The Battle of Minorca 1756 Thursday, Feb 12 2015 

Sea motive

Battle of Minorca 1756 banner

Sea motive

The Battle of Minorca, fought between the English and the French was the first major naval battle of the Seven Years War. Although tactically indecisive, the result led to a major strategic victory for the French, with the capture of the Island of Minorca.


The Island of Minorca was invaded by troops from Great Britain in 1708 during the War of the Spanish Succession, and was acceded to it, together with the island of Gibraltar as part of the negotiations between Spain and Great Britain in the peace of Utrecht.

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The islands deep natural harbour of Port Mahón offered a naval base for British interests to rival the French port of Toulon, home of their Mediterranean fleet. During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the island remained under British rule. At the end of the war, the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) left the strategic situation in the Western Mediterranean thus:-

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The death of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Henry Pelham led to the succession of his brother, the Duke of Newcastle. Having long served as Secretary of State, he understood the need to preserve the balance of power in the European state system to prevent a widespread war.

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He had hopes of helping reduce Britain’s national debt, but actions in the French and Indian war intervened, resulting in expediture on the military as war beckoned again. The political tensions between France and Great Britain in the War of the Austrian succession were only partially resolved. During the 1750’s, they were unofficially at war in a series of border conflicts in North America, along the Ohio river valley, with the settlers of both nations claiming the vast land between the Appalachian mountains and the Mississippi.

A battle at Fort Necessity in 1754 between The French, and their Indian levies, defeated the British under the command of George Washington.

“I fortunately escaped without any wound, for the right wing, where I stood, was exposed to and received all the enemy’s fire, and it was the part where the man was killed, and the rest wounded. I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me there is something charming in the sound.”

George Washington, 1754.

The French and Indian War threatened the peace of Europe at a time when peace between France and Great Britain was the declared intent. Despite this, the cold war between their colonists continued, as both sides transferred troops to America. Gathered intelligence led the British to ascertain when a French Atlantic fleet set sail for America.

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The Royal Navy, under the command of Vice Admiral Edward Boscawen and 11 ships pursued the French Navy and their troop transports. Most managed to land their men at Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, but three separated from the fleet in fog.

On 8th June 1755, HMS Dunkirk, HMS Defiance and HMS Neptune found the French ships Dauphin Royal, Alcide and Lys.

The French called out to the commander of the Royal Navy vessel “Are we at war, or at peace?” to which the English replied, “At peace, at peace.” After a brief discussion, the Royal Navy ships opened fire on the three French ships.

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After a five hour battle, the Alcide and Lys were captured, along with some 2,000 prisoners; troops from the Régiment de la Reine and the Languedoc regiment. News returned to London, causing concern.

‘It gives me much concern that so little has been done, since anything has been done at all… Voilà the war has begun.’
Hardwicke to Anson, 1755.

Worse news was to follow. The arrival of two regiments of foot under the command of Major General Braddock led the British to try to take Fort Duquesue in the disputed Ohio country. His expeditionary force was heavily defeated by a combination of French regulars, Canadien irregulars and Indian levies at the Battle of the Monongahela on 9 July 1755, due to their superior tactics of frontier fighting.

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General Braddock’s last words were reported to have been: “We shall know how to fight them next time.”

The resulting French victory ensured the Ohio country remained under their control. These two actions, together with continued aggressions on the American continent, and at sea propelled both nations towards war, which would inevitably involve the European theatre.

Where could France fight the British? In terms of its navy, with both Atlantic and Mediterranean ports, options could include furthering the war in the Americas, and possibly the Caribbean; a direct invasion of Great Britain (the Atlantic options), or an invasion of Minorca (the Mediterranean option). The time of expansion for the French Navy had long passed from its prime under Colbert in the 1680’s, so it was outnumbered by the Royal Navy. Nonetheless, it had undergone a second renaissance under Maurepas in the 1740’s. By concentrating what fleet it had, it could gain local superiority in any action, provided the British were prevented from concentrating their own.

In terms of its army, French troops would be required for all the options above, with a further option for war against Hanover, and the Crown interest of George II, its Elector in the mainland European theatre, provided that Austria would remain neutral, and break its historical alliance with Great Britain.

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More so than Britain, the French naval strategy would follow the strategy for their army, due to the constraints of numbers. Conversely, the Royal Navy also faced challenges. Its strength in terms of numbers of ships and men had been run down since the end of the War of the Austrian Succession by the Pelham administration. Nonetheless, on paper it enjoyed at least a superiority over the French Navy in terms of ships. It would need this, given its territorial duties included three distinct regions. Firstly the Atlantic Ocean, with the American and Carribean colonies. Secondly, the Mediterranean Sea, and the bases at Gibraltar and Minorca. Finally control of the Western Approaches, and the English Channel, which were key to safeguarding Great Britain from potential invasion. Together these vast areas of sea could swallow up the available resource.

The following reports received by the Admiralty demonstrate the confused picture emerging of the French threat.

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The blow, when struck, could come anywhere according to the intelligence. Sparring between the two nations continued at sea.

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War became more certain as the French Crown made its plans.

