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"Their manoeuvres," he wrote, "indicated a wish to avoid battle," and he therefore was careful to counteract them. At daylight of April 17th, they were seen forming line of battle, on the port tack, four or five leagues to leeward, — that is, to the westward. The wind being east, or east by north, the French would be heading south-south-east (Fig. 1, aa). The British order now was rectified by signal from the irregularities of darkness, the ships being directed to keep two cables'1 lengths apart, and steering as before to the northward and westward. At 7 A.m., considering this line too extended, the Admiral closed the intervals to one cable (aa). The two fleets thus were passing on nearly parallel lines, but in opposite directions, which tended to bring the whole force of Rodney, whose line was better and more compact than the enemy's, abreast the latter's rear, upon which he intended to concentrate. At 8 A.m. he made general signal that this was his purpose; and at 8.30, to execute it, he signalled for the ships to form line abreast, bearing from each other south by east and north by west, and stood down at once upon the enemy (Fig. 1, bb). The object of the British being evident, de Guichen made his fleet wear together to the starboard tack (bb). The French rear thus became the van, and their former van, which was stretched too far for prompt assistance to the threatened rear, now headed to support it.
Rodney, baulked in his first spring, hauled at once to the wind on the port tack (Fig. 1, cc), again contrary to the French, standing thus once more along their line, for their new rear. The intervals were opened out again to two cables. The fleets thus were passing once more on parallel lines, each having reversed its order; but the British still retained the advantage, on whatever course and interval,
1 A cable was then assumed to have a length of 120 fathoms, — 720 feet.
that they were much more compact than the French, whose line, by Rodney's estimate, extended four leagues in length.1 The wariness of the two combatants, both trained in the school of the eighteenth century with its reverence for the line of battle, will appear to the careful reader. Rodney, although struggling through this chrysalis stage to the later vigor, and seriously bent on a deadly blow, still was constrained by the traditions of watchful fencing. Nor was his caution extravagant; conditions did not justify yet the apparent recklessness of Nelson's tactics. "The different movements of the enemy," he wrote, "obliged me to be very attentive, and watch every opportunity that offered of attacking them to advantage."
The two fleets continued to stand on opposite parallel courses — the French north by west, the British south by east — until the flagship Sandwich, 90, (Fig. 2, S') was abreast the Couronne, 80, (C), the flagship of de Guichen. Then, at 10.10 A.m., the signal was made to wear together, forming on the same tack as the enemy. There being some delay in execution, this had to be repeated, and further enforced by the pennant of the Stirling Castle, which, as the rear ship, should begin the evolution. At half-past ten, apparently, the fleet was about (Fig. 2, aa), for an order was then given for rectifying the line, still at two cables. At 11 A.m. the Admiral made the signal to prepare for battle, "to convince the whole fleet I was determined to bring the enemy to an engagement," 2 and to this succeeded shortly the order to alter the course to port (bb), towards the enemy.3 Why he
1 A properly formed line of twenty ships, at two cables' interval, would be about five miles long. Rodney seems to have been satisfied that this was about the condition of his fleet at this moment.
2 Rodney's Report.
3 Testimony of the signal officer at the court-martial on Captain Bateman.
thought that any of the fleet should have required such assurance cannot certainly be said. Possibly, although he had so recently joined, he had already detected the ill-will, or the slackness, of which he afterwards complained; possibly he feared that the wariness of his tactics might lead men to believe that he did not mean to exceed the lukewarm and indecisive action of days scarce yet passed away, which had led Suffren to stigmatize tactics as a mere veil, behind which timidity thinks to hide its nakedness.
At 11.50 A.m. the decisive signal was made "for every ship to bear down, and steer for her opposite in the enemy's line, agreeable to the 21st article of the Additional Fighting Instructions." Five minutes later, when the ships, presumably, had altered their course for the enemy, the signal for battle was made, followed by the message that the Admiral's intention was to engage closely; he expecting, naturally, that every ship would follow the example he purposed to set. The captain of the ship which in the formation (aa) had been the leader, upon whose action depended that of those near her, unfortunately understood Rodney's signal to mean that he was to attack the enemy's leader, not the ship opposite to him at the moment of bearing away. This ship, therefore, diverged markedly from the Admiral's course, drawing after her many of the van. A few minutes before 1 P.m., one of the headmost ships began to engage at long range; but it was not till some time after 1 P.m. that the Sandwich, having received several broadsides, came into close action (S2) with the second vessel astern from the French Admiral, the Actiomuiire, 04. The latter was soon beat out of the line by the superiority of the Sandwich's battery, and the same lot befell the ship astern of her, — probably the Intrepide, 74, — which came up to close the gap. Towards 2.30 P.m., the Sandwich, either by her own efforts to close, or by her immediate opponents' keeping