페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

that moment the 80-gun ship was still securing a studdingsail-boom, which indicates how closely action trod on the heels of preparation.

The Dutch admiral was as deliberate as Parker was headlong. An English witness writes: —

"They appeared to be in great order; and their hammocks, quarter-cloths, etc., were spread in as nice order as if for show in harbour. Their marines also were well drawn up, and stood with their muskets shouldered, with all the regularity and exactness of a review. Their politeness ought to be remembered by every man in our line; for, as if certain of what happened, we came down almost end-on upon their broadsides; yet did not the Dutch admiral fire a gun, or make the signal to engage, till the red flag was at the Fortitude's masthead, and her shot finding their way into his ship. This was a manoeuvre which Admiral Zutman should not be warmly thanked for by their High Mightinesses; as he had it in his power to have done infinite mischief to our fleet, coming down in that unofficer-like manner. Having suffered Admiral Parker to place himself as he pleased, he calmly waited till the signal was hoisted on board the Fortitude, and at the same time we saw the signal going up on board Admiral Zutman's ship."

The British, thus unmolested, rounded-to just to windward of the enemy. A pilot who was on board their leading ship was for some reason told to assist in laying her close to her opponent. "By close," he asked, "do you mean about a ship's breadth?" "Not a gun was fired on either side," says the official British report, "until within the distance of half musket-shot." Parker, whom an on-looker describes as full of life and spirits, here made a mistake, of a routine character, which somewhat dislocated his order. It was a matter of tradition for flagship to seek flagship, just as it was to signal a general chase, and to bear down together, each ship for its opposite, well extended with the enemy. Now Parker, as was usual, was in the centre of his line, the fourth ship; but Zoutman was for some reason in the fifth. Parker therefore placed his fourth by the enemy's fifth. In consequence, the rear British ship overlapped the enemy, and for a time had no opponent; while the second and third found themselves engaged with three of the Dutch. At 8 A.m. the signal for the line was hauled down, and that for close action hoisted, — thus avoiding a mistake often made.

All the vessels were soon satisfactorily and hotly at work, and the action continued with varying phases till 11.35 A.m. The leading two ships in both orders got well to leeward of the lines, the British two having to tack to regain their places to windward. Towards the middle of the engagement the Dutch convoy bore away, back to the Texel, as the British had steered for England before it began; the difference being that the voyage was abandoned by the Dutch and completed by the British. At eleven o'clock Parker made sail, and passed with the flagship between the enemy and the Buffalo, his next ahead and third in the British order; the three rear ships following close in his wake, in obedience to the signal for line ahead, which had been rehoisted at 10.43.1 A heavy cannonade attended this evolution, the Dutch fighting gloriously to the last. When it was completed, the British fleet wore and the action ceased. "I made an effort to form the line, in order to renew the action," wrote Parker in his report, "but found it impracticable. The enemy appeared to be in as bad a condition. Both squadrons lay-to a considerable time near each other, when the Dutch, with their convoy, bore away for the Texel. We were not in a condition to follow them."

1 Sir John Ross, in his " Life of Saumarez," who was lieutenant in the flagship, says that the flagship only passed ahead of the Buffalo, and that the rear ships closed upon the latter. The version in the text rests upon the detailed and circumstantial statements of another lieutenant of the squadron, in Ekins's "Naval Battles." As Ekins also was present as a midshipman, this gives, as it were, the confirmation of two witnesses.

This was a most satisfactory exhibition of valour, and a most unsatisfactory battle; magnificent, but not war. The completion of their voyage by the British merchant ships, while the Dutch were obliged to return to the port which they had just left, may be considered to award success, and therefore the essentials of victory, to Parker's fleet. With this exception the status quo remained much as before, although one of the Dutch ships sank next day; yet the British loss, 104 killed and 339 wounded, was nearly as great as in Keppel's action, where thirty ships fought on each side, or in Rodney's of April 17th, 1780, where the British had twenty sail; greater than with Graves off the Chesapeake, and, in proportion, fully equal to the sanguinary conflicts between Suffren and Hughes in the East Indies. The Dutch loss is reported as 142 killed, 403 wounded. Both sides aimed at the hull, as is shown by the injuries; for though much harm was done aloft, few spars were wholly shot away. The Buffalo, a small ship, had 39 shot through and through her, and a very great number pierced between wind and water; in the British van ship as many as 14, another proof that the Dutch fired low.

With the rudimentary notions of manoeuvring evinced, it is not surprising that Parker was found an unsatisfactory second by an enlightened tactician like Rodney. The ViceAdmiral, however, laid his unsuccess to the indifferent quality of his ships. George III visited the squadron after the action, but Parker was not open to compliments. "I wish your Majesty better ships and younger officers," he said. "For myself, I am now too old for service." No rewards were given, and it is asserted that Parker made no secret that none would be accepted, if offered, at the hands of the then Admiralty. He voiced the protest of the Navy and of the nation against the mal-administration of the peace days, which had left the country unprepared for war. The gallant veteran was ordered soon afterwards to command in the East Indies. He sailed for his station in the Cato, which was never heard of again.

Though unfruitful in substantial results, Parker's action merits commemoration; for, after all, even where skill does its utmost, staunchness such as his shows the sound constitution of a military body.

CHAPTER XII

THE FINAL NAVAL CAMPAIGN IN THE WEST INDIES. HOOD AND DE GRASSE. RODNEY AND DE GRASSE. THE GREAT BATTLE OF APRIL 12, 1782

transition, again to the West Indies. The French government had felt throughout the summer the necessity of sending de Grasse reinforcements both of ships and of supplies, but the transports and material of war needed could not be collected before December. As the British probably would attempt to intercept a convoy upon which the next campaign so much depended, Rear-Admiral de Guichen was ordered to accompany it clear of the Bay of Biscay, with twelve ships of the line, and then to go to Cadiz. Five ships of the line destined to de Grasse, and two going to the East Indies, raised to nineteen the total force with which de Guichen left Brest on the 10th of December. On the afternoon of the 12th, the French being then one hundred and fifty miles to the southward and westward of Ushant, with a south-east wind, the weather, which had been thick and squally, suddenly cleared and showed sails to windward. These were twelve ships of the line, one 50, and some frigates, under RearAdmiral Richard Kempenfelt, who had left England on the 2d of the month, to cruise in wait for this expedition. The French numbers were amply sufficient to frustrate any attack, but de

[graphic]

HE year 1781 closed with an incident more decisive in character than most of the events that occurred in European waters during its course; one also which transfers the interest, by natural

« 이전계속 »