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and there remained till the trouble blew over. On the other hand, the stock market stood firm. Nevertheless, it was justly felt that such a state of things as a vastly superior hostile fleet in the Channel should not have been. Sir John Jervis, afterward Earl St. Vincent, who commanded a ship in the fleet, wrote to his sister: "What a humiliating state is our country reduced to !" but he added that he laughed at the idea of invasion.
The French had placed a force of fifty thousand men at Le Havre and St. Malo, and collected four hundred vessels for their transport. Uieir plans were not certainly known, but enough had transpired to cause reasonable anxiety; and the crisis, on its face, was very serious. Not their own preparations, but the inefficiency of their enemies, in counsel and in preparation, saved the British Islands from invasion. What the results of this would have been is another question, — a question of land warfare. The original scheme of the French Ministry was to seize the Isle of Wight, securing Spithead as an anchorage for the fleet, and to prosecute their enterprise from this near and reasonably secure base. Referring to this first project, d'Orvilliers wrote: "We will seek the enemy at St. Helen's,1 and then, if I find that roadstead unoccupied, or make myself master of it, I will send word to Marshal De Vaux, at Le Havre, and inform him of the measures I will take to insure his passage, which [measures] will depend upon the position of the English main fleet [dependront des forces superieures des Anglais]. That is to say, I myself will lead the combined fleet on that side [against their main body], to contain the enemy, and I will send, on the other side [to convoy], a light squadron, with a sufficient number of ships of the line and frigates; or I will propose to M. de Cordova to take this latter station, in order that the passage of the army may be free and sure. I assume
1 An anchorage three miles to seaward of Spithead.
that then, either by the engagement I shall have fought with the enemy, or by their retreat into their ports, I shall be certain of their situation and of the success of the operation." 1 It will be observed that d'Orvilliers, accounted then and now one of the best officers of his day in the French navy, takes here into full account the British "fleet in being." The main body of the allies, fifty ships, was to hold this in check, while a smaller force — Cordova had command of a special "squadron of observation," of sixteen ships of the line — was to convoy the crossing.
These projects all fell to pieces before a strong east wind, and a change of mind in the French government. On the 16th of August, before Plymouth, d'Orvilliers was notified that not the Isle of Wight, but the coast of Cornwall, near Falmouth, was to be the scene of landing. The effect of this was to deprive the huge fleet of any anchorage, — a resource necessary even to steamers, and far more to sailing vessels aiming to remain in a position. As a point to begin shore operations, too, as well as to sustain them, such a remote corner of the country to be invaded was absurd. D'Orvilliers duly represented all this, but could not stay where he was long enough to get a reply. An easterly gale came on, which blew hard for several days and drove the allies out of the Channel. On the 25th of August word was received that the British fleet was near Scilly. A council of war was then held, which decided that, in view of the terrible increase of disease in the shipping, and of the shortness of provisions, it was expedient not to reenter the Channel, but to seek the enemy, and bring him to battle. This was done. On the 29th Hardy was sighted, being then on his return up Channel. With the disparity of force he could not but decline action, and the allies were unable to compel it. On the 3d of September he reached Spithead. D'Orvilliers
1 Chevalier, "Marine Franchise," 1778, p. 165. Author's italics.
soon afterwards received orders to return to Brest, and on the 14th the combined fleet anchored there.
The criticism to be passed on the conduct of this summer campaign by the British Ministry is twofold. In the first place, it was not ready according to the reasonable standard of the day, which recognised in the probable cooperation of the two Bourbon kingdoms, France and Spain, the measure of the minimum naval force permissible to Great Britain. Secondly, the entrance of Spain into the war had been foreseen months before. For the inferior force, therefore, it was essential to prevent a junction, — to take an interior position. The Channel fleet ought to have been off Brest before the French sailed. After they were gone, there was still fair ground for the contention of the Opposition, that they should have been followed, and attacked, off the coast of Spain. During the six weeks they waited there, they were inferior to Hardy's force. Allowance here must be made, however, for the inability of a representative government to disregard popular outcry, and to uncover the main approach to its own ports. This, indeed, does but magnify the error made in not watching Brest betimes; for in such case a fleet before Brest covered also the Channel.
