The Battle of the Saintes 12th April 1782 Thursday, Dec 3 2009 

Sea motive

Sea motive

I – 1781

At Yorktown, British pride was seen to fall,
The World Turn’d Upside Down was heard by all,
French ships besieged the Britons till they fell,
Ad’mril de Grasse’s men had tales to tell,
American and French cries heard o’er land,
Their armies fought together hand by hand,
At anchor, the French fleet in Ches’peake Bay,
New orders see them sail upon their way,
Intrigues out on the Carribean sea,
A fleet of thirty five for King Louis.


de Grasse in early November set sail,
By months end he had crossed the oceans veil,
But plans against the isle of Barbados,
By strong trade winds were lost, all turn to dust,
Instead a new plan based upon St. Kitts,
Was hatched to make England’s fair isle submit,
In anchor, off the port of BasseTerre,
Six hundred British men saw in dispair,
Ten times as many Frenchmen come ashore,
A siege begins; the tightening grip of war.


But Ad’mril Hood of Royal Naval fame,
Got wind of the foul Gallic plan to shame,
Sailed from Barbados with a fleet of ships,
In battles blast the French he hopes to whip,
He could by stealth sneak in a sleeping bay,
Attack a few trapped ships along the way,
Asleep at rest and anchor in BasseTerre,
A plan ennobled! Those who care to dare,
Must risk their all if Victory’s smile they wish,
And hear the sounds of captur’d flags swish.

IV – 1782

Jan’ry twenty fifth sees England back at sea,
For the port of St Kitts, Hood wants to free,
Breath of Subsolanus! Guide on the ships,
And let them close the range to blows and grips,
Collision delays Ad’mril Hood’s plan,
Alerting the French to the schemes of man,
de Grasse alarmed sets sail with his fleet,
Southwards heading the Venti’s whims to beat,
Hood turned about and headed back the same,
Ships weave and tack in Ad’mrils deadly game.


Next noon, the hills of Nevis were covered,
As onlookers watched the fleets maneuver,
Hood tacked to starboard and towards St Kitts,
Which threw the French, and de Grasse on his wits,
The French turned round and began to pursue,
The English fleet ahead, their sails in view,
By two, the English fleet began to anchor,
French hearts were in a rage filled with rancor,
A French port now regained by England’s men!
Whose sailors now sigh and mutter, ‘Amen’.


The rage of de Grasse ensures battle new,
Next morn as the French sailed along and through,
But exchange of cannon fire will not shift,
The English oak stood firm, returned short shrift,
Pluton led the van and soon was shattered,
Her decks destroyed, sails rent and were tattered,
France turned away and back out to the sea,
The isle now had new owners for the quay,
Audacity! Call out aloud Hood’s name,
The capture of this port adds to your fame!


Britain stirs and returns back out to sea,
Our other famed Ad’mril called Rodney,
By Feb’ry nineteenth he reached Barbados,
A fleet of a dozen o’er Atlantic’s cross,
By Feb’ry twenty fifth, the two fleets do join,
Rodney and Hood, thirty four ships o’er line,
de Grasse pursued, anchored in Fort Royal,
Martinique’s safe harbour for Frenchmen loyal,
The quarry scented and chased into his lair,
The British wait for France and Spain to dare.


One hundred and fifty miles south to north,
Would see sailors artful maneuvers spring forth,
Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe,
A battle to be fought in this Carrib group,
France and Spain now made plans for Jamaica,
‘To redraw the lines of the map maker’.
At Cap Français, with fifty ships of the line,
Twenty thousand troops would cross the deep brine,
Rodney’s fair command: ‘This plan to dispel,
And to break France and Spain, their aims to quell’.


April eighth France once more sets out to sea,
With ships o’er the line numbered thirty three,
Convoy of one hundred and fifty sail,
With which to land across the oceans veil,
An invasion Fleet! The moment comes near,
For failure or success, cries or good cheer,
England at sea numbered but thirty six,
With these ships they hope to end the French tricks,
‘Twixt isles Dominica and Guadelope,
Near Îles des Saintes lay the next battle group.


April ninth finds fleets becalmed on the sea,
Waiting for the breezes from the Venti,
Which issued forth gently from Volturnus,
Enough winds for sails to fill with the gusts,
Fleets begin to head slowly towards each other,
de Grasse made his convoy head out for cover,
And sent his van out to attack England,
Some nine ships o’er line who made the stand,
Rodney’s ships tacked to join in the battle,
Causing the French ships to turn and scuttle.


