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ment. The action on the 16th had been opened by the coppered ships of the line, which first overtook the retreating enemy and brought his rear to battle. In the French navy at the time, Suffren was urging the adoption upon an apparently reluctant Minister. It would seem to have been more general among the British, going far to compensate for the otherwise inferior qualities of their ships. "The Spanish men-of-war we have taken," wrote Rodney to his wife concerning these prizes, "are much superior to ours." It may be remembered that Nelson, thirteen years later, said the same of the Spanish vessels which came under his observation. "I never saw finer ships." "I perceive you cry out loudly for coppered ships," wrote the First Lord to Rodney after this action; "and I am therefore determined to stop your mouth. You shall have copper enough."
Upon the return of the Minorca ships, Rodney put to sea again on the 13th of February, for the West Indies. The detachment from the Channel fleet accompanied him three days' sail on his way, and then parted for England with the prizes. On this return voyage it fell in with fifteen French supply vessels, convoyed by two 64's, bound for the He de France,1 in the Indian Ocean. One of the ships of war, the Protee, and three of the storeships were taken. Though trivial, the incident illustrates the effect of operations in Europe upon war in India. It may be mentioned here as indicative of the government's dilemmas, that Rodney was censured for having left one ship of the line at the Rock. "It has given us the trouble and risk of sending a frigate on purpose to order her home immediately; and if you will look into your original instructions, you will find that there was no point more strongly guarded against than that of your leaving any line-of-battle ship behind you." These
1 Now the British Mauritius.
words clearly show the exigency and peril of the general situation, owing to the inadequate development of the naval force as compared with its foes. Such isolated ships ran the gantlet of the fleets in Cadiz, Ferrol, and Brest flanking the routes.
RODNEY AND DE GUICHEN'S NAVAL CAMPAIGN IN WEST INDIES. DE GUICHEN RETURNS TO EUROPE, AND RODNEY GOES TO NEW YORK. LORD CORNWALLIS IN THE CAROLINAS. TWO NAVAL ACTIONS OF COMMODORE CORNWALLIS. RODNEY RETURNS TO WEST INDIES
WHEN Rodney arrived at Santa Lucia with his four ships of the line, on March 27, 1780, he found there a force of sixteen others, composed in about equal proportions of ships that had left England with Byron in the summer of 1778, and of a reinforcement brought by Rear-Admiral Rowley in the spring of 1779.
During the temporary command of Rear-Admiral Hyde Parker, between the departure of Byron and the arrival of Rodney, a smart affair had taken place between a detachment of the squadron and one from the French division, under La Motte-Picquet, then lying in Fort Royal, Martinique.
On the 18th of December, 1779, between 8 and 9 A.m., the British look-out ship, the Preston, 50, between Martinique and Santa Lucia made signal for a fleet to windward, which proved to be a body of French supply ships, twentysix in number, under convoy of a frigate. Both the British and the French squadrons were in disarray, sails unbent, ships on the heel or partially disarmed, crews ashore for wood and water. In both, signals flew at once for certain ships to get under way, and in both the orders were executed with a rapidity gratifying to the two commanders, who also went out in person. The British, however, were outside first, with five sail of the line and a 50-gun ship. Nine of the supply vessels were captured by them, and four forced ashore. The French Rear-Admiral had by this time got out of Fort Royal with three ships of the line, — the Annibal, 74, Vengeur, 64, and Reflechi, 64, — and, being to windward, covered the entrance of the remainder of the convoy. As the two hostile divisions were now near each other, with a fine working breeze, the British tried to beat up to the enemy; the Conqueror, 74, Captain Walter Griffith, being ahead and to windward of her consorts. Coming within range at 5, firing began between her and the French flagship, Annibal, 74, and subsequently between her and all the three vessels of the enemy. Towards sunset, the Albion, 74, had got close up with the Conqueror, and the other ships were within distant range; "but as they had worked not only well within the dangers of the shoals of the bay (Fort Royal), but within reach of the batteries, I called them off by night signal at a quarter before seven." 1 In this chivalrous skirmish, — for it was little more, although the injury to the French in the loss of the convoy was notable, — Parker was equally delighted with his own squadron and with his enemy. "The steadiness and coolness with which on every tack the Conqueror received the fire of these three ships, and returned her own, working his ship with as much exactness as if he had been turning into Spithead, and on every board gaining on the enemy, gave me infinite pleasure. It was with inexpressible concern," he added, "that I heard that Captain Walter Griffith, of the Conqueror, was killed by the last broadside."2 Having occasion, a few days later, to exchange a flag of truce with the French Rear-Admiral, he wrote to him; "The conduct of your Excellency in the affair 1 Parker's Report. 1 Ibid.
of the 18th of this month fully justifies the reputation which you enjoy among us, and I assure you that I could not witness without envy the skill you showed on that occasion. Our enmity is transient, depending upon our masters; but your merit has stamped upon my heart the greatest admiration for yourself." This was the officer who was commonly known in his time as "Vinegar" Parker; but these letters show that the epithet fitted the rind rather than the kernel.
Shortly after de Guichen 1 took command, in March, 1780, he arranged with the Marquis de Bouille, Governor of Martinique, to make a combined attack upon some one of the British West India Islands. For this purpose three thousand troops were embarked in the fleet, which sailed on the night of the 13th of April, 1780, intending first to accompany a convoy for Santo Domingo, until it was safely out of reach of the British. Rodney, who was informed at once of the French departure, put to sea in chase with all his ships, twenty of the line, two of which were of 90 guns, and on the 16th came in sight of the enemy to leeward (westward) of Martinique, beating up against the north-east trade-winds, and intending to pass through the channel between that island and Dominica. "A general chase to the north-west followed, and at five in the evening we plainly discovered that they consisted of twenty-three sail of the line, and one 50 gun ship." 2
As it fell dark Rodney formed his line of battle, standing still to the north-west, therefore on the starboard tack; and he was attentive to keep to windward of the enemy, whom his frigates watched diligently during the night.
1 Ante, p. 115.
2 Rodney's Report. The French authorities give their line of battle as twenty-two ships of the line. There was no 90-gun ship among them — no three-decker; but there were two of 80 guns, of which also the British had none.