With regard to the objects of the war in which they had become partners, the views of France and Spain accorded in but one point, — the desirability of injuring Great Britain. Each had its own special aim for its own advantage. This necessarily introduced divergence of effort; but, France having first embarked alone in the contest and then sought the aid of Spain, the particular objects of her ally naturally obtained from the beginning a certain precedence. Until near the close of the war, it may be said that the chief ambitions of France were in the West Indies; those of Spain, in Europe, — to regain Minorca and Gibraltar.
In this way Gibraltar became a leading factor in the contest, and affected, directly or indirectly, the major operations throughout the world, by the amount of force absorbed in attacking and preserving it. After the futile effort in the Channel, in 1779, Spain recalled her vessels from Brest. "The project of a descent upon England was abandoned provisionally. To blockade Gibraltar, to have in America and Asia force sufficient to hold the British in check, and to take the offensive in the West Indies, — such," wrote the French government to its ambassador in Madrid, "was the plan of campaign adopted for 1780." Immediately upon the declaration of war, intercourse between Gibraltar and the Spanish mainland was stopped. Soon afterwards a blockade by sea was instituted; fifteen cruisers being stationed at the entrance of the Bay, where they seized and sent into Spanish ports all vessels, neutral or British, bound to the Rock. This blockade was effectively supported from Cadiz, but a Spanish force of some ships of the line and many small vessels also maintained it more directly from Algeciras, on the Spanish side of the Bay of Gibraltar. The British Mediterranean squadron, then consisting only of one 60-gun ship, three frigates, and a sloop, was wholly unable to afford relief. At the close of the year 1779, flour in Gibraltar was fourteen guineas the barrel, and other provisions in proportion. It became therefore imminently necessary to throw in supplies of all kinds, as well as to reinforce the garrison. To this service Rodney was assigned; and with it he began the brilliant career, the chief scene of which was to be in the West Indies.
Rodney was appointed to command the Leeward Islands Station on the 1st of October, 1779. He was to be accompanied there immediately by only four or five ships of the line; but advantage was taken of his sailing, to place under the charge of an officer of his approved reputation a great force, composed of his small division and a large fraction of the Channel fleet, to convey supplies and reinforcements to Gibraltar and Minorca. On the 29th of December the whole body, after many delays in getting down Channel, put to sea from Plymouth: twenty-two ships of the line, fourteen frigates and smaller vessels, besides a huge collection of storeships, victuallers, ordnance vessels, troop-ships, and merchantmen, — the last named being the "trade" for the West Indies and Portugal.
On the 7th of January, 1780, a hundred leagues west of Cape Finisterre, the West India ships parted for their destination, under convoy of a ship of the line and three frigates. At daylight on the 8th, twenty-two sail were seen to the north-east, the squadron apparently having passed them in the night. Chase was at once given, and the whole were taken in a few hours. Seven were ships of war, one 64 and six frigates; the remainder merchant vessels, laden with naval stores and provisions for the Spanish fleet at Cadiz. The provision ships, twelve in number, were diverted at once to the relief of Gibraltar, under charge of the Spanish sixty-four, which had been one of their convoy before capture, and was now manned by a British crew. Continuing on, intelligence was received from time to time by passing vessels that a Spanish squadron was cruising off Cape St. Vincent. Thus forewarned, orders were given to all captains to be prepared for battle as the Cape was neared. On the 16th it was passed, and at 1 P.m. sails in the south-east were signalled. These were a Spanish squadron of eleven ships of the line, and two 26-gun frigates. Rodney at once bore down for them under a press of canvas, making signal for the line abreast.1 Seeing, however, that the enemy was trying to form line of battle ahead on the starboard tack,
1 In line "abreast," as the word indicates, the ships are not in each other's wake, as in line "ahead," but abreast; that is, ranged on a line perpendicular to the course steered.