1758 - British second expedition against the French Coasts
The campaign lasted from August to September 1758
Opening of the Campaign
Pitt was unsatisfied with the result of the first expedition against the French Coasts and decided for a second attempt. These expeditions were very unpopular with the officers of the army. Both the Duke of Marlborough and Lord George Sackville used their influence to obtain appointment to the Army in Germany, so as to avoid participating into another amphibious operation.
Among the British troops encamped on the Isle of Wight, three regiments were ordered to embark for Germany. They formed a brigade under the command of Major-General Kingsley:
- 20th Kingsley's Regiment of Foot
- 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers Regiment of Foot
- 25th Edinburgh Regiment of Foot aka Home
While the troops were embarking for Germany, Pitt formed a new encampment on the Isle of Wight and planned a raid on Cherbourg. When Lieutenant-General Thomas Bligh, who had been originally selected to serve under Ferdinand of Brunswick in Germany, arrived in London from Ireland to sail for Emden, he found to his dismay that his destination was changed, and that he must prepare to embark for France. Indeed, on July 20, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the British troops encamped on the Isle of Wight which consisted of 12 battalions:
- Guards Brigade
- 1st Brigade under General Mostyn seconded by Major Vaughan
- 2nd Brigade under Major-General Boscawen seconded by Major Wright
- 3rd Brigade under Major-General Elliot seconded by Major Preston
- Light Dragoons taken from various dragoon regiments (9 coys)
As for the previous expedition, the 13 companies of grenadiers were separated from their respective regiments and converged into elite units.
On Saturday July 22, the 2nd and 3rd Brigades embarked.
On Sunday July 23, the Guards Brigade and the artillery embarked. The same day, part of the 68th Foot embarked aboard the transport Friends Good-Will.
On July 24, Thomas Bligh arrived and took command of the British troops on the Isle of Wight. The same day, Prince Edward arrived at Portsmouth to take part in the expedition.
On July 27, Prince Edward, attended by all the barges of the fleet, was rowed on board of Commodore Howe.
Before this second expedition against the French coasts, the naval squadron refitted and was strengthened by the arrival of the Montagu (60) and Pallas (36). Besides these reinforcements, Commodore Howe's Squadron seems to have remained identical. Therefore, it probably consisted of:
- Naval escort
- Ships of the line
- Sloops of war
- Grace (10)
- 9 other unidentified cutters of 10-guns
- Fireships and bombs
- 6 other unidentified 16-guns
- Transport fleet
- 100 transports
- 20 tenders
- 10 storeships
On July 30, the expedition weighed anchor but unfavourable winds forced it to stand away for Spithead.
On Monday July 31, the British Fleet weighed again and sailed to St. Hellen's where it remained at anchor till the evening.
During the night of July 31 to August 1, the second expedition set sail from St. Hellen's.
In the morning of Tuesday August 1, the British Fleet was near the Isle of Wight. It then re-embarked the troops. The expedition was escorted by a squadron of the Royal Navy under Commodore Howe. There were a total of 109 sails (transports and warships) in the British Fleet.
From August 2 to 5, calm weather immobilized the fleet near the Isle of Alderney.
Raid on Cherbourg
Since the last British expedition at the end of June, the French at Cherbourg had entrenched in a line running from Equeurdreville (3 km west of Cherbourg) along the coast on some 7 km with several batteries, among which a fascine-battery of 10 brass 24-pdrs. There were also 3 rocky points within 2 km west of Cherbourg, each defended by a fort: Galet (a regular fort mounting 20 guns and a 13 inches mortar), Tournaville (mounting 6 guns) and Hornet (mounting 8 guns). Then, 3 km west of Hornet there was a sandy beach defended by entrenchments and terminated by another rocky point defended by Fort Querqueville. Further west there was still another sandy beach defended by entrenchments and followed by a foul bay full of sunken rocks: the Bay of Saint-Marais. A total of 9,000 men (including some 5 to 6,000 militia), under the command of Comte Pierre de Raymond, manned the defence:
- Horion Infanterie (2 bns)
- I./Lorraine (1 bn)
- Languedoc Dragons (1 sqn)
- Milices bourgeoises
- Milices garde-côtes (3,800 men)
- Clare Infanterie (1 bn) posted in the City of Cherbourg
N.B.: one source also mentions I./Guyenne (1 bn)
On Sunday August 6 in the morning, the British Fleet drew near the coast of France, anchored in the Bay of Cherbourg in the evening and was fired at from the shore. The British made a feint, sending a bomb-ketch to anchor near the town as if they intended to land there. The British ships at once opened the bombardment of the town. The bomb-ketches lying in shore played upon the entrenchments. Prince Edward, second son of the Prince of Wales, serving as a midshipman, went on board the Pallas (36), one of the ships intended for battering the forts.
