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thought that any of the fleet should have required such assurance cannot certainly be said. Possibly, although he had so recently joined, he had already detected the ill-will, or the slackness, of which he afterwards complained; possibly he feared that the wariness of his tactics might lead men to believe that he did not mean to exceed the lukewarm and indecisive action of days scarce yet passed away, which had led Suffren to stigmatize tactics as a mere veil, behind which timidity thinks to hide its nakedness.
At 11.50 A.m. the decisive signal was made "for every ship to bear down, and steer for her opposite in the enemy's line, agreeable to the 21st article of the Additional Fighting Instructions." Five minutes later, when the ships, presumably, had altered their course for the enemy, the signal for battle was made, followed by the message that the Admiral's intention was to engage closely; he expecting, naturally, that every ship would follow the example he purposed to set. The captain of the ship which in the formation (aa) had been the leader, upon whose action depended that of those near her, unfortunately understood Rodney's signal to mean that he was to attack the enemy's leader, not the ship opposite to him at the moment of bearing away. This ship, therefore, diverged markedly from the Admiral's course, drawing after her many of the van. A few minutes before 1 P.m., one of the headmost ships began to engage at long range; but it was not till some time after 1 p.m. that the Sandwich, having received several broadsides, came into close action (S2) with the second vessel astern from the French Admiral, the Actionnaire, 64. The latter was soon beat out of the line by the superiority of the Sandwich's battery, and the same lot befell the ship astern of her, — probably the Intrepide, 74, — which came up to close the gap. Towards 2.30 P.m., the Sandwich, either by her own efforts to close, or by her immediate opponents' keeping away, was found to be to leeward (S3) of the enemy's line; the Couronne (C) being on her weather bow. The fact was pointed out by Rodney to the captain of the ship, Walter Young, who was then in the lee gangway. Young, going over to look for himself, saw that it was so, and that the Yarmouth, 64, had hauled off to windward, where she lay with her main and mizzen topsails aback. Signals were then made to her, and to the Cornwall, 74, to come to closer engagement, they both being on the weather bow of the flagship.
De Guichen, recognising this state of affairs, then or a little later, attributed it to the deliberate purpose of the British Admiral to break his line. It does not appear that Rodney so intended. His tactical idea was to concentrate his whole fleet on the French rear and centre, but there is no indication that he now aimed at breaking the line. De Guichen so construing it, however, gave the signal to wear together, away from the British line. The effect of this, in any event, would have been to carry his fleet somewhat to leeward; but with ships more or less crippled, taking therefore greater room to manoeuvre, and with the exigency of reforming the line upon them, the tendency was exaggerated. The movement which the French called wearing together was therefore differently interpreted by Rodney. "The action in the centre continued till 4.15 P.m., when M. de Guichen, in the Couronne, the Triomphant, and the Fendant, after engaging the Sandwich for an hour and a half, bore away. The superiority of fire from the Sandwich, and the gallant behavior of the officers and men, enabled her to sustain so unequal a combat; though before attacked by them, she had beat three ships out of their line of battle, had entirely broke it, and was to leeward of the French Admiral." Possibly the French accounts, if they were not so very meagre, might dispute this prowess of the flagship; but there can be no doubt that Rodney had set an example, which, had it been followed by all, would have made this engagement memorable, if not decisive. He reported that the captains, with very few exceptions, had placed their ships improperly (cc). The Sandivich had eighty shot in her hull, had lost her foremast and mainyard, and had fired 3288 rounds, an average of 73 to each gun of the broadside engaged. Three of her hits being below the water line, she was kept afloat with difficulty during the next twenty-four hours. With the wearing of the French the battle ceased.