April twelfth sees final battle begin,
As the two fleets sail, one will know chagrin,
France sails from compass points north to the south,
Expecting blasts of fire from cannons mouth,
From England’s ships who before blazing forth,
Sail from the compass points south-west to north,
Volturnus breath keeps sails upon their course,
The Venti’s breeze, the ships sole motion source,
Thus a line of battle is to be joined,
Prize money to be won as ships purloined.


The race of two fleets on opposite tack,
The loser may find themselves on the rack,
As gain of weather gauge in age of sail,
Gives possessor first choice in deadly hail,
France wins but overshoots the English van,
Marl’boro fires first on sixth ship as best can,
Le Brave’s seventy four cannons soon make reply,
White smoke pours out each ship to fill the sky,
England sails close towards the enemy’s lee,
Sailors whisper ‘God! make their shot miss me’.


Line of sail diverge past their meeting point,
French van tack south west, continues fleets join,
Ships slide past by and fire with full fury,
The sailors lot, the cannons killing spree,
Thus English rear feels full fury and might,
And enters the fray, the hard battle’s fight,
But breath of Auster! Venti’s change of fan,
The French ships on south tack must change their plan,
Creates a gap, a hole in line of sail,
Which Rodney finds, and tears back the battle’s veil.


Luffing to the wind, Rodney breaks French line,
HMS Formidable and five more behind,
Interval abreast, the whole English rear,
Soon follow where their Admiral did dare,
The French line caught, England now punctured thrice,
Gift of Fortuna Belli’s roll of dice,
France forced off to leeward in deep disarray,
Their van soon scattered and no more did stay,
So duel for French ships now became the norm,
As each fights for its life through cannon’s storm.


de Grasse in his flagship, crowded by nine,
Strikes Ville de Paris colours o’er the brine,
HMS Barfleur, Hood’s flagship takes the fame,
De Grasse offered his sword, the Ad’mril’s shame,
Ardent, Glorieux, Hector soon followed suit,
César blew up; a sad final salute,
Thus four ships captured, an Ad’mril as well,
Rodney’s fame and fortune made; tales to tell,
His dogged tenacity in pursuit,
Showered forth prize money, Vict’ry’s fair loot.


Yorktown’s loss caused Britain troubles and woes,
The white flag, an army succumb’d to blows,
But soon the tales returned to daring do,
And once again the nation hoped anew,
At Westminster the cries were heard with glee,
‘Our Navy triumphed once again at sea!’
Judged in the balance, tumults twists and turns,
Loss and Victory, wars gamble sometimes earns,
Good Christians know pride comes before the fall,
Fortuna Belli’s whims confounds us all.


The full poem is available as a powerpoint slideshow file here (3.5 MB file!).





Sea motive


The Battle of the Saintes 12th April 1782 Redux Wednesday, Dec 2 2009 

Sea motive

Sea motive

This reenactment of the main fleet action during the Battle of the Saintes scales the number of ships used down by a factor of 3, so that instead of 36 Royal Navy ships of the line engaging 33 French ships of the line, there are 12 versus 11 ships respectively. The rules for the battle can be found here.

One difference to the real battle is to allow the winds (represented by the gods of the winds, the Venti) to change according to a dice roll at the end of each move. If the score is 1, the wind changes 1 point anticlockwise, 2-5 gives no change to the direction, and if a 6 is thrown, the wind changes 1 point clockwise. Likewise the strength of the wind may change, with a die roll of 1 decreasing it by one unit, 2-5 gives no change, and 6 increases it by one unit. Thus the capriciousness of the Venti can decide the fleet action on the day as the winds work in favour of one or other fleet, due to their possession of the weather gauge.

The fleets assume the positions used on the day, approximately those before the battle began at 08:30. The French ships form line ahead, and sail north to south. The English also form line ahead, intercepting them on opposite tack on a course heading North East.

The initial weather conditions match those at the start of the battle and are given by the Venti.

with Volturnus, God of the east wind, blowing with a moderate breeze.

The left hand side of the board below is North. Given the initial positions

the weather gauge lies with the French, which should please Admiral de Grasse in his flagship, the Ville de Paris.

Move 1

Both fleets continue on their courses.

The white squadron of France (Neptune, Hercule, Triomphant) lead, followed by the red squadron, headed by Admiral de Grasse in his flagship, the Ville de Paris, and Languedoc. If the ships continue on their present course, the French will be able to ensure they overlap the English fleet, unless they change tack.

Aboard HMS Princessa, the duty bound in Sailing and Fighting Instructions for his Majesty’s Fleet bear down on Admiral Samuel Drake.

