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were still in the confusion of apartly executed manoeuvre (CC). Their admiral had doubtless recognised, from the change of wind, and from the direction of the enemy when last visible, that an encounter could not be avoided. If he continued on the starboard tack, the van of the pursuing enemy, whose resolve to force battle could not be misunderstood, would overtake his rear ships, engaging as many of them as he might choose. By resuming the port tack, the heads of the columns would meet, and the fleets pass in opposite directions, on equal terms as regarded position; because all the French would engage, and not only a part of their rear. Therefore he had ordered his ships to go about, all at the same time; thus forming column again rapidly, but reversing the order so that the rear became the van. Keppel so far had made no signal for the line of battle, nor did he now. Recognising from the four days' chase that his enemy was avoiding action, he judged correctly that he should force it, even at some risk. It was not the time for a drill-master, nor a parade. Besides, thanks to the morning signal for the leewardly ships to chase, these, forming the rear of the disorderly column in which he was advancing, were now well to windward, able therefore to support their comrades, if needful, as well as to attack the enemy. In short, practically the whole force was coming into action, although much less regularly than might have been desired. What was to follow was a rough-and-ready fight, but it was all that could be had, and better than nothing. Keppel therefore simply made the signal for battle, and that just as the firing began. The collision was so sudden that the ships at first had not their colours flying. The French also, although their manoeuvres had been more methodical, were in some confusion. It is not given to a body of thirty ships, of varying qualities, to attain perfection of movement in a fortnight of sea practice. The
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 points' 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 4 (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 her way, to make the needed room ahead for the Ocean, and also to allow the rear ships to close. “At a quarter pastone,” 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.” " 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.”
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.
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.” 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
* This evidence of the captains of the Ocean and the Elizabeth contradicts Palliser's charge that his ship was not adequately supported.
* It was actually quite equal, but this was due to an accidental explosion on board the Formidable.