The exploits of the world’s greatest sea power from its beginnings to its triumphs
This book, originally entitled, ‘Fifty-Two Stories of the British Navy from Damme to Trafalgar,’ is an excellent ‘reader’ for all those interested in the history of British conflict at sea, from the earliest times to possibly the greatest naval battle of the age of sail—Nelson’s victory over the French and Spanish fleets off Cape Trafalgar in 1805. The volume is organised chronologically and each account links to form a chain which demonstrates how the Royal Navy really did come to ‘rule the waves’ to the point that after Trafalgar it did not fight another major battle at sea until Jutland during the First World War. Among the many great naval officers whose exploits are detailed here are Howard, Barton, Hawkins, Drake, Blake, Rooke, Benbow, Rodney and many others. Some 600 years of warfare at sea is discussed including the many wars against the Dutch and the perennial enemy France. Great battles are detailed, including eye-witness accounts, and the reader is transported to Damme, the destruction of the Algerine Navy, the victories at La Hogue, Quiberon Bay, Cape St. Vincent, the Nile and many more. Finally the reader is introduced to the ‘hearts of oak’—the great ships of Britain’s fleet including Repulse, Royal George, Agamemnon, Centaur, Ramilles and other famous vessels—and their crews—whose names have entered the glorious history of the Royal Navy. Created for reading pleasure rather than in depth research this book is certain to be a welcome addition to the library of any enthusiast of the history of the great age of sail.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Early in the morning of May 28th the advanced English frigates discovered the French fleet far on the weather bow of the English admiral’s ship. At first the enemy did not appear to see the English, for they came down for some time in very loose order; but when they came nearer they hauled to the wind. They were, however, very slow in completely forming in regular order of battle, occupying indeed several hours in the operation. This circumstance was of great consequence to Lord Howe, as it afforded time for the detached part of the British fleet, commanded by Rear-Admiral Pasley, to be placed advantageously for effecting an impression on their rear; and in the meantime the whole of the English fleet was making a nearer approach.<br>
In the French official report of the engagement given by Jean Bon St. Andre, he observes that while the two fleets continued manoeuvring, one of the ships, La Révolutionnaire, from motives not understood by the rest of the fleet, slackened its sails on the approach of the English; and that Admiral Pasley taking advantage of this circumstance, led on his division and attacked this vessel. In the conflict the British rear-Admiral had his top mast disabled; assistance was therefore immediately ordered, and Lord Hugh Seymour, in the Leviathan, pushed up also to attack the Révolutionnaire, and was supported by Captain Parker, of the Audacious. The captain of the Révolutionnaire was killed and the vessel greatly damaged. English official accounts add that the Révolutionnaire struck to the Audacious. Night, however, put an end to the conflict; and in the morning a French ship fell in with the Révolutionnaire and towed her into Rochefort.<br>
During the whole of the night of the 28th the two fleets continued in sight of each other; and on the morning of the following day Lord Howe made the signal for the fleet to tack, with the intention, if possible, of making some further impression on the rear of the enemy. As soon as the French admiral perceived this manoeuvre he also made the signal for his fleet to wear from van to rear, and continued edging down in a line for the purpose of bringing the van of the British fleet to action. Lord Howe upon this made the signal for passing through the enemy’s line, and a severe action commenced. The Cæsar, which was the leading ship of the British van, did not, however, keep to the wind; and this circumstance appearing likely to prevent the movement of passing the French line from taking its full and proper effect, the admiral immediately tacked, and being followed and supported by the Bellerophon and the Leviathan, passed through between the fifth and sixth ships of the line of the enemy.
Lord Howe having accomplished this part of his plan, put about again, in preparation for renewing the attack; but after manoeuvring and counter-manoeuvring for some time the French wore round and stood away in order of battle, on the larboard tack, followed by the British fleet in the same order. The fleets then remained separated a few miles; and as there was a very thick fog they were seldom seen by each other. This fog lasted for the greater part of the two following days.<br>
The object of the British admiral, hitherto, had been to obtain the weather-gauge of the enemy, in order that he might not only compel him to fight, but to fight on terms and in a situation comparatively favourable to himself. Having succeeded in this object, an opportunity occurred on June 1st for bringing the French fleet to close and general action. Lord Howe accordingly threw out the signal for his ships to bear up together and come to close action, between seven and eight o’clock in the morning. The French fleet originally consisted of twenty-six sail of the line, and the British of the same force; but on the part of the former the Révolutionnaire had been towed into Rochefort; and on the part of the latter the Audacious had parted company after her engagement with the Révolutionnaire.<br>
The battle immediately commenced and was carried on in a very courageous manner on both sides; but though the revolutionary spirit of the French officers and seamen incited them to fight with more obstinacy than they generally displayed in naval engagements, it could not give them discipline, skill and experience equal to that of the British, and they soon became sensible that the victory could not be with them. Several of the ships on both sides were dismasted, and the carnage was very great. In the French official account of the battle it was stated that the officers and crew of Le Vengeance, of seventy-four guns, displayed a true republican spirit; that after the lower decks were under water and destruction inevitable, they continued to fire the upper tier; and that at the moment the ship went to the bottom the air resounded with the cry of “Vive la république, vive la liberté et la France.”