페이지 이미지
[ocr errors]

standing of Rodney's later signals. These must be dis-
cussed, for the whole incident is part of the history of the
British Navy, far more important than many an indecisive
though bloody encounter.
One of the captains more expressly blamed, Carkett of
the Stirling Castle, which had been the leading ship at the
time the signal to alter the course toward the enemy was
made, wrote to Rodney that he understood that his name
had been mentioned, unfavourably of course, in the public
letter. Rodney's reply makes perfectly apparent the point
at issue, his own plan, the ideas running in his head as he
made his successive signals, the misconceptions of the jun-
iors, and the consequent fiasco. It must be said, however,
that, granting the facts as they seem certainly to have oc-
curred, no misunderstanding, no technical verbal allegation,
can justify a military stupidity so great as that of which
he complained. There are occasions in which not only is
literal disobedience permissible, but literal obedience, flying
in the face of the evident conditions, becomes a crime.
At 8 in the morning, Rodney had made a general signal
of his purpose to attack the enemy's rear. This, having been
understood and answered, was hauled down; all juniors
had been acquainted with a general purpose, to which the
subsequent manoeuvres were to lead. How he meant to
carry out his intention was evidenced by the consecutive
course of action while on that tack, - the starboard; when
the time came, the fleet bore up together, in line abreast,
standing for the French rear. This attempt, being balked
then by de Guichen's wearing, was renewed two hours later;
only in place of the signal to form line abreast, was made one
to alter the course to port, — towards the enemy. As this
followed immediately upon that to prepare for battle, it
indicated almost beyond question, that Rodney wished, for
reasons of the moment, to run down at first in a slanting

direction, — not in line abreast, as before, — ships taking course and interval from the flagship. Later again, at 11.50, the signal was made, “agreeable to the 21st Article of the Additional Fighting Instructions, for every ship to steer for her opposite in the enemy's line;” and here the trouble began. Rodney meant the ship opposite when the signal was hauled down. He had steered slanting, till he had gained as nearly as possible the position he wanted, probably till within long range; then it was desirable to cover the remaining ground as rapidly and orderly as possible, for which purpose the enemy's ship then abreast gave each of his fleet its convenient point of direction. He conceived that his signalled purpose to attack the enemy's rear, never having been altered, remained imperative; and further, that the signal for two cables' length interval should govern all ships, and would tie them to him, and to his movements, in the centre. Carkett construed “opposite” to mean opposite in numerical order, British van ship against French van ship, wherever the latter was. Rodney states — in his letter to Carkett – that the French van was then two leagues away. “You led to the van ship, notwithstanding you had answered my signals signifying that it was my intention to attack the enemy's rear; which signal I had never altered. . . . Your leading in the manner you did, induced others to follow so bad an example; and thereby, forgetting that the signal for the line was only at two cables' length distance from each other, the van division was led by you to more than two leagues' distance from the centre division, which was thereby not properly supported.”" 1 The words in Rodney's public letter, suppressed at the time by the Admiralty, agree with these, but are even more explicit. “I cannot conclude this letter without acquainting their Lordships that had Captain Carkett, who led the van, properly obeyed my signal 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 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. 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 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.” 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 Bouillé 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,” 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 Ilet 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

for attacking the enemy, and agreeable to the 21st Article of the Additional Fighting Instructions, bore down instantly to the ship 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.

1 Lapeyrouse Bonfils, “Histoire de la Marine Française,” iii, 132. Chevalier gives much smaller numbers, but the former has particularised the ships.

1 Chevalier, “Marine Française,” 1778, p. 185. * A lee current is one that sets to leeward, with the wind, in this case the trade-wind.

« 이전계속 »