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In response, the Admiralty prepared for either invasion, or a possible assault on Minorca from the French fleet in Toulon. Caution urged that the Royal Navy should protect against invasion.

“I think it would be a dangerous measure, to part with with your Naval strength from this country, which cannot be recalled if wanted, when I am strongly of the opinion that whenever the French intend anything in earnest, their attack will be against this country.”  
Anson to Hardwicke, December 1755. 

Diplomatic events in early 1756 accelerated the move to war. The Treaty of Westminster between Britain and Prussia was signed in January 1756.

Leuthen 1757 (7)

Each party guaranteed the neutrality of Germany, thus hopefully securing the borders between Hanover and Prussia. In response, and unbeknown to Great Britain, a diplomatic revolution (Renversement des Alliances) was underway within Europe. Centuries of animosity between Hapsburg Austria and Bourbon France were being addressed to one of mutual support in times of war, with the lead coming from the Austrian State Chancellor, Count von Kaunitz. Such a system would lead to France being free to attack British interests globally wherever suited, whilst leaving Austria to settle its score with Prussia. The first treaty of Versailles between Austria and France was signed on 1st May 1757. Before then, France would strike a blow at Britain.

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With these diplomatic moves in motion, the French fleet made ready for an invasion of Minorca, with the decision being made on 15 March 1756.

At this point, the French plan was unknown to the British, who in turn had decided to sail a small squadron of ten ships to the Mediterranean, under the command of Vice Admiral, the Hon. John Byng.

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Having served in the Mediterranean during the War of the Austrian Succession, he knew the sea and its conditions. His father, George Byng, viscount Torrington, had also fought with success against the Spanish in the Mediterranean in 1718. Given his experience and connections, Byng was formally appointed commander of the Mediterranean fleet on March 11, 1756.

Anson had his reservations regarding Byng, considering him weak on leadership and initiative.

“I don’t know how it comes to pass that unless our commanders-in-chief have a very great superiority of the enemy, they never think themselves safe”
“Byng’s squadron could beat anything the French had”
Anson, 1756.

Nonetheless, he was promoted from Vice-Admiral to Admiral of the Blue on March 17, 1756. Upon reaching his command, and making his flagship HMS Ramilles, he found his fleet short of men, and a few ships decrepit. He was not permitted to take sailors from other ships, and his orders received on April 1, 1756 indicated that soldiers were to be taken instead of the normal complement of Marines.  Byng’s orders from the Admiralty had three instructions; to watch for any French fleet which would pass by Gibraltar, and detatch as many ships required from his own fleet to shadow them (if necessarily all the way to the Americas, their suspected target), secondly to ascertain the state of affairs in Minorca and to relieve any siege taking palce, and finally if neither of these events had occurred to move to Toulon and commence a blockade of the French fleet. Byng sailed on 6 April, 1756, reaching Gibraltar on 2 May 1756.

Unbeknownst to Byng, the French had set sail from Toulon on 10 April, with an invasion fleet of 12 ships of the line, escorting 176 transports and 12,000 men.  The fleet was commanded by the Marquis de La Galissonière, a commander unproven in combat, with the invasion troops led by the duc de Richelieu.

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Arriving on 18 April, the French immediately invaded Minorca, and succeeded in taking all the island, except St Philip’s Castle, which was held by the British under the command of General Sir William Blakeney. St Philip’s Castle guarded the entrance to Port Mahón, and thus a siege began.

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Admiral Byng and the governor of Gibraltar, Lt. General Folke, received news of the invasion of Minorca and the siege of the remaining British troops on the island. Despite orders to supply troops to Byng, Folke kept his troops on Gibraltar, and offered little assistance, in the hope to keep the island ready for an expected invasion. Both Byng and Folke wrote to the Admiralty offering their explanation for the impasse between the two commanders. Byng’s letters were poorly received by the Admiralty, where his downbeat tone regarding his difficulties and chances gave the impression of a man not willing to fight.

Byng was reinforced by Captain Edgecombe and the small Mediterranean squadron, and the combined fleet set sail for Minorca on 8 May.  It comprised of 13 ships of the line, and 4 frigates.

By 19 May, Byng’s squadron arrived off the coast of Minorca, to the consternation of the French troops besieging St. Philip’s Castle. The duc de Richelieu, commanding the French remarked.

“Gentlemen, there is a very interesting game being played out there. If Monsieur de La Galissonière defeats the enemy, we may continue our siege in carpet slippers. But if he is beaten, we shall have to storm the place at once, at any cost.”
duc de Richelieu, 1756.

Attempts to communicate between the besieged British force and the relief squadron failed when the French fleet led by the Marquis de la Galissonniere, was sighted and Admiral Byng gave the signal to his squadron to chase the enemy. The wind became light and the two fleets did not engage until the following morning.

The following account of the battle was given by Admiral Byng on May 25, several days after the battle had concluded. It was addressed to the Admiralty Board.

