페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

they were steering. This formation, (A), wherein the advance is oblique to the front, is very difficult to maintain. Wishing to make the action, whatever the immediate event, decisive in results, by drawing the French well to leeward of the port, Hughes, who was a thorough seaman and had good captains, played with his eager enemy. “He kept avoiding me without taking flight,” wrote Suffren; “or rather, he fled, in good order, regulating his canvas by his worst sailers; and, keeping off by degrees, he steered from first to last ten or twelve different courses.” Hughes, on his part, while perfectly clear as to his own object, was somewhat perplexed by the seeming indecision of an adversary whose fighting purpose he knew by experience. “Sometimes they edged down,” he wrote; “sometimes they brought-to; in no regular order, as if undetermined what to do.” These apparent vacillations were due to the difficulty of maintaining the line of bearing, which was to be the line of battle; and this difficulty was the greater, because Hughes was continually altering his course and Suffren's ships were of unequal speed. At length, at 2 P.M., being then twenty-five miles south-east of the port, the French drew near enough to bear down. That this movement might be carried out with precision, and all the vessels come into action together, Suffren caused his fleet to haul to the wind, on the starboard tack, to rectify the order. This also being done poorly and slowly, he lost patience, — as Nelson afterwards said, “A day is soon lost in manoeuvring,” – and at 2.30, to spur on the laggard ships, the French admiral gave the signal to attack, (a), specifying pistol-range. Even this not sufficing to fetch the delinquents promptly into line with the flagship, the latter fired a gun to enforce obedience. Her own side being still turned towards the British, as she waited, the report was taken by the flagship's men below decks to be the signal for opening

[merged small][graphic][graphic]

fire, and her whole broadside was discharged. This example was followed by the other ships, so that the engagement, instead of being close, was begun at half cannon-shot. Owing to his measured and deliberate retreat, Hughes had his fleet now in thoroughly good shape, well aligned and closed-up. The French, starting from a poor formation to perform a difficult evolution, under fire, engaged in utter disorder (B). Seven ships, prematurely rounding-to to bring their broadsides to the enemy, and fore-reaching, formed a confused group (v), much to windward and somewhat ahead of the British van. Imperfectly deployed, they interfered with one another and their fire consequently could not be adequately developed. In the rear a somewhat similar condition existed. Suffren, expecting the bulk of his line to fight the British to windward, had directed the Vengeur, 64, and the Consolante, 36, to double to leeward on the extreme rear; but they, finding that the weather sides of the enemy were not occupied, feared to go to leeward, lest they should be cut off. They attacked the rear British ship, the Worcester, 64 (w), to windward; but the Monmouth, 64 (m), dropping down to her support, and the Vengeur catching fire in the mizzen top, they were compelled to haul off. Only Suffren's own ship, the Héros, 74 (a), and her next astern, the Illustre, 74, (i), came at once to close action with the British centre; but subsequently the Ajar, 64, succeeding in clearing herself from the snarl in the rear, took station ahead (j) of the Héros. Upon these three fell the brunt of the fight. They not only received the broadsides of the ships immediately opposed to them, but, the wind having now become light yet free, the British vessels ahead and astern, (h,s,) by luffing or keeping off, played also upon them. “The enemy formed a semicircle around us,” wrote Suffren's chief of staff, “and raked us ahead and astern, as the ship came up and fell off with the helm to leeward.” The two seventy-fours were crushed under this fire. Both lost their main and mizzen masts in the course of the day, and the foretopmast of the flagship also fell. The Ajar, arriving later, and probably drawing less attention, had only a topmast shot away. The British total of killed and wounded was very evenly distributed throughout the fleet. Only the rear ship lost an important spar, - the main topmast. It was upon her, as already mentioned, and upon the two leading ships, the Ereter and Isis, that fell the heaviest fire, proportionately, of the French. From the position of the seven van ships of the latter, such fire as they could make must needs be upon the extreme British van, and the Ereter was forced to leave the line. The loss of the French that day was 82 killed and 255 wounded; of which 64 killed and 178 wounded belonged to the Héros, Illustre, and Ajar. The British had 51 killed and 283 wounded; the greatest number of casualties in one ship being 56. Singularly enough, in such a small list of deaths, three were commanding officers: Captains Watt of the Sultan, Wood of the Worcester, and Lumley of the Isis. At 5.30 P.M. the wind shifted suddenly from south-west to east-south-east (C). The British wore together, formed on the other tack, and continued the fight. It was during this final act, and at 6 P.M., that the mainmast of the French flagship came down. The van ships of the French had towed their heads round with boats before 4, in order to come to the support of the centre, in obedience to a signal from Suffren; but the light airs and calms had retarded them. With the shift they approached, and passed in column (c) between their crippled vessels and the enemy. This manoeuvre, and the failure of daylight, brought the battle to an end. According to Hughes's report, several of his fleet “were making much water from shot-holes so very low down in the bottom as not to be come at to be effectually stopped; and the whole had suffered severely in their masts and

« 이전계속 »