Foot Guards aboard the Richard and Anne, and the Ward
- I./2nd Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards aboard the Ruby and Martilar
- I./3rd Scots Regiment of Foot Guards aboard the True Britain and the Betty
- 5th Bentwick's Regiment of Foot aboard ???
- 36th Manner's Regiment of Foot aboard the Elizabeth and Hugh, and the Lion
- 25th Edinburgh Regiment of Foot aboard the Industry and the Speedwell
On May 26, the 2nd and 3rd Brigades embarked on board the fleet at Cowes as follows:
- 30th Loudon's Regiment of Foot aboard the Ann and Mary and the Concord
- 8th King's Regiment of Foot aboard the Elizabeth Hugh (sic) and the Exchange
- 20th Kingsley's Regiment of Foot aboard the John and Mary, and the Anson
- 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers Regiment of Foot aboard the Isabel and Mary, and the Friends Goodwill
- 68th Lambton's Regiment of Foot aboard the Mary and Constant Jean
- 33rd Hay's Regiment of Foot aboard the Sea Flower, the Hugh and the Peggy Hugh
On May 27, the whole embarkation of the British expeditionary force was completed as follows:
- 24th Cornwallis' Regiment of Foot aboard the Eagle and the Spencer
- 34th Effingham's Regiment of Foot aboard the Ranger and the Bender
- 72nd Richmond's Regiment of Foot aboard the Dragon and the John and Frances
- Artillery aboard ???
Baggage were embarked aboard the Magnanimity, the Brother and the Thomas and Mary. The hospital ship was the King of Prussia.
The expeditionary force consisted of 15 bns, 400 artillerymen and 540 light horse; in all about 13,000 fighting men. During the last 3 days, each division of transports had fallen down to Spithead as soon as troops were on board. Meanwhile, the warships proceeded for St. Helens.
The transports carrying the troops were escorted by 2 squadrons of the Royal Navy totalling 24 ships of the line. Lord Anson and sir Edward Hawke commanded the grand fleet and commodore Richard Howe a smaller squadron, who was designed to directly co-operate with the army and to land the troops in France. Howe had with him a large number of flat-bottomed boats, of a new invention. Anson's squadron for his part was intended to cruise off Brest and to prevent any French squadron from interfering with the operations of Howe and Marlhorough.
- Anson’s squadron
- 1 x 110-guns
- 4 x 90-guns
- 2 x 80-guns
- 3 x 64-guns
- 2 x 60-guns
- 1 x 50-guns
- 3 x 36-guns
- 2 x 20-guns
- Commodore Howe’s squadron
- escorting the 1st Division (Guards, 1st and 2nd Brigades)
- Fireships and bombs
- escorting the ordnance
- escorting the 2nd Division (3rd and 4th Brigades)
- 6 other unidentified 16-guns
- 10 cutters
- Grace (10)
- 9 other unidentified cutters of 10-guns
- Transport fleet
- 100 transports
- 20 tenders
- 10 storeships.
The main object of the projected demonstration on the coast of France was to divert French attention and, by calling off troops from elsewhere, to assist the king of Prussia and other British allies on shore. The precise destination of the armament was kept very secret.
Once ready, the convoy fell down to St. Helens. Ten grenadier coys (100 men each) divided into 2 bns along with the Guards Brigade and 5th Bentick's Foot were instructed to be ready for disembarkation. The Guards and Bentick battalions kept their grenadier coys. 72nd Richmond's Foot kept their grenadiers as well. Finally 10 x 6-pdrs were ordered to be in readiness to disembark with the troops.
Raid on Saint-Malo
On Thursday June 1, the expedition set sail. About daybreak, Anson's squadron unmoored and bore off towards the Bay of Biscay, with the design to spread the alarm down the whole coast of France and to watch the motions of the French squadron in Brest harbour. By 11:00 a.m., Howe's squadron along with the transports had made sail. They steered straight across the Channel for the Bay of Cancale, in the neighbourhood of Saint-Malo. By 2:00 p.m., the British fleet cleared the Isle of Wight.