SIR, I have the pleasure to desire that you will acquaint their Lordships that, having sailed from Gibraltar the 8th, I got off Mahon the 19th, having been joined by his Majesty’s ship Phoenix off Majorca two days before, by whom I had confirmed the intelligence I had received at Gibraltar, of the strength of the French fleet, and of their being off Mahon. His Majesty’s colours were still flying at the castle of St. Philip; and I could perceive several bomb-batteries playing on it from different parts. French colours I saw flying on the west part of St. Philip. I dispatched the Phoenix, Chesterfield, and Dolphin ahead, to reconnoitre the harbour’s mouth; and Captain Hervey to endeavour to land a letter for General Blakeney, to let him know the fleet was here to his assistance; though every one was of the opinion we could be of no use to him; as, by all accounts, no place was secured for covering a landing, could we have spared the people.

The Phoenix was also to make the private signal between Captain Hervey and Captain Scrope, as this latter would undoubtedly come off, if it were practicable, having kept the Dolphin’s barge with him: but the enemy’s fleet appearing to the south-east, and the wind at the same time coming strong off the land, obliged me to call these ships in, before they could get quite so near the entrance of the harbour as to make sure what batteries or guns might be placed to prevent our having any communication with the castle.

Falling little wind, it was five before I could form my line, or distinguish any of the enemy’s motions; and could not judge at all of their force, more than by numbers, which were seventeen, and thirteen appeared large. They at first stood towards us in regular line; and tacked about seven; which I judged was to endeavour to gain the wind of us in the night; so that, being late, I tacked in order to keep the weather-gage of them, as well as to make sure of the land wind in the morning [20 May], being very hazy, and not above five leagues from Cape Mola. We tacked off towards the enemy at eleven; and at daylight had no sight of them. But two tartars, with the French private signal, being close in with the rear of our fleet, I sent the PRINCESS LOUISA to chase one, and made signal for the Rear-Admiral, who was nearest the other, to send ships to chase her. The PRINCESS LOUISA, DEFIANCE, and CAPTAIN, became at a great distance; but the DEFIANCE took hers, which had two captains, two lieutenants, and one hundred and two private soldiers, who were sent out the day before with six hundred men on board tartars, to reinforce the French fleet on our appearing off that place. The PHOENIX, on Captain Hervey’s offer, prepared to serve as a fire-ship, but without damaging her as a frigate; till the signal was made to prime, when she was then to scuttle her decks, everything else prepared, as the time and place allowed of.

The enemy now began to appear from the mast-head.

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I called in the cruisers; and, when they had joined me, I tacked towards the enemy, and formed the line ahead. I found the French; were preparing theirs to leeward, having unsuccessfully endeavoured to weather me. They were twelve large ships of the line, and five frigates.

As soon as I judged the rear of our fleet the length of their van, we tacked altogether, and immediately made the signal for the ships that led to lead large, and for the DEPTFORD to quit the line, that ours might become equal to theirs.

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At two I made the signal to engage: I found it was the surest method of ordering every ship to close down on the one that fell to their lot. And here I must express my great satisfaction at the very gallant manner in which the Rear-Admiral set the van the example, by instantly bearing down on the ships he was to engage, with his second, and who occasioned one of the French ships to begin the engagement, which they did by raking ours as they went down.

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[When the signal to engage was made, the van under rear-admiral Temple West kept away in obedience to it, and sailed towards the French, thus reducing their cannon fire. They received three raking broadsides from the French, and were seriously dismantled aloft. The sixth British ship (Intrepid) counting from the van, had her fore-topmast shot away, flew up into the wind, and came aback, stopping and doubling up the rear of the line.]

The INTREPID, unfortunately, in the very beginning, had her foretopmast shot away; and as that hung on her foretopsail, and backed it, he had no command of his ship, his fore-tack and all his braces being cut at the same time; so that he drove on the next ship to him, and obliged that and the ships ahead of me to throw all back. This obliged me to do also for some minutes, to avoid their falling on board me though not before we had drove our adversary out of the line, who put before the wind, and had several shots fired at him by his own admiral. This not only caused the enemy’s centre to be unattached, but the Rear-Admiral’s division rather uncovered for some little time. I sent and called to the ships ahead of me to make sail, and go down on the enemy; and ordered the Chesterfield to lay by the INTREPID, and the DEPTFORD to supply the INTREPID’S place.

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I found the enemy edged away constantly;

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and as they went three feet to our one, they would never permit our closing with them, but took advantage of destroying our rigging; for though I closed the Rear-Admiral fast, I found that I could not gain close to the enemy, whose van was fairly drove from their line; but their admiral was joining them, by bearing away.

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By this time it was past six, and the enemy’s van and ours were at too great a distance to engage, I perceived some of their ships stretching to the northward; and I imagined they were going to form a new line.

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I made the signal for the headmost ships to tack, and those that led before with the larboard tacks to lead with the starboard, that I might, by the first, keep (if possible) the wind of the enemy, and, by the second, between the Rear-Admiral’s division and the enemy, as he had suffered most; as also to cover the INTREPID, which I perceived to be in very bad condition, and whose loss would give the balance very greatly against us, if they attacked us next morning as I expected.