In the advantage offered by the enemy, whose order was too greatly extended, and in his own plan of attack, Rodney always considered this action of April 17th, 1780, to have been the great opportunity of his life; and his wrath was bitter against those by whose misconduct he conceived it had been frustrated. "The French admiral, who appeared to me to be a brave and gallant officer, had the honour to be nobly supported during the whole action. It is with concern inexpressible, mixed with indignation, that the duty I owe my sovereign and my country obliges me to acquaint your Lordships that during the action between the French fleet, on the 17th inst, and his Majesty's, the British flag was not properly supported." Divided as the Navy was then into factions, with their hands at each other's throats or at the throat of the Admiralty, the latter thought it more discreet to suppress this paragraph, allowing to appear only the negative stigma of the encomium upon the French officers, unaccompanied by any upon his own. Rodney, however, in public and private letters did not conceal his feelings; and the censure found its way to the ears of those concerned. Subsequently, three months after the action, in a public letter, he bore testimony to the excellent conduct of five of the captains, Walter Young, of the flagship, George Bowyer of the Albion, John Douglas of the Terrible, John Houlton of the Montagu, and A. J. P. Molloy 1 of the Trident. "To them I have given certificates, under my hand," "free and unsolicited." Beyond these, "no consideration in life would induce" him to go; and the two junior flag-officers were implicitly condemned in the words, "to inattention to signals, both in the van and rear divisions, is to be attributed the loss of that glorious opportunity (perhaps never to be recovered) of terminating the naval contest in these seas." These junior admirals were Hyde Parker and Rowley; the latter the same who had behaved, not only so gallantly, but with such unusual initiative, in Byron's engagement. A singular incident in this case led him to a like independence of action, which displeased Rodney. The Montagu, of his division, when closing the French line, wore against the helm, and could only be brought into action on the wrong (port) tack. Immediately upon this, part of the French rear also wore, and Rowley followed them of his own motion. Being called to account by Rodney, he stated the facts, justifying the act by the order that "the greatest impression was to be made on the enemy's rear." Both parties soon wore back.
Hyde Parker went home in a rage a few weeks later. The certificates to Bowyer and Douglas, certainly, and probably to Molloy, all of Parker's division, bore the stinging words that these officers "meant well, and would have done their duty had they been permitted." It is stated that their ships, which were the rear of the van division, were going down to engage close, following Rodney's example, when Parker made them a signal to keep the line. If this be so, as Parker's courage was beyond all doubt, it was simply a recurrence of the old superstition of the line, aggravated by a misunder
1 Singularly enough, this officer was afterwards court-martialled for misbehaviour, on the 1st of June, 1794, of precisely the same character as that from all share in which Rodney now cleared him.
standing of Rodney's later signals. These must be discussed, for the whole incident is part of the history of the British Navy, far more important than many an indecisive though bloody encounter.
One of the captains more expressly blamed, Carkett of the Stirling Castle, which had been the leading ship at the time the signal to alter the course toward the enemy was made, wrote to Rodney that he understood that his name had been mentioned, unfavourably of course, in the public letter. Rodney's reply makes perfectly apparent the point at issue, his own plan, the ideas running in his head as he made his successive signals, the misconceptions of the juniors, and the consequent fiasco. It must be said, however, that, granting the facts as they seem certainly to have occurred, no misunderstanding, no technical verbal allegation, can justify a military stupidity so great as that of which he complained. There are occasions in which not only is literal disobedience permissible, but literal obedience, flying in the face of the evident conditions, becomes a crime.
At 8 in the morning, Rodney had made a general signal of his purpose to attack the enemy's rear. This, having been understood and answered, was hauled down; all juniors had been acquainted with a general purpose, to which the subsequent manoeuvres were to lead. How he meant to carry out his intention was evidenced by the consecutive course of action while on that tack, — the starboard; when the time came, the fleet bore up together, in line abreast, standing for the French rear. This attempt, being balked then by de Guichen's wearing, was renewed two hours later; only in place of the signal to form line abreast, was made one to alter the course to port, — towards the enemy. As this followed immediately upon that to prepare for battle, it indicated almost beyond question, that Rodney wished, for reasons of the moment, to run down at first in a slanting