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Carkett was the oldest captain in the fleet, his post commission being dated March 12th, 1758. How far he may have been excusable in construing as he did Fighting Instructions, which originated in the inane conception that the supreme duty of a Commander-in-Chief was to oppose ship to ship, and that a fleet action was only an agglomeration of naval duels, is not very material, though historically interesting. There certainly was that in the past history of the British Navy which extenuated the offence of a man who must have been well on in middle life. But since the Fighting Instructions had been first issued there had been the courts-martial, also instructive, on Mathews, Lestock, Byng, Keppel, and Palliser, all of which turned more or less on the constraint of the line of battle, and the duty of supporting ships engaged, — above all, an engaged Commander-in-Chief. Rodney perhaps understimated the weight of the Fighting Instructions upon a dull man; but he was justified in claiming that his previous signals, and the prescription of distance, created
at that time abreast of him, instead of leading as he did to the van ship, the action had commenced much sooner, and the fleet engaged in a more compact manner. . . ." This clearly implies that the Additional Fighting Instructions prescribed the direction which Rodney expected Carkett to take. If these Additional Instructions are to be found, their testimony would be interesting.
Since this account was written, the Navy Records Society has published (1905) a volume, "Fighting Instructions, 1530-1816," by Mr. Julian Corbett, whose diligent researches in matters of naval history and warfare are appreciated by those interested in such subjects. The specific "Additional Instructions" quoted by Rodney appear not to have been found. Among those given prior to 1780 there is none that extends to twenty-one articles. In a set issued by Rodney in 1782 an article (No. 17, p. 227) is apparently designed to prevent the recurrence of Carkett's mistake. This, like one by Hawke, in 1756 (p. 217), prescribes the intended action rather by directing that the line of battle shall not prevent each ship engaging its opponent, irrespective of the conduct of other ships, than by making clear which that opponent was. Lucidity on this point cannot be claimed for either.
at the least a conflict of orders, a doubt, to which there should have been but one solution, namely: to support the ships engaged, and to close down upon the enemy, as near as possible to the Commander-in-Chief. And in moments of actual perplexity such will always be the truth. It is like marching towards the sound of guns, or, to use Nelson's words, "In case signals cannot be understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy." The "In Case," however, needs also to be kept in mind; and that it was Nelson who said it. Utterances of to-day, like utterances of all time, show how few are the men who can hold both sides of a truth firmly, without exaggeration or defect. Judicial impartiality can be had, and positive convictions too; but their combination is rare. A two-sided man is apt also to be double-minded.
The loss of men in this sharp encounter was: British, killed, 120, wounded, 354; French, killed, 222, wounded, 537.1 This gives three French hit for every two British, from which, and from the much greater damage received aloft by the latter, it may be inferred that both followed their usual custom of aiming, the British at the hull, the French at the spars. To the latter conduced also the leegage, which the French had. The British, as the attacking party, suffered likewise a raking fire as they bore down.
Rodney repaired damages at sea, and pursued, taking care to keep between Martinique and the French. The latter going into Guadeloupe, he reconnoitred them there under the batteries, and then took his station off Fort Royal. "The only chance of bringing them to action," he wrote to the Admiralty on the 26th of April, "was to be off that port before them, where the fleet now is, in daily expectation of
1 Lapeyrouse Bonflls, "Histoire de la Marine Francaise," iii, 132. Chevalier gives much smaller numbers, but the former has particularised the ships.
their arrival." The French represent that he avoided them, but as they assert that they came out best on the 17th, and yet admit that he appeared off Guadeloupe, the claim is not tenable. Rodney here showed thorough tenacity of purpose. De Guichen's orders were "to keep the sea, so far as the force maintained by England in the Windward Islands would permit, without too far compromising the fleet intrusted to him."1 With such instructions, he naturally and consistently shrunk from decisive engagement. After landing his wounded and refitting in Guadeloupe, he again put to sea, with the intention of proceeding to Santa Lucia, resuming against that island the project which both he and De Bouille continuously entertained. The latter and his troops remained with the fleet.
Rodney meantime had felt compelled to return momentarily to Santa Lucia. "The fleet continued before Fort Royal till the condition of many of the ships under my command, and the lee currents,2 rendered it necessary to anchor in Choque Bay (Anse du Choc), St. Lucie, in order to put the wounded and sick men on shore, and to water and refit the fleet, frigates having been detached both to leeward and to windward of every island, in order to gain intelligence of the motions of the enemy, and timely notice of their approach towards Martinique, the only place they could refit at in these seas." In this last clause is seen the strategic idea of the British Admiral: the French must come back to Martinique.
From the vigilance of his frigates it resulted that when the look-outs of de Guichen, who passed to windward of Martinique on the 7th of May, came in sight of Gros Het on the 9th, it was simply to find the British getting under way to meet the enemy. During the five following days both fleets were
1 Chevalier, "Marine Francaise," 1778, p. 185. 2 A lee current is one that sets to leeward, with the wind, in this case the trade-wind.
engaged in constant movements, upon the character of which the writers of each nation put different constructions. Both are agreed, however, that the French were to windward throughout, except for a brief hour on the 15th, when a fleeting change of wind gave the British that advantage, only to lose it soon again. They at once used it to force action. As the windward position carries the power to attack, and as the French were twenty-three to the British twenty, it is probably not a strained inference to say that the latter were chasing to windward, and the former avoiding action, in favour, perhaps, of that ulterior motive, the conquest of Santa Lucia, for which they had sailed. Rodney states in his letter that, when the two fleets parted on the 20th of May, they were forty leagues to windward (eastward) of Martinique, in sight of which they had been on the 10th.
During these days de Guichen, whose fleet, according to Rodney, sailed the better, and certainly sufficiently well to preserve the advantage of the wind, bore down more than once, generally in the afternoon, when the breeze is steadiest, to within distant range of the British. Upon this movement, the French base the statement that the British Admiral was avoiding an encounter; it is equally open to the interpretation that he would not throw away ammunition until sure of effective distance. Both admirals showed much skill and mastery of their profession, great wariness also, and quickness of eye; but it is wholly untenable to claim that a fleet having the weather-gage for five days, in the tradewinds, was unable to bring its enemy to action, especially when it is admitted that the latter closed the instant the wind permitted him to do so.
On the afternoon of May 15th, about the usual hour, Rodney "made a great deal of sail upon the wind." The French, inferring that he was trying to get off, which he meant them to do, approached somewhat closer than on the