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I brought to about eight that night to join the INTREPID, and to refit our ships as fast as possible, and continued doing so all night. The next morning we saw nothing of the enemy, though we were still lying to. Mahon was N.N.W about ten or eleven leagues. I sent cruisers to look out for the INTREPID and CHESTERFIELD, who joined me next day. And having, from a state and condition of the squadron brought me in, found, that the CAPTAIN, INTREPID, and DEFIANCE (which latter has lost her captain), were much damaged in their masts, so that they were in danger of not being able to secure their masts properly at sea; and also, that the squadron in general were very sickly, many killed and wounded, and nowhere to put a third of their number if I made an hospital of the forty-gun ship, which was not easy at sea; I thought it proper in this situation to call a council of war, before I went again to look for the enemy. I desired the attendance of General Stuart, Lord Effingham, and Lord Robert Bertie, and Colonel Cornwallis, that I might collect their opinions upon the present situation of Minorca and Gibraltar, and make sure of protecting the latter, since it was found impracticable either to succour or relieve the former with the force we had. So, though we may justly claim the victory, yet we are much inferior to the weight of their ships, though the numbers are equal; and they have the advantage of sending to Minorca their wounded, and getting reinforcements of seamen from their transports, and soldiers from their camp; all which undoubtedly has been done in this time that we have been lying to to refit, and often in sight of Minorca; and their ships have more than once appeared in a line from our mast-heads.
Admiral John Byng, 25 May, 1756.

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The battle was notable for the first time the French had targeted rigging. It was an minor tactical victory for the French (in as much as both fleets were still in being, but the British had failed to dislodge the French from the Mediterranean). However, Byng’s next move turned it into a strategic victory for the French.

The next day, the two fleets had lost contact. Admiral Byng called a council of war on his flagship, HMS Ramilles, which the officers of the fleet attended. The council of war resolved:-

Whether an attack on the French fleet gave any prospect of relieving Mahón ?
– Resolved: It did not.

Whether, if there were no French fleet cruising at Minorca, the British fleet could raise the siege ?
– Resolved: It could not.

Whether Gibraltar would not be in danger, should any accident befall Byng’s fleet?
– Resolved: It would be in danger.

Whether an attack by the British fleet in its present state upon that of the French would not endanger Gibraltar, and expose the trade in the Mediterranean to great hazards ?
– Resolved: It would.

Whether it is not rather for His Majesty’s service that the fleet should proceed immediately to Gibraltar ?
– Resolved: It should proceed to Gibraltar.

Byng’s fleet sailed for Gibraltar, leaving Port Mahón to its fate. On 27 June, it fell to the French when General Sir William Blakeney surrendered St Philip’s Castle.

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Minorca fell to the French, together with the strategically important port of Mahón.

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“What a scene Byng had open to him, and to throw it all away!”
Boscawen, on hearing of Byng’s withdrawal to Gibraltar.

Unbeknownst to the defeated fleet, Sir Edmund Hawke had sailed on 16 June to Gibraltar to take over the fleet from Admiral Byng, carrying the following orders.

Sir Edward Hawkes instructions
By the commissioners for executing the office of Lord high Admiral of Great Britain and Ireland &c.

Instructions for Sir Edward Hawke, Knight of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White, hereby appointed commander-in-chief of His Majesty’s ships and vessels employ’d in and about the Mediterranean.

