1759-08-18 - Battle of Lagos
Prelude to the Battle
In 1759, the French planned invasions of various parts of Great Britain. The main effort would come from a force under the command of the duc d'Aiguillon (about 17,000 men) which assembled at Vannes in Bretagne to be convoyed to Ireland by a fleet under M. de Conflans and M. de la Clue.
At the beginning of the year, de la Clue's fleet, counting about 12 ships of the line, was stationed at Toulon where a third of them had been disarmed for lack of money.
By mid May, de la Clue's squadron was almost ready for sea when a British squadron under the command of Boscawen, conducting operations in the Mediterranean, appeared off Toulon and blockaded the harbour.
At the beginning of July, Boscawen was compelled to go to Gibraltar for provisions and repairs.
On August 5 de la Clue set sail from Toulon to make a junction with de Conflans' fleet at Brest.
On August 17, de la Clue's fleet (10 ships of the line, 2 50-gun ships and 3 frigates) passed the straits of Gibraltar where it was sighted by the Gibraltar (20). Alarmed, Boscawen set sail from Gibraltar to intercept de la Clue.
During the night of August 17 to 18, 5 of de la Clue's ships lost sight of his flagship and steered for Cadiz.
Description of Events
On the morning of August 18, owing to the haste in which they had gone out, and to the admiral, after leaving harbour, carrying a press of sail to the westward, the British were in two well defined divisions. The Warspite (74), Culloden (74), Swiftsure (70), Intrepid (64), America (60), Portland (50), and Guernsey (50), which had lain at anchor near the Namur (90) and had put to sea along with her, were still with her. Vice-admiral Broderick, in the Prince (90), with the rest of the squadron, was many km astern. In the afternoon, Boscawen's fleet engaged de La Clue's squadron.
By 5:00 PM, the outnumbered French ships set all possible sail to get away.
At 7:00 AM, the advanced British division sighted the enemy to the westward. There were then visible only 7 sail and it afterwards proved that the rest had gone, without orders, into Cadiz during the night. De la Clue first thought that the ships coming up behind him were his own missing vessels but he was disabused when Boscawen signalled a general chase to the N.W.
At 9:00 AM the British admiral ordered his sternmost ships to make more sail. This soon had the effect of bringing up the vice-admiral's division, which enjoyed a fine easterly breeze, while the enemy had barely enough wind to give them steerage way. Thus the British gained on the chase.
At about 1:25 PM, Boscawen signalled to engage.
At 1:30 PM, the French began to fire at the headmost British ships as they came up. Since admiral Boscawen perceived that the French intended to make off as soon as the breeze should reach them, he naturally desired that the most advanced ships of his fleet should push on and attack the enemy's van, to stop their flight until his remaining ships could get up. He therefore ordered the America (60) and Guernsey (50) to make more sail.
At about 2:30 PM the Culloden (74) began to fire on the Centaure (74), the rear ship of the enemy and, very soon afterwards, the America (60), Portland (50), Guernsey (50) and Warspite (74) got into action. The wind had by that time dropped altogether, so far as the ships which were in action were concerned. The British rear division, however, still had a breeze, and was thus able to get up in time to have a share in the victory.
Just as the British ships came up with the French rear, the wind died away. They attacked the French on the lee side, in order that they might be able to open their lower ports, some of the ships carrying them very low. Another reason why some of the British ships fell so much to leeward was that the French admiral, on perceiving admiral Boscawen in the Namur (90), and some ships along with him, pressing forward to attack his van and centre, made his fleet pull up as much as they possibly could, so as to form a sort of crescent. This position enabled the whole of his ships in the van and centre not only to assist the rear, but each other, in their endeavours to repel the attack. By this manoeuvre of M. de la Clue, the first British ships who got up with the French rear and to leeward of their line, were thrown out of action. Then, for want of sufficient breeze of wind, they could not get into it again. The Portland (50), having lost her foretopmast, dropped astern.
At about 4:00 PM, Boscawen, himself, in the Namur (90), was in action with the sternmost French ships. The Swiftsure (70) and Intrepid (64), were at that time to windward of him and, hailing the former, he ordered her to push on for the French van ship. The Intrepid (64) did not bear down close enough, but kept aloof, and fired at the French across the other ships.
By about 4:30 PM, the Namur (90) was close alongside the Océan (80).