During the stormy night of June 1 to 2, the fleet stopped. The Anne, a transport carrying part of the train, lost all her masts except her fore-mast and was taken in tow by a frigate to Guernsey.
On June 2 at 6:00 a.m., Howe's squadron along with the convoy resumed its journey and at 8:00 a.m. Cap La Hougue was in sight. The French were quickly alarmed and, from his course, probably formed a shrewd guess as to his destination. The tides and the frequent calms which supervened compelled the British to anchor repeatedly. The fleet finally stationed between the continent and the Island of Alderney and anchored near the island in the evening. During the night, many ships were driven from their anchors by the current but none was driven ashore.
On Saturday June 3 at daybreak, the British fleet weighed anchor. Howe's squadron then came to an anchor between the islands of Jersey and Sark. Around noon, the transport Ward with part of the 1st Guards on board stuck upon a rock near the Island of Sark. The troops and crew just had time to escape before the vessel foundered. After delays caused by this incident, the fleet resumed its advance at 8:00 p.m. and steered for the Bay of Saint-Malo.
On Sunday June 4 in the morning, Howe made sail for Saint-Malo. At 5:00 p.m., the British fleet dropped anchors near Saint-Malo.
On Monday June 5 before daybreak, the British fleet weighed anchor and sailed towards the Bay of Cancale. At 8:00 a.m., the transports with the grenadiers were assembled near the projected landing place. At 11:00 a.m., Howe with the Duke of Marlborough and Colonel Watson went in the Grace (10) armed cutter to reconnoitre the projected landing place in the Bay of Cancale. Two guns were fired at the cutter from a small battery (2 x 24-pdrs and 1 x 12-pdrs) defending the beach. At 1:00 p.m., the commanders returned to their ship. Meanwhile a French detachment under the Marquis de la Chartre coming from Saint-Malo appeared on the hills. It consisted of:
- Boulonnais Infanterie (a detachment of 300 men along with a company of grenadiers) under the Comte de la Tour d'Auvergne
- Marboeuf Dragons (1 coy)
However this detachment soon retired. The sloop Swallow (14), standing in shore, was fired at from 2 batteries. By 2:00 p.m., Howe's entire fleet was at anchor in the Bay of Cancale, about 13 km east of Saint-Malo. The signal was made for the flat-bottomed boats to be hoisted out while Howe shifted his broad pennant to the Success (24) and stood in with the Rose (24), Flamborough (22) and Diligence (16) to silence the battery defending the beach, clear the beach, and cover the landing. By 4:00 p.m., Howe advanced with his 4 vessels against the French battery. About 5:00 p.m., the 10 grenadiers coys had been transferred in flat-bottomed boats assembled alongside the Essex (70). Soon after 7:00 p.m., the French battery began to play on the Success (24) which ran aground in a very advantageous situation for silencing the battery. Finally, the 4 British vessels silenced the battery and cleared the village. Meanwhile, the flat bottomed boats carrying the grenadiers and the transports having the 3 Guards battalions on board stood in shore under the command of Sackville and Drury. Howe then signalled for part of the troops to disembark (soldiers carried provisions for 3 days). At 8:00 p.m., the grenadiers and the guards landed under cover of the frigates. About 100 French fired once from the hills before retiring. Cancale itself was defended by 7 coys of French regular infantry and 3 dragoons troops. However as soon, as the flat-bottomed boats carrying the grenadiers rowed towards the beach, the French retreated towards Saint-Malo. Thus, the grenadiers landed unopposed just before sunset. Just after landing, 20 grenadiers of the 20th Kingsley's Foot under Lord Down marched through a narrow pass leading to the village of Cancale (about 60 houses). After a brief skirmish with the Milices garde-côtes (approx. 350 men) led by the Comte de Landal (captain-general of the battalion of Dol), they occupied the village. Meanwhile, the grenadiers and a battalion of the Guards marched up a neighbouring hill. The grenadiers then lay upon their arms all night. Till 11:00 p.m., 3 additional regiments and some 6-pdrs were landed but they remained on the beach for the night. During the night many atrocities were committed in the village of Cancale and 3 British troopers were put to death to maintain discipline.