On the morning of August 7, Commodore Howe, Prince Edward and General Bligh reconnoitred the bay. The British Fleet weighed anchor and sailed for the westernmost bay (Bay of Saint-Marais), 8 km from Cherbourg, leaving only a frigate and a bomb in front of the town. The Guards and the grenadier companies landed in this bay. Commodore Howe, whose broad pennant was then in the Pallas (36), had deployed his frigates, sloops and bomb-ketches in line close in shore to cover the landing. They all played on the coast while the British infantry landed. Meanwhile, the French regulars were marching along the shore towards the landing place. However, before the arrival of this French force, some British troops were formed on the beach with a natural breastwork before them. The field was open on the 200 paces extending in front of the British position. Then there was a hollow way and a village. The French began to advance on the British left across a ground interspersed with hedges and orchards. A church and a few houses appeared at the foot of a hill. The British troops left the breastwork and advanced against the French. Both forces then opened fire. A force of 3,000 French moved towards the hill and the hollow way and a detachment of British grenadiers was sent forward to take possession of the hill. However, the French managed to reach the hill before the British troops. Meanwhile, the British Guards were more successful on the right and gained possession of the rising ground in front of their position. During this engagement, the rest of the British force landed. The French retired at night. All the British infantry had been disembarked by the evening. The British advanced regiments took possession of Nacqueville. However, since the light horse were still on board, the British army remained at Urville, near the place where it had landed, and encamped for the night in a cramped area some 400 paces wide.
On August 8, the British cavalry and artillery disembarked without hindrance. The light horse along with the grenadiers and two guns were ordered to advance by the low road to the Fort of Querqueville. They were soon followed by the entire British army to the exception of one column which followed a road along the rising grounds. Reconnoitring parties reported that Fort Querqueville had been entirely abandoned. The British vanguard (light horse and grenadiers) took possession of Querqueville. Another party of light horse was then sent to reconnoitre the high road by Hainneville while the vanguard marched by the low road on the back of the forts and found the lines along the coast and the batteries clear. It then advanced behind Fort Sainte-Aulne, Equeurdreville, Homette and Galet, and reached Cherbourg which was unfortified to landward. The place was entered soon after midnight without any fighting, the French retiring from the forts as well as from the town at the approach of the British. British detachments (130 men each) occupied the forts of Galet, Langlete, Equeurdreville, Homette and Querqueville. British troops plundered and ravaged the neighbouring country all night long. Cherbourg itself was not exempted from pillage and brutality.
On August 9, it was decided to destroy the forts and the basin without delay. The British encamped on the summit and slope of a hill fronting eastward. Meanwhile, the French established their new camp at Valognes, about 20 km to the south-east of Cherbourg.
On August 13, 100 light horse under Major Ward and 400 grenadiers under Major Preston were sent to the redoubt of Tourlaville about 2 km east of Cherbourg while 200 additional men under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lister were sent to La Glacerie about 4 km to the south-east of Cherbourg. Entrenchments were built along the shore between Galet and Equeurdreville to protect the British force during its re-embarkation.
On August 14, another British detachment of 200 men was sent to La Glacerie.
By August 15, the pier, docks, works, magazines, forts and the defences of the harbour had been destroyed. The various vessels in harbour had been sunk, burnt, or carried off. Meanwhile the light cavalry scoured the surrounding country and levied contributions. The British soldiers did not behave very well, marauding in the town. They discovered some magazines of wine. Their drunkenness occasioned much delay in the demolition of the works. The town and neighbouring country were laid under contribution. All guns (150 pieces) were put on board a Danish ship and sent under convoy to Great Britain. The same day, the light horse were re-embarked.