XIII – Signals for Battle

“As soon as the Admiral shall hoist a Red Flag on the Flag-staff at the Fore-top-mast-head, and fire a Gun, every Ship in the Fleet is to use their utmost Endeavour to engage the Enemy in the Order the Admiral has prescribed unto them.”

Sail at’em. Astern, HMS Conquerer, and the rest of the fleet follows.

The Venti are consulted.

Volturnus surrenders to Subsolanus, as the wind swings to the South East. The Weather is heading towards the favour of the English.

Move 2

La Royal adds Pluton to their centre, the Royal Navy HMS Monarch. Subsolanus continues blowing with his present moderate strength.

Move 3

Scipion joins the French, HMS Yarmouth the English fleet. The English will intercept the French centre if things continue the same. The Venti continue as before.

Move 4

Neptune changes tack and steers towards the English, on a south west heading. HMS Barfleur, with Admiral Hood commanding the red squadron joins on the board.

Subsolanus continues as before, not upsetting the Admiral’s plans.

Move 5

The French follow their leaders tack and the fleets race towards each other. Gun decks cleared, first shots ready. Soon, soon, just hold your nerve!

Even Subsolanus durst not change for the exchange of fire that is surely to come beneath his breeze.

Move 6

“Feu!” The first broadside from Neptune rips into the starboard gun decks of HMS Princessa, causing heavy damage. Unable to return the fire, the pleasure is given to HMS Conquerer, which takes out one gun deck on Neptune in return. White smoke drifts across the waters. The fog of war has returned to the high seas and Mars nods his approval.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 3 La Royale 1

Subsolanus continues to blow at the same strength for the next move.

Move 7

Broadsides from the white squadron (Neptune, Hercule and Triomphant) sweep into the English, with HMS Conquerer receiving the worst. She loses her starboard gun decks, and worst still, a fire breaks out. Can her crew save her before she succumbs to the flames?

Damage points:- Royal Navy 6 La Royale 1

Subsolanus tires a little, and blows more gently in the next move.

Move 8

The crew of HMS Conquerer perform heroics and quench the fires that threaten her. HMS Princessa and HMS Monarch sustain more damage. A broadside from HMS Yarmouth damages Neptune, taking out two of her starboard gun decks. The white squadrons from each fleet are now engaged with each other, on opposite tack.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 8 La Royale 3

Subsolanus tires even more, with little more than a breeze for the next move.

Move 9

With barely any wind blowing, the fleets crawl past each other.

The Ville de Paris and the Triomphant trade blows with HMS Conquerer and HMS Monarch, who come off worse in the exchange. Revenge comes from HMS Yarmouth, as the starboard gun decks for Hercule are reduced to a wreck.

The blue squadron for the French, led by Magnifique, break the line of sail and tradition by heading south west in an attempt to ‘cross the T‘ of HMS Princessa, and the rest of the English fleet.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 11 La Royale 6

Subsolanus passes the burden to Auster. The wind change to due south puts the French fleet at a considerable disadvantage for the next move , as we’ll shortly see.

Move 10

Royal Naval resolve is finally shown as broadsides from HMS Barfleur, the flagship of Admiral Hood slam into Neptune, causing it to catch fire. Further damage occurs to Triomphant from HMS Yarmouth. The wind swinging to the south causes the French blue squadron to adopt a bow and quarter line, as do the rear of their red squadron, led by Pluton. HMS Princessa spots the emerging gap in the French line.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 12 La Royale 10

Meanwhile, Auster continues with his gentle breeze.

Move 11

A broadside from Admiral de Grasse‘s flagship Ville de Paris brings down two of the masts on board HMS Monarch, and HMS Conquerer catches fire. The English fleets reply makes little impact upon the French.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 14 La Royale 10

A reinvigorated Subsolanus takes over the burden again for the next move.

Move 12

HMS Conquerer yields to the fury of Fortuna Belli, and the ship explodes, with the loss of all hands. HMS Princessa passes through the gap in the French line, but suffers grievously in doing so at the hands of Magnifique. HMS Yarmouth steers the English fleet away from the French who pass on the opposite tack.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 20 La Royale 12

Volturnusregains the task and continues with the same strength breeze.

Move 13

HMS Princessa suffers much damage to its port side from the Auguste as it attempts to lead a path through the French centre and rear squadrons. HMS Monarch loses the fore mast after a broadside from the Pluton. HMS Yarmouth sees an opportunity to head off the French rear, led by the blue squadron flagship, Magnifique.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 23 La Royale 12

Subsolanus takes over the burden again.

Move 14

HMS Princessa loses its fore and main masts, and worse still catches fire! Fortuna Belli clearly frowns upon the English today.