On Tuesday June 6 by noon, the rest of the infantry was landed. To secure the retreat of the British force, a camp was set up at Cancale on the hill near a windmill where there was an abandoned French battery. The owner of the mill repeatedly fired a gun of this battery on the British positions after the departure of the French soldiers. British grenadiers soon took possession of the battery and of the mill, capturing its brave owner. Later the same day, the horse ships landed the light horse and the artillery stores. The grenadiers and light horse occupied advanced positions 2 km in front of the lines. The common soldiers and seamen plundered everything that came in their way and even murdered many of the old inhabitants in the villages. In the evening, about 600 men were set to work on entrenchments.
On Wednesday June 7 at daybreak, the whole British army except the 3rd brigade marched in 2 columns. The first column under the Duke of Marlborough and Lord Sackville consisted of the light dragoons, the Guards Brigade, 2 grenadier bns and the 1st Brigade. It marched from the left on the great road to Saint-Malo. The second column under the Earl of Ancram, consisting of the 2nd and 4th Brigades, marched from the left by Dol through secondary roads and deserted villages towards the same destination. About 100 pioneers were necessary to clear the road for this latter column. The Guards acted as a flank guard 3 km to the left of Cancale. Meanwhile, the 3rd Brigade under Major-General George Boscawen remained encamped at Cancale with order to build entrenchments to secure the retreat of the main body. The British army reached its assigned encampment between Paramé and Saint-Servan in the evening. The grenadiers were posted 100 paces in front of the line while the light horse and artillery were deployed behind the line. While the army encamped, the light horse and all pickets were ordered to advance towards the walls of Saint-Malo. They were received by artillery fire but in the darkness they managed to reach the harbour where they found a considerable fleet of privateers and merchantmen. The British advanced party set fire to 3 ships of the line, 24 privateers (from 20-guns to 30-guns) and 60 merchant-vessels and to the surrounding magazines, together with a great number of magazines filled with naval stores. At 11:00 p.m., the Duke of Marlborough, expecting a sally from the town, ordered the 2nd Brigade to support the advanced party. The same day, an important body of French troops had reinforced Saint-Malo.
On June 8, the village of Saint-Servan and the suburb of Solidore were also burnt. British troops also took possession of a fort which the French had abandoned. One battalion of the Guards along with Hays' 33rd regiment from the 3rd Brigade joined the main body of the British army. At 9:00 p.m., the British advance party along with the 2nd Brigade returned to camp. In the meantime, the British light horse along with small parties of infantry scoured the country, bringing back a large number of prisoners. During the night heavy rain and strong winds created havoc in the British camp.
On June 9 at 7:00 a.m., the Duke of Marlborough made dispositions as if for the siege of Saint-Malo. Howe sailed from the Bay of Cancale with his warships and artillery transports. He intended to land the siege guns near Saint-Malo. Furthermore, 200 British pioneers supported by a further 500 men were ordered to march towards Saint-Malo but no action was undertaken. Howe then sailed back to the Bay of Cancale. Two large batteries defended the extremely narrow entrance of the harbour of Saint-Malo. Realizing that the fortifications of Saint-Malo were too strong to consider a direct attack against them, Marlborough decided to retire to the Bay of Cancale.
On Saturday June 10 at noon, the British army struck tents and marched in one column towards Cancale. Marlborough was informed that a French army of some 10,000 men was marching on Saint-Malo. During the night the artillery was put on board while the British army encamped within the entrenchments built during the previous days.
Other Attempts against French Ports
On Sunday June 11, the 4th Brigade and the light horse embarked.
On June 12 by 2:00 PM, the British army completed its embarkment, leaving only the grenadiers and Guards on shore. It rained throughout the night.
