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erly towards Dominica. The effect of this was to bring his ships into the calms and baffling winds which cling to the shore-line, thus depriving them of their power of manoeuvre. His object probably was to confine the engagement to a mere pass-by on opposite tacks, by which in all previous instances the French had thwarted the decisive action that Rodney sought. Nevertheless, the blunder was evident at once to French eyes. "What evil genius has inspired the admiral?" exclaimed du Pavilion, Vaudreuil's flag-captain, who was esteemed one of the best tacticians in France, and who fell in the battle.
As the two lines drew near to one another, standing, the French south, the British east-north-east, the wind shifted back to the eastward, allowing the French to head higher, to south-south-east, and knocking the British off to northnorth-east (Position 4). The head of the French column thus passed out of gunshot, across the bows of Rodney's leading vessel, the Marlborough, (m), which came within range when abreast the eighth ship. The first shots were fired by the Brave, 74, ninth in the French line, at 8 A.m. The British captain then put his helm up and ran slowly along, north-north-west, under the lee of the French, towards their rear. The rest of the British fleet followed in his wake. The battle thus assumed the form of passing in opposite directions on parallel lines; except that the French ships, as they successively cleared the point where the British column struck their line, would draw out of fire, their course diverging thenceforth from that of the British approach. The effect of this would be that the British rear, when it reached that point, would be fresh, having undergone no fire, and with that advantage would encounter the French rear, which had received already the fire of the British van and centre. To obviate this, by bringing his own van into action, de Grasse signalled the van ships to lead south-south-west, parallel with the British north-north-east (4, a). The engagement thus became general all along the lines; but it is probable that the French van was never well formed. Its commander, at all events, reached his post later than the commander of the rear did his.1
At five minutes past eight, Rodney made a general signal for close action, followed immediately by another for the leading ships to head one point to starboard — towards the enemy — which indicates that he was not satisfied with the distance first taken by the Marlborough. The Formidable, his flagship, eighteenth in the column, began to fire at 8.23 ;2 but the Barfleur, Hood's flagship, which was thirty-first, not till 9.25. This difference in time is to be accounted for chiefly by the light airs near Dominica, contrasted with the fresh trades in the open channel to the northward, which the leading British vessels felt before their rear. De Grasse now, too late, had realised the disastrous effect which this would have upon his fleet. If he escaped all else, his ships, baffled by calms and catspaws while the British had a breeze, must lose the weather-gage, and with it the hope of evading pursuit, hitherto his chief preoccupation. Twice he signalled to wear, — first, all together, then in succession, — — but, although the signals were seen, they could not be obeyed with the enemy close under the lee. "The French fleet," comments Chevalier justly, "had freedom of movement no longer. A fleet cannot wear with an enemy's fleet within musket-range to leeward."
The movement therefore continued as described, the opposing ships slowly "sliding by" each other until about 9.15, when the wind suddenly shifted back to south-east
1 The position, in the French order, of the ships taken in the battle, is shown by the crosses in Positions 4, 5, 6.
2 Canada's log, 8.15; reduced to Hood's times, which are generally followed.
again. The necessity of keeping the sails full forced the bows of each French vessel towards the enemy (Position 5), destroying the order in column, and throwing the fleet into echelon, or, as the phrase then was, into bow and quarter line.1 The British, on the contrary, were free either to hold their course or to head towards the enemy. Rodney's flagship (5, a) luffed, and led through the French line just astern of the Glorieux, 74, (g), which was the nineteenth in their order. She was followed by five ships; and her next ahead also, the Duke (d), seeing her chief's movement, imitated it, breaking through the line astern of the twenty-third French. The Glorieux, on the starboard hand of Rodney's little column, received its successive broadsides. Her main and mizzen masts went overboard at 9.28, when the Canada, third astern of the Formidable, had just passed her; and a few moments later her foremast and bowsprit fell. At 9.33 the Canada was to windward of the French line. The flagship Formidable was using both broadsides as she broke through the enemy's order. On her port hand, between her and the Duke, were four French ships huddled together (c), one of which had paid off the wrong way; that is, after the shift of wind took her aback, her sails had filled on the opposite tack from that of the rest of her fleet.2 These four, receiving the repeated broadsides, at close quarters, of the Formidable, Duke, and Namur, and having undergone besides the fire of the British van, were very severely mauled. While these things were happening, the Bedford, the sixth astern of the Formidable, perhaps unable to see her next ahead in the smoke, had luffed independently (b), and was followed by the twelve rearmost British ships, whom she led through the French order astern of the Cesar, 74, (k), twelfth from the van. This ship and her next ahead, the Hector, 74, (h), suffered as did the
1 Ante, p. 200 (note).
• This mishap occurred to three French vessels.
Glorieuz. The Barfleur, which was in the centre of this column of thirteen, opened fire at 9.25. At 10.45 she "ceased firing, having passed the enemy's van ships; " that is, she was well on the weather side of the French fleet. Some of the rearmost of Hood's division, however, were still engaged at noon; but probably all were then to windward of the enemy.
The British ships ahead of the Duke, the van and part of the centre, in all sixteen sail, had continued to stand to the northward. At the time Rodney broke the line, several of them must have passed beyond the French rear, and out of action. One, the America, the twelfth from the van, wore without signals, to pursue the enemy, and her example was followed at once by the ship next ahead, the Russell, Captain Saumarez. No signal following, the America again wore and followed her leaders, but the Russell continued as she was, now to windward of the French; by which course she was able to take a conspicuous share in the closing scenes. At 11.33 Rodney signalled the van to tack, but the delay of an hour or more had given the Russell a start over the other ships of her division "towards the enemy" which could not be overcome.
The effect of these several occurrences had been to transfer the weather-gage, the position for attack, to the British from the French, and to divide the latter also into three groups, widely separated and disordered (Position 6). In the centre was the flagship Ville de Paris with five ships (c). To windward of her, and two miles distant, was the van, of some dozen vessels (v). The rear was four miles away to leeward (r). To restore the order, and to connect the fleet again, it was decided to re-form on the leewardmost ships; and several signals to this effect were made by de Grasse. They received but imperfect execution. The manageable vessels succeeded easily enough in running before the wind to leeward, but, when there, exactitude of position and of move