Neptune swings the French white squadron around, back in pursuit of the Royal Navy blue squadron, but receives hits on the port side from HMS Ajax. Magnifique also sustains hits on the port side from HMS Yarmouth, as the French rear and English centre race to cross each others paths. The dismasted HMS Monarch drifts helplessly with the wind.

Auster returns with his gentle breeze.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 25 La Royale 15

Move 15

HMS Yarmouth and Magnifique trade broadsides, before they close to fight it out as the English boarding party attacks the French ship. Magnifique strikes her colours and she is captured.

HMS Princessa burns with fury, before sinking with great loss of life.

Scipion sees a chance and closes down upon the dismasted HMS Monarch; the boarding party makes ready.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 28 La Royale 24

Afer Ventus supplants Auster and stiffens the wind strength. This will cause mayhem for the French fleet as it tries to hold its south west course.

Move 16

The trauma of the Royal Navy continues, with the capture of the dismasted HMS Monarch by Scipion. Hercule and HMS Respite trade broadsides, with Hercule getting the worst of it.

The shift in the wind direction to the south west by Afer Ventus does cause chaos in the French fleet, as the red squadron tacks due south, away from the British, and the blue squadron heads west. A race is now on for this blue squadron. Can it escape being sandwiched by the the Royal Navy red and blue squadrons?

Damage points:- Royal Navy 34 La Royale 25

Afer Ventus continues at reduced strength.

Move 17

The duel between Hercule and HMS Respite continues, with both being damaged in the exchange of fire.

As she ‘crosses the T‘, HMS Barfleur rakes César from the stern, taking out gundecks on each side. The French blue squadron scatters; some sailing due west to escape the encroaching Royal Navy blue squadron, led by HMS Formidable. Meanwhile, Glorieux makes her escape by heading north east, with the breeze from Afer Ventus behind her. It may not be too late for the Royal Navy to receive the approval of Victoria if they can isolate and destroy at least one more French ship.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 35 La Royale 28

Afer Ventus continues to blow at the same strength.

Move 18

A broadside from HMS Barfleur brings down the mizzen mast of César, which should slow down her escape to the west. Menawhile, Glorieux steers north-east to make her escape.

Hercule causes some minor damage on HMS Respite. The French white squadron attempt to steer ahead of their red squadron, but fail to make it. Evasive action next move will be needed to prevent a collision.

The two sets of ships boarded have failed to separate so far.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 36 La Royale 29

Auster returns with a strengthening breeze.

Move 19

A further broadside from HMS Barfleur fails to damage César, and she continues her escape to the west. The Royal Navy blue squadron continues the chase.

Glorieux steers north-east to make good her escape.

Neptune swerves avoiding Languedoc and Ville de Paris.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 36 La Royale 29

Auster continues with the same breeze.

Move 20

‘You wound, like Parthians, while you fly, And kill with a retreating eye.’

A Parthian shot from César brings down the foremast of HMS Barfleur, slowing down the pursuit from the Royal Navy red squadron. Auguste and Glorieux make good their escape, as do the French red and white squadrons, as they head south east.

Scipion breaks free from HMS Monarch. Although she took the English ship, the cost to Scipion of being cut off from the remainder of the French fleets is too great.

Meanwhile, HMS Magnifique, now crewed by men from HMS Yarmouth enters the fray.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 37 La Royale 29

Subsolanus takes over the burden again.

Move 21

Another Parthian shot from César brings down the main mast of HMS Barfleur, and so the remainder of the Royal Navy red squadron takes evasive action. HMS Formidable fails to bring down any sails on César, and she makes good her escape.

The French fleet now sails away, red and white squadrons to the south, the blue squadron scattered to the north east and west.

Damage points:- Royal Navy 38 La Royale 29

In all, the Royal Navy has lost two ships, and one temporarily captured. France has had only one ship captured. Thus, given the degree of damage inflicted, Imperium Pelagi belongs to France, and Victoria brings her blessing to Admiral de Grasse on his flagship Ville de Paris.

In a distant Versailles, Louis XVI may resurrect his great forebearers tradition and in celebration of Victoria, proclaim Invictissimus Ludovicus Magnus in a medal, following the form of the one minted after the success of the Battle of Bévéziers.

The whole battle sequence as an animated gif is below.

Thanks to Jon Binstead and HISTORY ALIVE ( for the model ships used in the battle.

The Admirals fighting this encounter were:-

Admiral de Grasse, commander of the French fleet.

Admiral Hood of the Royal Navy.


Sea motive