On June 13, the grenadiers and Guards embarked. Soon after, some French infantry regiments and some cavalry appeared on the hills near Cancale.
On June 14, the 10 senior grenadier companies along with the Guards were ordered to prepare for another landing. Granville, a small town some 32 km to northeast of Saint-Malo, was reconnoitred but the presence of a considerable body of troops under the command of the maréchal de Harcourt dissuaded the British to make an attempt against this place.
On June 16 at 6:00 AM, the British fleet sailed from the bay of Cancale but adverse winds forced it to anchor off Saint-Malo.
On June 17, contrary winds obliged the British fleet to return to the bay of Cancale.
On June 21 at 7:00, the British fleet finally sailed away from the bay of Cancale. The Isis (50) with four fresh transports joined the fleet which was once more forced to come to an anchor.
On June 23, the British fleet passed the islands of Jersey and Guernsey.
On Saturday June 24, the British fleet reached Portland.
On Sunday June 25, the British fleet stood off Cap La Hogue.
On Monday June 26, with favourable winds, the British fleet sailed again towards the French coast and Havre de Grâce (actual Le Havre). The flat-bottomed boats were hoisted out but, due to strong wind, they were re-embarked during the evening.
On Tuesday June 27, the British fleet approached the coast once more near Caen. During the afternoon, the duke of Marlborough and Howe reconnoitred the country from a cutter. No action was undertaken due to bad weather and the fleet sailed along shore towards Harfleur.
On June 28, the British fleet remained inactive and Marlborough decided against an attack, considering the French to be well prepared to sustain it.
On Thursday June 29, the British fleet sailed for Cherbourg, where the bay is open to the sea and does not afford any security to shipping, and anchored some 3 km from the town. The batteries on shore fired, doing however no harm. The British decided to land and to attack the forts of Querqueville, Hommet and Gallet at night with the I./1st Regiment of Foot Guards. Accordingly, the men were embarked in flat bottomed boats but the attack was postponed due to a very high wind. Weather continued to be unfavourable during the following days. The crowded condition of the ships had begun to breed sickness, the horses on board were almost starving for want of fodder.
On June 30 at 10:00 AM, the British fleet weighed anchor and sailed St. Helens on the Isle of Wight, abandoning the entire enterprise against the French coast. By this date, Cherbourg was defended by 7,000 men:
- Clare Infanterie (1 bn)
- Horion Infanterie (2 bns)
- Languedoc Dragons (1 sqn)
- Milices bourgeoises
- Milices garde-côtes (3,800 men)
On July 1 in the evening, the British fleet arrived at St. Helen's. Howe re-anchored at Spithead. On their arrival at Portsmouth, the duke of Marlborough and Sackville set out for London where they were received by the king.
On July 2, the sick on board the transports were transferred to the hospital ship.
On July 4, British troops began to disembark at Cowes on the isle of Wight.
On July 5, orders came to disembark the troops till the transports should be revictualled. The troops landed at Cowes on the isle of Wight and marched into their old entrenchments.
In the course of this expedition the French frigate Guirlande (22) was taken by the Renown (30), captain George Mackenzie, assisted at the last moment by the Rochester (50). Even though the expedition had produced positive results, they were very humble compared to the forces involved.
On July 19, Anson's fleet, which was cruising off Brest, returned to Plymouth without having encountered the French. Sir Edward Hawke being ill, his place was taken by rear-admiral Charles Holmes.
On July 22, Anson's fleet went back to its station off Brest.
This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Anonymous, A Genuine and Particular Account of the Late Enterprise on the Coast of France, 1758, London, R. Griffith, 1763
- Anonymous, Journal of the Campaign on the Coast of France 1758, 2nd edition, J. Townsend, London, 1758, pp. 1-54
- Anonymous, Particular description of the several descents on the coast of France last war; with an entertaining account of the islands of Guadeloupe, Dominique, etc., E. & C. Dilly, London, 1770, pp. 2-31
- Fortescue J. W., A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 340-341
- Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 247-249, 266-269
- 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. 173, 192-194
- Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 331