Whereas the King’s pleasure has been signified to us that we should give you directions to repair, without loss of time, to the Mediterranean, to supersede Admiral Byng in the command of His Majesty’s ships there; and that we should appoint some proper flag officer to serve under you in the room of Rear Admiral West: You are hereby required and directed forthwith to repair to Portsmouth, and embark on board His Majesty’s ship the Antelope together with Rear Admiral Saunders, whom we have directed to proceed with you and served under your commands and it being intended that Lord Tyrawley, whom the King has appointed Governor of Gibraltar in the room of Lieut. General Fowke, together with the Earl of Panmure (who is going thither in the room of Major-General Stewart, who is ordered to be recalled), shall proceed in the same ship: you are, as soon as those officers are on board, not to lose a moment is time in proceeding to Gibraltar (the captain of the Antelope being directed to follow your orders), and upon your arrival there, you are to deliver the enclosed packets to Admiral Byng and Rear Admiral West, and immediately take upon you the command of all of His Majesty’s ships, which you may find at Gibraltar, and any others that may be the Mediterranean, all their officers and companies being hereby enjoined to a strict obedience to your orders: and hoisting your flag on board such ship as you shall find from time to time find convenient, you are to assign any other, which you shall judge most fitting for Rear Admiral Saunders, and to take him also under your command.
You are to make an immediate and expeditions inquiry into the conduct and behaviour of the Captains of the ships hereby put under your command: and if you find any reason to believe any of them to have been tardy, and not to have acted with due spirit and vigour for the honour and service of the King and nation, You are forthwith to suspend such Captains and appoint others in their stead, in whom you can confide for properly executing their duty.
     You are to order the Captain of the Antelope to receive Admiral Byng and Rear Admiral West on board, and return them to Spithead, and if you shall suspend any of the Captains, you are to send them also home in her.
     Having done this, if you shall not be well assurance that Fort St. Philips upon the island of Minorca is in possession of the enemy, you are to use the utmost dispatch in repairing thither with your Squadron, and to exert yourself in doing everything that is possible to be done by you for its relief, and to attack, and to use your utmost endeavours to take, sink, burn or otherwise destroy any squadron of the Enemy’s ships, that may be employed to favour and assist in their attack upon that Fort.
If you shall find the enemy having succeeded, and are in the full possession of Minorca, you are however to endeavour by all means to destroy the French fleet in the Mediterranean, and for that purpose to employ the ships under your command in the most effectual manner you shall be able, and constantly to keep sufficient cruisers round the island of Minorca, and take great care that they exert all possible diligence to prevent the Enemy landing any troops, ammunition, stores or provisions upon that Island, and to annoy and distress them as much as possible: And, in general, you would you are to employ the most utmost vigilance and vigour to annoy and distress the Enemy everywhere within the Extent of your Command, and by every method in means in your power to protect Gibraltar from any Hostile attempts, and also Minorca, should the present attack upon it miscarry: And you were likewise to give all possible attention to the security of the trade of the King’s subjects in and about the Mediterranean and the taking of destroying of any privateers belonging to the Enemy.
     If any French Ships of War should escape your Squadron, and proceed out of the Mediterranean, you are forthwith to send to England a proportionable part of the ships under your command observing that you are never to keep more ships in the Mediterranean than shall be necessary for the performance of what is before recommended to you: And, that you may be better in able to perform the services expected of you, you are to take care and keep ships and vessels under your command in constant good condition, and to have them cleaned as often as shall be requisite for that purpose: and to do the same (if Minorca should be in the Enemy’s possession) either in some port in the King of Sardinia’s Domininions or at Gibraltar, as shall be most convenient.
     And whereas the King’s pleasure is signified to Lord Tyrawley, to cause the troops under his command to be disposed of as he shall see best for His Majesty’s Service, and the preservation of his possessions in the Mediterranean and that his Lordship does from time to time embark such Detachments, Stores, Arms and Ammunition, and provision for the relief of Minorca, as the commanding sea officer in the Mediterranean shall undertake to carry thither, and that he gives other assistance to the garrison of St Philip and the island of Minorca as shall be in his power, consistent with the safety of the Garrison of Gibraltar: you are to consult with Lord Tyrawley in relation to the said particulars, and to co-operate with him in everything that may tend to the good of the King’s service and the preservation of the possessions in the Mediterranean: And Lord Tyrawley being directed to establish an Hospital at Gibraltar, for the relief of sick and wounded men that may be sent thither from time to time from Minorca: you are to call such men to be transported from that Island to Gibraltar as often as possible.
And Whereas a number of transport will shortly depart from Plymouth, with two Battalions on board for Gibraltar and will be convoyed thither by the Jersey and Gosport: if the situation of matters shall be such as to require your detaining them or any of them for transporting forces from Gibraltar to Minorca, you are at liberty to keep them as may be wanting, taking care to dismiss and send them to England as soon as the service would admit of so doing, either under convoy of the Antelope, or if she shall be departed, of the first shall sell afterwards.
     In cases your disability, by sickness or otherwise, you are to leave these instructions, or any others which you shall receive from us, with Rear Admiral Saunders, who is hereby required to put the same in execution: And if this case should happen, every commander of His Majesty’s ships and vessels at Gibraltar, and in the Mediterranean, is hereby required and directed to put himself under the command of Rear Admiral Saunders, and follow his orders given, &c, the 8th June 1756

It seems inconceivable that had Admiral Byng had these orders, he would have give up the chase against the French fleet and return to Gibraltar. But sail to Gibraltar he did, to be relieved of his command by Sir Edmund Hawke, and thence to be returned forthwith to England.


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Byng’s Plea

With thirteen ships to twelve says Byng
It were a shame to meet ’em
And then with twelve to twelve a thing
Impossible to beat ’em
When more to many less to few
And even still not right
Arithmatic will plainly shew
T’were wrong in Byng to fight.

The trial of Admiral Byng forms an important footnote to the Battle of Minorca.

News of the fleet action off Minorca reached Britain from de la Galissonniere’s published account on 2 June. Galissoniere reported that on 19 May the English “seemed unwilling to engage” and that on 20 May, “the English had the advantage of the wind, but still seemed unwilling to fight”; he expected to be attacked on 21 May, but “the English had disappeared”. This, and the loss of Minorca divided British public opinion on Byng’s conduct. His own account reached the Admiralty on 23 June, and a much edited version appeared in the London Chronicle on 26 June.

Byng returned to England in July 1756, where he was promptly arrested, pending a court martial. His trial began on board the St. George in Portsmouth Harbour on December 27th, and continued until January 27th, 1757.

Public opinion divided ahead of the trial.

Byng in horrors

“To the block with Newcastle and the yard arm for Byng”

Block and Yard arm

Alternatively, as a riposte to “Sing Tantararara, Hang Byng” a supportive popular ballard was sung by the London ballard singers.

