1759-09-10 - Battle of Pondicherry
From Project SYW
French naval victory
Prelude to the Battle
In September 1758, the squadron of the French chef d'escadre Anne Antoine comte d'Aché had left India and retired to Île de France (actual Mauritius) where it had been reinforced by 3 ships of the line and several French East India Company's ships.
On April 7, vice-admiral George Pocock, who had refitted his squadron at Bombay (actual Mumbai), sailed for the coast of Coromandel, endeavouring to get thither in advance of the French fleet, which was expected back from Île de France. He succeeded in this object and then cruised to intercept the enemy.
On August 3, Pocock sailed for Pondicherry and, during the rest of the month, cruised off that port to stop the French fleet before it could deliver supplies to the town.. However, he could learn nothing of the French squadron and was at length obliged by lack of provisions and water to proceed to Trincomalee on the north-eastern coast of Ceylon.
On September 2, both fleets sighted each other off Point Pedro (aka Point Palmyra) in Ceylon. The British squadron finally lost sight of the French ships and sailed for Pondicherry.
In the early morning of September 8, Pocock arrived off Pondicherry. At 1:00 PM, he sighted the French fleet to the southeast.
On the morning of September 9, the British and French fleets faced each other but no action resulted.
Description of Events
On September 10 at 6:00 AM, the French bore S.E. by S., distant 14 km, sailing in line of battle ahead on the starboard tack. Pocock, in line of battle abreast, bore down on them with the wind about N.W. by W.
At 10:00 AM, the French wore and formed a line of battle ahead on the larboard tack.
At 11:00 AM, Pocock engaged the French. The Elizabeth (64) leading. The action was begun on the British side by rear-admiral Charles Stevens, who, in the Grafton (70), attacked the Zodiaque (74). The tactics of the day present no features of special interest and the action is chiefly remarkable for the fury with which it was fought.
Owing to various defects, 2 of the British ships were able to take only a very insignificant part in the engagement.
In the evening, the more numerous French squadron bore away and stood to the S.S.E. under a crowd of sail. Most of the British ships were far too damaged to be able to pursue.
Pocock ordered the Revenge (frigate of the East India Company) to observe the motions of the French and then lay to on the larboard tack to enable his most shattered vessels to repair damages.
At dawn on September 11, the French were seen in the S.S.E., about 20 km away, lying to on the larboard tack, the wind being about west. On perceiving the British, they at once wore and brought to on the other tack and so continued until evening, when they were so far off that they were almost out of sight. At that time, the wind veering to the east, Pocock signalled his ships to wear, and stood under easy sail to the south-west ; the Sunderland (60) towing the Newcastle (50), the Weymouth (60) the Tiger (60), and the Elizabeth (64) the Cumberland (66). The French finally made for Pondicherry where they disembarked supplies.
The loss sustained by the French in the engagement was, all things considered, enormous, amounting, as it did, to nearly 1,500 killed and wounded. Among the killed were the captains of the Zodiaque (74) and Centaure (70), and among the wounded was d'Aché himself.
The loss on the British side was also very heavy, being 569 killed and wounded, including 184 who were either killed outright or died of their wounds. Among the killed was captain Colin Michie of the Newcastle (50), and among the wounded were captain Somerset of the Cumberland (66) and captain Brereton of the Tiger (60).
Order of Battle
British Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: vice-admiral George Pocock
Summary: 9 ships of the line, 1 frigate
- Ships of the line
- Elizabeth (64), captain Richard Tidderman
- Newcastle (50), captain Colin Michie
- Tiger (60), captain William Brereton
- Grafton (70), captain Richard Kempenfelt, carrying rear-admiral Charles Stevens
- Yarmouth (64), captain John Harrison carrying vice-admiral George Pocock
- Cumberland (66), captain John Stukley Somerset (reduced to 58 guns to ease her)
- Salisbury (50), captain Digby Dent
- Sunderland (60), captain honourable James Colville
- Weymouth (60), captain sir William Baird
- Queenborough (24) under captain Robert Kirk
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: admiral comte d'Aché
Summary: 11 ships of the line and 2 frigates
- Ships of the line
- Actif (64)
- Minotaure (74)
- Duc d'Orléans (54)*, captain Jean-François de Surville
- Saint-Louis (54)*
- Vengeur (60)*, captain Jean Christy de la Pallière
- Zodiaque (74) carrying admiral d'Aché
- Comte-de-Provence (68)*, captain Jean-Jacques de la Chaise
- Duc-de-Bourgogne (64)*, carrying only 60 guns under captain Joseph Bouvet
- Illustre (64)
- Fortuné (58)*
- Centaure (70)*, captain de Surville
*: vessels of 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. 196-200