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HOWE AGAIN GOES AFLOAT. THE FINAL RELIEF
20th of April, 1782, on board the Victory, 100. Owing to the various directions in which the efforts of Great Britain had to be made, either to defend her own interests or to crush the movements of the many enemies now combined against her, the operations of the Channel fleet were for some months carried on by detached squadrons, — in the North Sea, in the Bay of Biscay, and at the entrance of the Channel; Howe having under him several distinguished subordinates, at the head of whom, in professional reputation, were ViceAdmiral Barrington, the captor of Santa Lucia, and RearAdmiral Kempenfelt. In the North Sea, the Dutch were kept in their ports; and a convoy of near 400 merchant ships from the Baltic reached England unmolested. In the Bay of Biscay, Barrington, having with him twelve of the line, discovered and chased a convoy laden with stores for the fleet in the East Indies. One of the ships of the line accompanying it, the Pegase, 74, surrendered, after a night action of three hours with the Foudroyant, 80, Captain John Jervis, afterwards Earl St. Vincent. Of nineteen transports, thirteen, one of which, the Actionnaire, was a 64-gun ship
HE fall of Lord North's Ministry, besides occasioning the recall of Rodney, drew Lord Howe out of his long retirement, to command the Channel Fleet. He hoisted his flag on the armed en flute,1 were taken; a weighty blow to the great Suffren, whose chief difficulty in India was inadequate material of war, and especially of spars, of which the Action- naire carried an outfit for four ships of the line. After Barrington's return, Kempenfelt made a similar but uneventful cruise of a month in the Bay.
Howe himself went first to the North Sea in the month of May. Having there held the Dutch in check during a critical moment, he was directed next to go to the entrance of the Channel, leaving only a division in the Downs. Information had been received that an allied fleet of thirty-two ships of the line, five only of which were French, had sailed from Cadiz early in June, to cruise between Ushant and Scilly. It was expected that they would be joined there by a reinforcement from Brest, and by the Dutch squadron in the Texel, making a total of about fifty of the line, under the command of the Spanish Admiral, Don Luis de Cordova. The Dutch did not appear, owing probably to Howe's demonstration before their ports; but eight ships from Brest raised the allied fleet to forty. To oppose these Howe sailed on the 2d of July with twenty-two sail, of which eight were three-deckers. Before his return, in the 7th of August, he was joined by eight others; mostly, however, sixty-fours. With this inferiority of numbers the British Admiral could expect only to act on the defensive, unless some specially favourable opportunity should offer. The matter of most immediate concern was the arrival of the Jamaica convoy, then daily expected; with which, it may be mentioned, de Grasse also was returning to England, a prisoner of war on board the Sandwich.
On its voyage north, the allied fleet captured on June 25th eighteen ships of a British convoy bound for Canada. A few
1 That is, with a great part of her guns dismounted, and below as cargo.
days later it was fixed in the chops of the Channel, covering the ground from Ushant to Scilly. On the evening of July 7th it was sighted off Scilly by Howe, who then had with him twenty-five sail. The allies prepared for action; but the British Admiral, possessing a thorough knowledge of the neighbouring coasts, either in his own person or in some of his officers, led the fleet by night to the westward through the passage between Scilly and Land's End. On the following morning he was no more to be seen, and the enemy, ignorant of the manner of his evasion, was thrown wholly off his track.1 Howe met the convoy; and a strong gale of wind afterwards forcing the allies to the southward, both it and the fleet slipped by successfully, and reached England.
Howe was ordered now to prepare to throw reinforcements and supplies into Gibraltar, which had not received relief since Darby's visit, in April, 1781. For this urgent and critical service it was determined to concentrate the whole Channel Fleet at Spithead, where also the transports and supply-ships were directed to rendezvous. It was while thus assembling for the relief of Gibraltar that there occurred the celebrated incident of the Royal George, a 100-gun ship, while being heeled for under-water repairs, oversetting and sinking at her anchors, carrying down with her Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt and about nine hundred souls, including many women and children. This was on the 29th of August, 1782. On the 11th of September the expedition started, one hundred and eighty-three sail in all; thirty-four being ships of the line, with a dozen smaller cruisers, the rest unarmed vessels. Of the latter, thirty-one were destined for Gibraltar, the re
1 Chevalier, following La Motte-Picquet's report, ascribes Howe's escape togreater speed. ("Mar. Fran, en 1778," p. 335.) It must be noted that Howe's object was not merely to escape eastward, up Channel, by better sailing, but to get to the westward, past the allies, a feat impracticable save by a stratagem such as is mentioned. mainder being trading ships for different parts of the world. With so extensive a charge, the danger to which had been emphasised by numerous captures from convoys during the war, Howe's progress was slow. It is told that shortly before reaching Cape Finisterre, but after a violent gale of wind, the full tally of one hundred eighty-three sail was counted. After passing Finisterre, the several "trades" probably parted from the grand fleet.
On the 8th of October, off Cape St. Vincent, a frigate was sent ahead for information. It was known that a great combined force of ships of war lay in Algeciras Bay, — opposite Gibraltar, — and that an attack upon the works was in contemplation; but much might have happened meantime. Much, in fact, had happened. A violent gale of wind on the 10th of September had driven some of the allied fleet from their moorings, one vessel, the San Miguel, 72, being forced under the batteries of Gibraltar, where she had to surrender; but there still remained the formidable number of forty-eight ships of the line, anchored only four miles from the point which the relief ships must reach. This was the problem which Howe had to solve. More important still, though of less bearing upon his mission, was the cheering news brought by the frigate, when she rejoined on October 10th, that the longintended attack had been made on the 13th of September, and had been repelled gloriously and decisively. The heavily protected Spanish floating batteries, from which success had been expected confidently, one and all had been set on fire and destroyed. If Howe could introduce his succours, the fortress was saved.
The admiral at once summoned his subordinate officers, gave them full and particular instructions for the momentous undertaking, and issued at the same time, to the masters of the supply-ships, precise information as to local conditions of wind and currents at Gibraltar, to enable them more surely to reach their anchorage. On the 11th of October, being now close to its destination, the fleet bore up for the Straits, which it entered at noon with a fair westerly wind. The convoy went first, — sailing before the wind it was thus to leeward of the fleet, in a position to be defended, — and the ships of war followed at some distance in three divisions, one of which was led by Howe himself. At 6 P.m. the supplyships were off the mouth of the Bay, with a wind fair for the mole; but, through neglect of the instructions given, all but four missed the entrance, and were swept to the eastward of the Rock, whither the fleet of course had to follow them.
On the 13th the allied fleets came out, being induced to quit their commanding position at Algeciras by fears for two of their number, which shortly before had been driven to the eastward. During the forenoon of the same day the British were off the Spanish coast, fifty miles east of Gibraltar. At sunset the allies were seen approaching, and Howe formed his fleet, but sent the supply-ships to anchor at the Zaffarine Islands, on the coast of Barbary, to await events. Next morning the enemy was close to land northward, but visible only from the mastheads; the British apparently having headed south during the night. On the 15th the wind came east, fair for Gibraltar, towards which all the British began cautiously to move. By the evening of the 16th, eighteen of the convoy were safe at the mole; and on the 18th all had arrived, besides a fireship with 1,500 barrels of powder, sent in by the Admiral upon the governor's requisition. Throughout these critical hours, the combined fleets seem to have been out of sight. Either intentionally or carelessly, they had got to the eastward and there remained; having rallied their separated ships, but allowed Gibraltar to be replenished for a year. On the morning of the 19th they appeared in the north-east, but the relief was then accomplished and Howe put out to sea. He was not willing to fight in mid-Straits, embarrassed