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11.. change of wind had precipitated an action, which one admiral had been seeking, and the other shunning; but each had to meet it with such shift as he could. The British (CC) being close-hauled, the French (CC), advancing on a parallel line, were four points1 off the wind. Most of their ships, therefore, could have gone clear to windward of their opponents, but the fact that the latter could reach some of the leaders compelled the others to support them. As d'Orvilliers had said, it was hard to avoid an enemy resolute to fight. The leading three French vessels 2 (e) hauled their wind, in obedience to the admiral's signal to form the line of battle, which means a close-hauled line. The effect of this was to draw them gradually away from the hostile line, taking them out of range of the British centre and rear. This, if imitated by their followers, would render the affair even more partial and indecisive than such passing by usually was. The fourth French ship began the action, opening fire soon after eleven. The vessels of the opposing fleets surged by under short canvas, (D), firing as opportunity offered, but necessarily much handicapped by smoke, which prevented the clear sight of an enemy, and caused anxiety lest an unseen friend might receive a broadside. "The distance between the Formidable, 90, (Palliser's flagship) and the Egmont, 74, was so short," testified Captain John Laforey, whose three-decker, the Ocean, 90, was abreast and outside this interval, "that it was with difficulty I could keep betwixt them to engage, without firing upon them, and I was once very near on board the Egmont," — next ahead of the Ocean. The Formidable kept her mizzen topsail aback much of the time, to deaden
1 Forty-five degrees.
'Chevalier says, p. 89, "The English passed out of range" of these ships. As these ships had the wind, they had the choice of range, barring signals from their own admiral. In truth, they were obeying his order.
her way, to make the needed room ahead for the Ocean, and also to allow the rear ships to close. "At a quarter past one," testified Captain Maitland of the Elizabeth, 74, "we were very close behind the Formidable, and a midshipman upon the poop called out that there was a ship coming on board on the weatherbow. I put the helm up, . . . and found, when the smoke cleared away, I was shot up under the Formidable's lee. She was then engaged with the two last ships in the French fleet, and, as I could not fire at them without firing through the Formidable, I was obliged to shoot on." 1 Captain Bazely, of the Formidable, says of the same incident, "The Formidable did at the time of action bear up to one of the enemy's ships, to avoid being aboard of her, whose jib boom nearly touched the main topsail weather leech of the Formidable. I thought we could not avoid being on board."
Contrary to the usual result, the loss of the rear division, in killed and wounded, was heaviest, nearly equalling the aggregate of the two others.2 This was due to the morning signal to chase to windward, which brought these ships closer than their leaders. As soon as the British van, ten ships, had passed the French rear, its commander, ViceAdmiral Sir Robert Harland, anticipating Keppel's wishes, signalled it to go about and follow the enemy (Fig. 2, V). As the French column was running free, these ships, when about, fetched to windward of its wake. When the Victory drew out of the fire, at 1 P.m., Keppel also made a similar signal, and attempted to wear (c), the injuries to his rigging not permitting tacking; but caution was needed in manoeuvring across the bows of the following ships, and it was not
1 This evidence of the captains of the Ocean and the Elizabeth contradicts Palliser's charge that his ship was not adequately supported.
2 It was actually quite equal, but this was due to an accidental explosion on board the Formidable.
till 2 P.m., that the Victory was about on the other tack (Fig. 2, C), heading after the French. At this time, 2 P.m., just before or just after wearing, the signal for battle was hauled down, and that for the line of battle was hoisted. The object of the latter was to re-form the order, and the first was discontinued, partly because no longer needed, chiefly that it might not seem to contradict the urgent call for a re-formation.
At this time six or seven of Harland's division were on the weather bow of the Victory, to windward (westward), but a little ahead, and standing like her after the French; all on the port tack (Fig. 2). None of the centre division succeeded in joining the flagship at once. At 2.30 Palliser's ship, the Formidable (R), on the starboard tack, passed the Victory to leeward, apparently the last of the fleet out of action. A half-hour after this the Victory had been joined by three of the centre, which were following her in close order, the van remaining in the same relative position. Astern of these two groups from van and centre were a number of other ships in various degrees of confusion, — some going about, some trying to come up, others completely disabled. Especially, there was in the south-south-east, therefore well to leeward, a cluster of four or five British vessels, evidently temporarily incapable of manoeuvring.
This was the situation which met the eye of the French admiral, scanning the field as the smoke drove away. The disorder of the British, which originated in the general chase, had increased through the hurry of the manoeuvres succeeding the squall, and culminated in the conditions just described. It was an inevitable result of a military exigency confronted by a fleet only recently equipped. The French, starting from a better formation, had come out in better shape. But, after all, it seems difficult wholly to remedy the disadvantage of a policy essentially defensive; and d'Orvilliers' next order, though well conceived, was resultless. At 1 p.m.1 he signalled his fleet to wear in succession, and form the line of battle on the starboard tack (Fig. 2, F). This signal was not seen by the leading ship, which should have begun the movement. The junior French admiral, in the fourth ship from the van, at length went about, and spoke the flagship, to know what was the Commander-in-Chief's desire. D'Orvilliers explained that he wished to pass along the enemy's fleet from end to end, to leeward, because in its disordered state there was a fair promise of advantage, and by going to leeward — presenting his weather side to the enemy — he could use the weather lower-deck guns, whereas, in the then state of the sea, the lee lower ports could not be opened. Thus explained, the movement was executed, but the favourable moment had passed. It was not till 2.30 that the manoeuvre was evident to the British.
As soon as Keppel recognised his opponent's intention, he wore the Victory again, (d), a few minutes after 3 P.m., and stood slowly down, on the starboard tack off the wind, towards his crippled ships in the south-south-east, keeping aloft the signal for the line of battle, which commanded every manageable ship to get to her station (Fig. 3, C). As this deliberate movement was away from the enemy, (F), Palliser tried afterwards to fix upon it the stigma of flight, — a preposterous extravagancy. Harland put his division about at once and joined the Admiral. On this tack his station was ahead of the Victory, but in consequence of a message from Keppel he fell in behind her, to cover the rear until Palliser's division could repair damage and take their places. At 4 P.m. Harland's division was in the line. Palliser's ships, as they completed refitting, ranged themselves before or behind his flagship ; their captains considering, as they testified, that they took
1 Chevalier. Probably later by the other times used in this aocount.