At about 5:00 PM, after an engagement of about 30 minutes, the Namur (90), having lost her mizenmast and both topsail yards, was disabled and fell astern. De la Clue made every effort to take full advantage of this misfortune to the British flagship. Each of his vessels, except the Centaure (74), set all possible sail to get away but the Centaure (74) had been engaged by every ship as she came up and had stood the brunt of the fight. At last, her fore and main topmasts had fallen and she was so greatly damaged in every respect that she had no alternative but to strike.
The misfortune to the British flagship did not affect the energy and activity of the British admiral who ordered out his barge and was rowed at once to the Newark (80) and there hoisted his flag. But, by that time, the battle proper had almost ceased and the pursuit had begun.
During the night of August 18 to 19, Boscawen continued the pursuit. Though there was a fine breeze, there was also a slight haze and, under cover of this, 2 of the French ships, (Souverain (74) and Guerrier (74)) altered course to the west, and escaped.
Engagement of August 19
At daylight on August 19, only 4 French sail were to be seen. The British were about 5 km astern of them and about 24 km miles from Lagos. Once more the wind had almost died away.
At about 9:00, the Océan (80) ran among the breakers and the 3 other ships anchored under the Portuguese batteries. Boscawen thereupon sent the Intrepid (64) and America (60) to destroy the Océan (80) which, in taking the ground, had carried away all her masts. Captain Pratten had anchored and he failed to carry out the order. However, captain Kirke, taking in the America (60) very close, discharged a few guns into the enemy at point-blank range and obliged her to strike. M. de la Clue, who had one leg broken and the other injured and who eventually died of his wounds at Lagos, had been landed about 30 minutes before. Captain Kirke took possession of the French flagship and having removed such officers and men as were found in her, he set her on fire, deeming it impossible to bring her off.
The Warspite (74) was ordered in against the Téméraire (74) and succeeded in bringing her out very little damaged. Vice-admiral Broderick's division went against the remaining two ships, and, after an action of about 30 minutes , captured the Modeste (64). The Redoutable (74), having been abandoned and being found to be bulged, was burnt.
This crushing defeat was a serious blow to the French plan for the invasion of Great Britain. Now everything depended on the fleet at Brest under de Conflans.
In this action the loss of the French navy was very severe in killed and wounded. In the Centaure (74) alone, about 200 were killed. The loss of the British, on the other hand, was very small, amounting only to 56 killed and 196 wounded.
Order of Battle
British Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: admiral honourable Edward Boscawen
Summary: 15 ships of the line, 12 frigates and sloops, 2 fireships
- Ships of the line
- Namur (90), captain Matthew Buckle, carrying admiral Boscawen
- Prince (90), captain Joseph Peyton, carrying vice admiral Thomas Broderick
- Newark (80), captain William Holbourne
- Warspite (74), captain sir John Bentley
- Culloden (74), captain Smith Callis
- Conqueror (68), captain William Lloyd
- Swiftsure (70), captain sir Thomas Stanhope
- Edgar (60), captain Francis William Drake
- St. Albans (60), captain Edward Vernon
- Intrepid (64), captain Edward Pratten
- America (60), captain James Kirke
- Princess Louisa (60), captain Robert Harland
- Jersey (60), captain John Barker
- Guernsey (50), lieutenant Michael Kearny (acting commander)
- Portland (50), captain Jervis Maplesden
- Ambuscade (40), captain Richard Gwynn
- Rainbow (40), captain Christopher Basset
- Shannon (28), captain Charles Meadows
- Active (28), captain Herbert Sawyer
- Thetis (44), captain John Moutray
- Lyme (28), captain James Baker
- Gibraltar (20), captain William McLeverty
- Glasgow (20), captain Andrew Wilkinson
- Sheerness (24), captain John Clark
- Tartar's Prize (24), captain Thomas Baillie
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: vice-admiral de la Clue
Summary: 12 ships of the line and 3 frigates
N.B.: 5 ships of the line and the 3 frigates had taken refuge at Cadiz the previous night and did not take part to the battle
Squadron who took part to the action
- Océan (80), carrying vice-admiral de la Clue
- Redoutable (74)
- Centaure (74)
- Téméraire (74)
- Modeste (64)
- Souverain (74)
- Guerrier (74)
Squadron who had taken refuge at Cadiz and did not take part to the action
- Ships of the line
- Chimère (36)
- Minerve (24)
- Gracieuse (24)
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. 210-215
Mordal, Jacques, 25 siècles de guerre sur mer, vol. 1, Robert Laffont, 1959, pp. 168-176
Wikipedia - Battle of Lagos