Raid on Saint-Malo
On August 16 at 3:00 a.m., their work done, the British troops marched down to the beach and, by 11:00 a.m., had re-embarked near Fort Galet, having lost but 20 killed and 30 wounded during the entire enterprise, although there had been frequent small skirmishes. Cherbourg was not then an important naval station and the destruction of its harbour was a blow more mortifying than serious to the French.
On August 17, the British Fleet remained in the harbour of Cherbourg.
On August 18, the British Fleet sailed for Great Britain with little wind and fair weather. Off the Isle of Aldeney, a French privateer attacked the rear of the British Fleet and was engaged, first by a British frigate, then by the Rochester (50). The French privateer finally struck.
On Saturday August 19, the British Fleet anchored in Weymouth road near Portland. But the authorities were not satisfied with what had been done and a continuation of the operations was ordered.
On Monday August 21, the British Fleet weighed but unfavourable wind forced it to drop anchor.
On Tuesday August 22 around midnight, the British Fleet weighed again from Weymouth.
On Wednesday August 23, the British Fleet stood along shore off Torbay.
On Thursday August 24 in the morning, a gale forced the British Fleet to sail back to Weymouth.
On Thursday August 31, the British expedition finally left Weymouth and sailed towards the coast of France once more.
On Friday September 1 in the morning, the British Fleet still stood over to the coast of England due to unfavourable winds. In the evening it was still off the Start Point.
On Saturday September 2 in the morning, the British Fleet was close upon Guernsey.
Meanwhile, Anson had been joined off Brest by a contingent under Vice-Admiral Charles Saunders.
On Sunday September 3, the British Fleet made the French shore near Cape La Hague but was almost becalmed between La Hague and Jersey. At 5:00 a.m., after long delay owing to foul winds, the fleet came in sight of Cap Fréhel. In the evening, it anchored near the small island of Agol in the Bay of Saint-Lunaire, about 10 km west of Saint-Malo. The French Milices garde-côtes of Cap Fréhel immediately signalled the arrival of more than 100 British sails.
On Monday September 4 at 8:00 a.m., the British Fleet set sail and finally anchored at the entrance of the Bay of Saint-Briac. Three frigates then entered into the bay and took position in front of the cove of "La Fosse" near Saint-Lunaire to protect the landing which immediately began without opposition. This landing was not without difficulty, two flat-bottomed landing barges overturned and 70 soldiers drowned. Bligh immediately sent 5 coys of grenadiers to Saint-Briac and a detachment of 100 men to reconnoitre the area up to Dinard. About 200 British dragoons spent the night in the neighbouring villages while the infantry encamped at the foot of the Garde-Guérin Heights. Bligh established his headquarters in the village of Saint-Lunaire. As soon as he heard of the arrival of a British Fleet, the Marquis de la Châtre, commander of Saint-Malo, took defensive measures. He armed the forts protecting the harbour and the redoubts defending the mouth of the Rance River.
During the night of September 4 to 5, Commodore Howe ordered his fleet to support the 5 coys of grenadiers previously detached by Bligh to burn 22 French ships in the Bay of Saint-Briac.
Saint-Malo was very strongly fortified. Furthermore, it stood behind the mouth of the river which formed a 3 km wide basin. Several forts and batteries defended the entrance of the harbour, mounting above 50 heavy guns. Furthermore, another 40 heavy guns (mostly 48-pdrs) were planted on the west side of the town. Finally, 7 armed vessels stood in the basin.
On September 5, Bligh considered advancing 30 km upstream to cross the river at Dinan and then storm Saint-Malo from the landward side. Howe and Bligh reconnoitred the bank of the Rance River to see if Saint-Malo could be attacked on that side. As the west bank was found to be well fortified and held, the design against the town was abandoned.
On September 6, at a council of war, the commodore stated that he did not consider it safe to re-embark the troops in the Bay of Saint-Lunaire, as the bottom was rocky and the weather threatened to be not good. He also expressed his desire to remove the fleet to the Bay of Saint-Cast, some 16 km westward of Saint-Lunaire and to embark the army there. Meanwhile, weather grew steadily worse and a strong northwesterly wind obliged Commodore Howe to leave the dangerous anchorage at Saint-Lunaire and to sail for Saint-Cast.