Sing tarantara



The furore resulted in the fall of the Government in December 1756, to be replaced by a new one led by William Pitt, with the Duke of Devonshire as Prime Minister.

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The trial of Admiral Byng began on board the St. George in Portsmouth Harbour on December 27th


and continued until January 27th, 1757. Crucial to the outcome would be the opinion of his brother officers in the Royal Navy. The public utterings were against him.

“No doubt but Mr Byng’s behaviour on the late occasion off Mahon must surprise and anger you and every right thinking man in the kingdom”

Captain S Faulknor

“Sad indeed: He’s brought more disgrace on the British flag than ever his father the great Lord Torrington did honour to it”.
Admiral Boscawen


The court-martial, summoned to try Byng, consisted of Vice Admiral Thomas Smith, who was president, Rear-Admirals Francis Holburne, Harry Norris and Thomas Broderick, and nine captains. After hearing the evidence, the court agreed to a number of resolutions or conclusions, including:

That when the British fleet, on the starboard tack, was stretched abreast, or was about abeam, of the enemy’s line, Admiral Byng should have caused his ships to tack together, and should have immediately borne right down on the enemy; his van steering for the enemy’s van, his rear for its rear, each ship making for the one opposite to her in the enemy’s line, under such sail as would have enabled the worst sailer to preserve her station in the line of battle.

That the Admiral retarded the rear division of the British fleet from closing with and engaging the enemy, by shortening sail, in order that the Trident and Princess Louisa might regain their stations ahead of the Ramalies; whereas he should have made signals to those ships to make more sail, and should have made so much sail himself as would enable the Culloden, the worst sailing ship in the Admiral’s division, to keep her station with all her plain sails set, in order to get down to the enemy with as much expedition as possible, and thereby properly support the division of Rear-Admiral West.

That the Admiral did wrong in ordering the fire of the Ramillies to be continued before he had placed her at proper distance from the enemy, inasmuch as he thereby not only threw away his shot, but also occasioned a smoke, which prevented his seeing the motions of the enemy and the positions of the ships immediately ahead of the Ramillies.

That after the ships which had received damage in the action had been refitted as circumstances would permit, the Admiral ought to have returned with his squadron off Port Mahon, and endeavoured to open communication with the castle, and to have used every means in his power for its relief, before returning to Gibraltar.

Thus Admiral Byng stood accused of violating article 12 of the Articles of War of the Royal Navy.

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At the trial, the testimony of two witnesses bore heavily against Admiral Byng; that of General Sir William Blakeney, commander of St Philip’s Castle on Minorca, and Captain Everett of the Buckingham, the flagship of Rear Admiral West. General Blakeney suggested that Byng could have landed troops at Port Mahon to help him defend St Philip’s Castle. Captain Everett suggested that Byng’s division in the Battle of Minorca has insufficent sail to close down upon the French, and thus lost the battle.


Byng conducted his own defence, and gave a spirited response.

Now instead of my retreating from an inferior Force, that a superior Force retreated from me, when the Fleet was unable to pursue, I shall manifest beyond all contradiction, and cannot help observing, that perhaps I am the first Instance of a Commander in Chief, whose disgrace proceeded from so unfortunate a mistake.

The court found that Byng had failed in his duty to relieve Minorca, specifically St. Philip’s Castle, and that he had failed to destroy the French squadron in battle.  They sentenced him to death on 27 January 1757 for failing to abide by the Articles of War according to Article 12.

The change in government had brought supporters of Byng to power, and he had hope that the conviction would be overturned, despite the fury of the public, and the hostility of his Naval colleagues. Unfortunately, a letter from Voltaire to Byng was found and suggested treason.

Voltaire Richlieu

An appeal for clemency to King George II was rejected, and Admiral John Byng died by firing squad at noon on the quarterdeck of Monarch on 14 March 1757.

The Battle of Minorca 1756 # 36



SpacerPublic outrage at the execution of Admiral Byng


Observation on article 12


led to the fall of the government.

The Battle of Minorca 1756 # 37

The two great opponents, the Duke of Newcastle and William Pitt joined together to make a new government, lasting until 1763, with Pitt leading matters relating to defence and foreign policy, and The Duke of Newcastle leading the Commons, finance and patronage.

Voltaire commented in his novel Candide an ironic witticism on the fate of Admiral Byng.

The Battle of Minorca 1756 # 38

with the phrase “pour encourager les autres” entering into English sayings.

Dr Johnson, in Boswell’s Life of Johnson commented that “the nation has long been satisfied that his life was sacrificed to the political fervour of the times”, and reports the epitaph for Admiral Byng in the Torrington family vault in All Saint’s Church, Southill, Bedfordshire.

The Battle of Minorca 1756 # 39



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1756 The Battle of Minorca Redux Thursday, Feb 12 2015 

Sea motive

Battle of Minorca redux 1756 banner


Sea motive

This restaging of the fleet action during the Battle of Minorca  has the number of ships used in the battle, with 12 Royal Navy ships of the line engaging 12 French ships of the line. 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 13:45. The French ships form line ahead, and sail West. The English also form line ahead, intercepting them on a course heading North West.

