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the westward (cc'), on the port tack, but running free, to frighten away Rodney's chasers. The British Admiral kept them out until 7 o'clock, by which time de Grasse was fairly committed to his false step. All cruisers were then called in, and the line was closed to one cable.1 Within an hour were heard the opening guns of the great battle, since known by the names of the 12th of April, or of The Saintes, and, in the French navy, of Dominica. The successive losses of the Caton, Jason, and Zele, with the previous detachment of the two 50-gun ships with the convoy, had reduced the French numbers from thirty-five to thirty effective vessels. The thirty-six British remained undiminished.
The British appear to have been standing to the south on the port tack at daylight; but, soon after sending out the chasers, Rodney had ordered the line of bearing (from ship to ship) to be north-north-east to south-south-west, evidently in preparation for a close-hauled line of battle on the starboard tack, heading northerly to an east wind. Somewhat unusually, the wind that morning held at south-east for some time, enabling the British to lie up as high as east-north-east on the starboard tack (Position 3, d), on which they were when the battle joined; and this circumstance, being very favourable for gaining to windward,—to the eastward,—doubtless led to the annulling of the signal for the line of bearing, half an hour after it was made, and the substitution for it of the line of battle ahead at one cable. It is to be inferred that Rodney's first purpose was to tack together, thus restoring Hood to the van, his natural station; but the accident of the wind holding to the southward placed the actual van — regularly the rear — most to windward, and rendered it
1 Seven hundred and twenty feet. For ships of the line of that day this would make the interval between each two about four ships' length. At five knots speed this distance would be covered in something over a minute.
expedient to tack in succession, instead of all together, preserving to the full the opportunity which chance had extended for reaching the enemy. In the engagement, therefore, Hood commanded in the rear, and Rear-Admiral Drake in the van. The wind with the French seems to have been more to the eastward than with the British, — not an unusual circumstance in the neighbourhood of land.
As Rodney, notwithstanding his haste, had formed line from time to time during the past three days, his fleet was now in good order, and his signals were chiefly confined to keeping it closed. The French, on the other hand, were greatly scattered when their Commander-in-Chief, in an impulse of hasty, unbalanced judgment, abandoned his previous cautious policy and hurried them into action. Some of them were over ten miles to windward of the flagship. Though they crowded sail to rejoin her, there was not time enough for all to take their stations properly, between daylight and 8 A.m., when the firing began. "Our line of battle was formed under the fire of musketry,"1 wrote the Marquis de Vaudreuil, the second in command, who, being in the rear of the fleet on this occasion, and consequently among the last to be engaged, had excellent opportunity for observation. At the beginning it was in de Grasse's power to postpone action, until the order should be formed, by holding his wind under short canvas; while the mere sight of his vessels hurrying down for action would have compelled Rodney to call in the ships chasing the ZS1S, the rescue of which was the sole motive of the French manoeuvre. Instead of this, the French flagship kept off the wind; which precipitated the collision, while at the same time delaying the preparations needed to sustain it. To this de Grasse added another fault by forming on the port tack, the contrary to that on which the British were, and standing south
1 Probably not over one or two hundred yards from the enemy.