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First Lord to Rodney, "than had been captured in any one action in either of the two last preceding wars."
It should be remembered, too, as an element in the triumph, that this advantage over an exposed detachment had been snatched, as it were, in the teeth of a main fleet superior to Rodney's own; for twenty Spanish and four French ships of the line, under Admiral de Cordova, were lying then in Cadiz Bay. During the eighteen days when the British remained in and near the Straits, no attempt was made by Cordova to take revenge for the disaster, or to reap the benefit of superior force. The inaction was due, probably, to the poor condition of the Spanish ships in point of efficiency and equipment, and largely to their having uncoppered bottoms. This element of inferiority in the Spanish navy should be kept in mind as a factor in the general war, although Spanish fleets did not come much into battle. A French Commodore, then with the Spanish fleet in Ferrol, wrote as follows: "Their ships all sail so badly that they can neither overtake an enemy nor escape from one. The Glorieux is a bad sailer in the French navy, but better than the best among the Spaniards." He adds: "The vessels of Langara's squadron were surprised at immense distances one from the other. Thus they always sail, and their negligence and security on this point are incredible."
On approaching Gibraltar, the continuance of bad weather, and the strong easterly current of the Straits, set many of Rodney's ships and convoy to leeward, to the back of the Rock, and it was not till the 26th that the flagship herself anchored. The storeships for Minorca were sent on at once, under charge of three coppered ships of the line. The practice of coppering, though then fully adopted, had not yet been extended to all vessels. As an element of speed, it was an important factor on an occasion like this, when time pressed to get to the West Indies; as it also was in an engagement. The action on the 16th had been opened by the coppered ships of the line, which first overtook the retreating enemy and brought his rear to battle. In the French navy at the time, Suffren was urging the adoption upon an apparently reluctant Minister. It would seem to have been more general among the British, going far to compensate for the otherwise inferior qualities of their ships. "The Spanish men-of-war we have taken," wrote Rodney to his wife concerning these prizes, "are much superior to ours." It may be remembered that Nelson, thirteen years later, said the same of the Spanish vessels which came under his observation. "I never saw finer ships." "I perceive you cry out loudly for coppered ships," wrote the First Lord to Rodney after this action; "and I am therefore determined to stop your mouth. You shall have copper enough."
Upon the return of the Minorca ships, Rodney put to sea again on the 13th of February, for the West Indies. The detachment from the Channel fleet accompanied him three days' sail on his way, and then parted for England with the prizes. On this return voyage it fell in with fifteen French supply vessels, convoyed by two 64's, bound for the He de France,1 in the Indian Ocean. One of the ships of war, the Protee, and three of the storeships were taken. Though trivial, the incident illustrates the effect of operations in Europe upon war in India. It may be mentioned here as indicative of the government's dilemmas, that Rodney was censured for having left one ship of the line at the Rock. "It has given us the trouble and risk of sending a frigate on purpose to order her home immediately; and if you will look into your original instructions, you will find that there was no point more strongly guarded against than that of your leaving any line-of-battle ship behind you." These
1 Now the British Mauritius.
words clearly show the exigency and peril of the general situation, owing to the inadequate development of the naval force as compared with its foes. Such isolated ships ran the gantlet of the fleets in Cadiz, Ferrol, and Brest flanking the routes.
RODNEY AND DE GUICHEN'S NAVAL CAMPAIGN IN WEST INDIES. DE GUICHEN RETURNS TO EUROPE, AND RODNEY GOES TO NEW YORK. LORD CORNWALLIS IN THE CAROLINAS. TWO NAVAL ACTIONS OF COMMODORE CORNWAL-' *LIS. RODNEY RETURNS TO WEST INDIES
had left England with Byron in the summer of 1778, and of a reinforcement brought by Rear-Admiral Rowley in the spring of 1779.
During the temporary command of Rear-Admiral Hyde Parker, between the departure of Byron and the arrival of Rodney, a smart affair had taken place between a detachment of the squadron and one from the French division, under La Motte-Picquet, then lying in Fort Royal, Martinique.
On the 18th of December, 1779, between 8 and 9 A.m., the British look-out ship, the Preston, 50, between Martinique and Santa Lucia made signal for a fleet to windward, which proved to be a body of French supply ships, twentysix in number, under convoy of a frigate. Both the British and the French squadrons were in disarray, sails unbent, ships on the heel or partially disarmed, crews ashore for wood and water. In both, signals flew at once for certain ships to get under way, and in both the orders were executed
HEN Rodney arrived at Santa Lucia with his four ships of the line, on March 27, 1780, he found there a force of sixteen others, composed in about equal proportions of ships that with a rapidity gratifying to the two commanders, who also went out in person. The British, however, were outside first, with five sail of the line and a 50-gun ship. Nine of the supply vessels were captured by them, and four forced ashore. The French Rear-Admiral had by this time got out of Fort Royal with three ships of the line, — the Annibal, 74, Vengeur, 64, and Refltchi, 64, — and, being to windward, covered the entrance of the remainder of the convoy. As the two hostile divisions were now near each other, with a fine working breeze, the British tried to beat up to the enemy; the Conqueror, 74, Captain Walter Griffith, being ahead and to windward of her consorts. Coming within range at 5, firing began between her and the French flagship, Annibal, 74, and subsequently between her and all the three vessels of the enemy. Towards sunset, the Albion, 74, had got close up with the Conqueror, and the other ships were within distant range; "but as they had worked not only well within the dangers of the shoals of the bay (Fort Royal), but within reach of the batteries, I called them off by night signal at a quarter before seven." 1 In this chivalrous skirmish, — for it was little more, although the injury to the French in the loss of the convoy was notable, — Parker was equally delighted with his own squadron and with his enemy. "The steadiness and coolness with which on every tack the Conqueror received the fire of these three ships, and returned her own, working his ship with as much exactness as if he had been turning into Spithead, and on every board gaining on the enemy, gave me infinite pleasure. It was with inexpressible concern," he added, "that I heard that Captain Walter Griffith, of the Conqueror, was killed by the last broadside."2 Having occasion, a few days later, to exchange a flag of truce with the French Rear-Admiral, he wrote to him; "The conduct of your Excellency in the affair 1 Parker's Report. 1 Ibid.