The initial weather conditions match those at the start of the battle, with Afer Ventus, the south west wind blowing, at a mild strength.



Move 1

The white squadron of France (L’Orphee, Hippopotame, Redoutable & Triton) lead, sailing close hauled, followed astern by their red squadron, headed by Admiral de la Galissonière in his flagship, the Foydroyant. If the ships continue on their present course, the French will be able to ensure they overlap the English fleet, sailing beam reached, unless they change tack.

Aboard HMS Captain, leading the white squadron, the fighting instructions make clear their duty.

“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 to intersect, and begin an action. Astern, HMS Intrepid, and the rest of the fleet follows. So far, only the L’Orphee and Hippopotame are visible from the French fleet at the bottom left hand side.

The Venti are consulted, and Afer Ventus tires a little, and the wind drops back a notch, which will slow the approach of each fleet.


Move 2



HMS Captain, leads the white squadron, followed by HMS IntrepidHMS Revenge and HMS Trident, sailing on a course to intersect the French fleet, led by L’Orphee, Hippopotame and Redoutable. The sailors have their sails set, and unless the winds change their mind, they must wait until they close the range and the battle can begin. The Venti are consulted, and the wind reduces by one.


Move 3


The fleets continue, with the Royal Navy red squadron now seen behind the white, led by HMS Ramillies, the flagship of Admiral Byng, and HMS Culloden. Behind the main fleet,  sails the frigate HMS Phoenix.

Afer Ventus tires, and the wind swings from the South West to West, as Favonius takes up the cudgel, at the same strength.

W D&S (1)

Move 4


Onwards the fleets sail, as slowly the gap is closed. Le Guerrier joins the rear of the French line. The wind remains the same.

W D&S (1)

Move 5


The French line is joined by the frigate Topaze to the lee of their line.  The Engish red squadron is now joined by another ship, HMS Kingston, behind HMS Culloden.

Time still for a sailors utterance from the Common Book of Prayer; Special Prayers with respect to the Enemy.

THOU, O Lord, art just and powerful: O defend our cause against the face of the enemy.
O God, thou art a strong tower of defence to all that flee unto thee: O save us from the violence of the enemy.
O Lord of hosts, fight for us, that we may glorify thee. O suffer us not to sink under the weight of our sins, or the violence of the enemy.
O Lord, arise, help us, and deliver us for thy Name’s sake.

Favonius strengthens; slowly, steadily, bringing the fleets together.

W D&S (1)

Move 6


The red squadron for the Royal Navy is now on the board as HMS Deptford is seen. In La Royal, the Fier & Foudroyant join their red squadron on the board.

Favonius continues, stronger still.

W D&S (1)

Move 7


In La Royal, the Temeraire join their red squadron on the board.

Afer Ventus takes over again, at the same strength.

W D&S (1)

Move 8


W D&S (1)

Move 9


W D&S (1)

Move 10


Move 11


Move 12


Move 13


Move 14


Move 15


Move 16


Move 17


Move 18


Move 19


Move 20


Move 21


Move 22


Move 23


Move 24


Move 25



Battle of Minorca 1756 redux


The Battle of Sole Bay 7 June 1672 Tuesday, Dec 6 2011 

Sea motive

Sea motive

The Battle of Sole Bay 1672 was the first major naval engagement in the 3rd Anglo Dutch War & Franco Dutch war, between the Kingdoms of France and England against the Republic of the Seven United Provinces.

Louis XIV needed to isolate potential allies of the United Provinces, and find a cause for the war he planned.

The treaty of Dover, signed between Charles II and Louis XIV in 1670, was kept secret from all but a few of Charles II advisors.

The fifth clause of the treaty stated that England and France agreed to wage war jointly with all their forces by land and sea, in order to humble the pride of the States General and ‘reduce the power of a nation which even has the insolence to aim now at setting itself up as sovereign arbiter and judge of all other potentates’.

Johan de Witt, the Grand Pensionary, and the Dutch seemed unaware at the forces being directed against them.

Charles II sent a vessel, the Merlin, with Lady Crow, the wife of the Ambassador in Amsterdam as passenger, with Captain Crow as commander under orders to meet a Dutch fleet and gain a salute from them, if necessary by firing upon them. This calculated act failed to garner either a salute from the Dutch, or a returning salvo, so on return to England, Captain Crow was sent to the Tower of London for his troubles.

Sir George Downing was sent to Amsterdam to engineer a quarrel; ‘Our business is to break with them and yet to lay the breache at their door.’ In the event this too failed, and Sir George Downing was also sent to the Tower of London. Eventually, simple military expedients were made, and the English attacked a Dutch trade fleet in the English channel to small effect. The declaration of war between Engalnd and the United Provinces followed shortly thereafter. France soon declared war, with Louis XIV citing many of the same causes as the English; insults to himself and a desire to reduce the Netherlands to compliance to his will.

The Rampjaar (disaster year) for the United Provinces began with the French invasion by two main armies, led by Maréchals Turenne and Condé, with a combined army of 150,000. Towns and fortresses fell before the French advance, and the situation for the Dutch was very grave.