Retreat to Saint-Cast
On September 7, Bligh sent a vanguard of 200 grenadiers to reconnoitre his line of march. Meanwhile at Brest, the Duc d'Aiguillon, governor of Bretagne, ordered the concentration of all French forces stationed in Bretagne at Dinan and Lamballe.
On Friday September 8, Bligh marched for Saint-Cast overland. Unfortunately, his force wasted its time and did not make the best of its way. The British troops were much harassed by small parties of French in woods and hedges and had frequent encounters with organised bodies of soldiers, losing men continually. In the evening, the British encamped near the Arguenon River, intending to ford it next morning. Bligh fixed the crossing of the river at 6:00 a.m. the next day, even though that was the hour of high water. The same day, the French forces began to concentrate between Rance and Saint-Brieuc in an attempt to trap the British army against the sea.
On September 9, the British force had to wait until 3:00 p.m. for the ebb-tide before being able to ford the river. A small French party (about 100 men under Rioust) took position on the opposite side of the river to impede the crossing which was made under a brisk fire. The British lost some 35 men during this crossing. It was now too late to continue the advance and Bligh stopped for the night, encamping some 3 km from the Arguenon River. The British then burnt the houses of the neighbouring village to punish the French for their stand on the Arguenon River.
On the morning of September 10, the British expeditionary force resumed its march but its vanguard had to face about 500 French troops. The French were driven back with considerable loss, but prisoners gave information of the advance of at least 10,000 French from Brest (in fact about 7,000 men). That night, Bligh encamped at Matignon. He sent his engineers to reconnoitre the beach at Saint-Cast and informed Howe that he intended to re-embark on September 11. Meanwhile, the Duc d'Aiguillon had reached Lamballe where he had established his headquarters. The garrison of Saint-Malo also advanced towards Matignon. It consisted of Brie and Boulonnais infantry regiments along with the Fontenay-le-Comte militia battalion. D'Aiguillon had now assembled an army of 12 bns and 6 sqns along with 2 regiments of militia and a train of artillery. Despite the proximity of the enemy, the British army encamped with little precaution. During the following night, the British camp was harassed by constant skirmishing. Meanwhile, the I./Coldstream Regiment of Guards had already taken possession of the ground to the right of the village of Saint-Cast, near the windmill. The bay was covered by an entrenchment made by the French to prevent a landing. The British began to modify these entrenchments to turn them against the French but work could not be completed for want of tools. It was proposed to choose another beach, located between Saint-Cast and Saint-Guildo, but the proposal was rejected. During the night, the I./Coldstream Guards captured 2 small batteries and destroyed them.
Battle of Saint-Cast
On September 11, the French attacked Bligh in the Combat of Saint-Cast during re-embarkation and inflicted very heavy losses to the British rearguard.
Meanwhile, Anson's Fleet had continued to cruise off Brest.
Bligh was clearly responsible for the failure. He did not enforce discipline among the troops who behaved disgracefully near Cherbourg.
In the middle of September, when British operations against the French Channel ports had been concluded, Anson and Holmes returned to Great Britain, leaving Saunders to blockade Brest and to endeavour to intercept the French squadron which was expected from Québec.
On September 18, the British Fleet arrived at Portsmouth.
On September 19, British troops were disembarked at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. They remained encamped near Cowes until October.
In the middle of December, Saunders' Squadron went back into port without having been able to intercept the French squadron returning from Québec.
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. 286-294
- Anonymous: Journal of the Campaign on the Coast of France 1758, 2nd edition, J. Townsend, London, 1758, pp. 44-45, 55-102
- 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. 33-41
- 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. 194-195
- Fortescue J. W.: A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 342-345.
- Revue anglo-française, vol. 4, Poitiers: 1836, pp. 45-48
Amiot, Pierre, Histoire de Saint-Cast-le-Guildo, Saint-Cast: 1990
Castex, Jean-Claude, Dictionnaire des batailles terrestres franco-anglaises de la Guerre de Sept Ans, Presse de l'université Laval, Québec: 2006
Retau-Dufresne: Histoire de la ville de Cherbourg, 1760
Voisin-La Hougue: Histoire de la ville de Cherbourg, 1835