A change in the winds provided the Dutch with the opportunity to change their fortunes at sea. A strike by the Dutch fleet against the recently combined Anglo-French fleet would put pressure on their enemies.

Typically for the age of sail, the English and French organised their ships into three divisions. The van (blue squadron), the centre (red squadron) and the rear (white squadron).

The Dutch assigned their squadrons by admiralties, each province raising their own fleet. They were denoted by the  Prinsenvlag, or the double or triple Prinsenvlag.

The Dutch fleet crossed the North sea undetected, until finally being picked up close to the Suffolk coast by a French frigate on picket duty. This promptly returned to the English coast to raise the alert. Only a few hours remained before the Dutch would attack, and the English and French fleets were still at anchor, with many men ashore.

Either by design or in the confusion, the English and French fleets split into two; the English squadrons headed North and the French squadron headed South. This tactical mistake allowed the Dutch to send one division under van Bankert to engage with the French, with the remainder of the Dutch fleet under De Ruyter to engage with the English, initially at an advantage in ships of 3:2.

De Ruyter singled out the English Flagships, identified by their extra large pennants, and attacked these causing terrible damage to ships and men.

Under fire on board HMS Royal Prince, the Duke of York came in for fulsome praise from Captain John Narbrough.

‘His Royal Highness went fore and aft in the ship and cheered up the men to fight which did encourage them very much. The Duke thought himself never near enough to the enemy, for he was ever calling to the quarter-master which cunded the ship to luff her nearer… Presently when Sir John Cox was slain, I commanded as captain, observing his Royal Highness’s commands in working the ship, striving to get the wind of the enemy. I do absolutely believe no prince upon the whole earth can compare with his Royal Highness in gallant resolution in fighting his enemy, and with so great a conduct and knowledge in navigation as never any general  understood before him. He is better acquainted in these seas than many masters which are now in his fleet; he is a general, soldier, pilot, master, seaman; to say all, he is everything that man can be, and most pleasant when the great shot are thundering about his ears.’ 

On board HMS Royal Prince, ensign John Churchill survived the battle, later to serve in the English army in the war at the Battle of Enzheim. The Duke of York was forced to abandon his flagship in favour of HMS Michael.

The same tactic was applied to the flagship of the English blue squadron, HMS Royal James, under the command of the Earl of Sandwich.

HMS Royal James succumbed to fireship attack by the Dutch and she burnt, with the loss of the Earl of Sandwich and most of his crew.

The battle continued most of the day, with fierce exchanges between all squadrons.

With the Dutch fleets recombined, and the wind beginning to turn against them, the Dutch fleet headed for home. The Anglo-French fleet did not pursue. The battle belonged to the Dutch.

Shortly after their fleet returned to the Netherlands, the Dutch opened the sluices at Muiden, flooding the waterline (Hollandsche Waterlinie). This stalled the French advance for 1672.

The Dutch had survived their Annus Horribilis. The war expanded with the Elector of Brandenburg, followed shortly by the Austrians under Emperor Leopold I and the Spanish joining the fray on the Dutch side, and Sweden joining on the French side. England sued for peace after the Dutch victory at the Battle of Texel, 1674.

William III of Orange and the Dutch were to remain at the centre of resistance to French expansion, and played major roles in the League of Augsburg and the Nine Years war, followed by the war of the Spanish Succession.

The battle of Sole Bay was celebrated in the

by the following English paean, printed in 1818.

A MERRY SONG ON THE Duke’s late glorious success over the Dutch
Tune Suffolk Stiles

ONE day as I was sitting still,
Upon the side of Dunwich hill,
And looking on the ocean,
By chance I saw De Ruyter’s fleet
With Royal James’s squadron meet,
In sooth it was a noble treat
To see that brave commotion.

I cannot stay to name the names
Of all the ships that fought with James,
Their number or their tonnage,
But this I say the noble host
Right gallantly did take its post
And cover’d all the hollow coast
From Walderswyck to Dunwich.

The French who should have join’d the Duke,
Full far astern did lag and look
Although their hulls were lighter,
But nobly faced the Duke of York,
Tho’ some may wink, and some may talk,
Right stoutly did his vessel stalk
To buffet with De Ruyter.

Well might you hear their guns, I guess,
From Sizewell-gap to Easton Ness,
The show was rare and sightly:
They batter’d without let or stay
Until the evening of that day
‘T’was then the Dutchmen ran away,
The Duke had beat them tightly.

Of all the battles gain’d at sea
This was the rarest victory
Since Philip’s grand Armado.
I will not name the rebel Blake,
He fought for horson Cromwell’s sake,
And yet was forced three days to take
To quell the Dutch bravado.

So now we’ve seen them take to flight,
This way, and that, where e’er they might
To windward or to leeward;
Here’s to King Charles, and here’s to James,
And here’s to all the captains names,
And here’s to all the Suffolk dames,
And here the House of Stuart.


The slides are available as a powerpoint slide pack.

Battle of Solebay 1672

The Battle of Sole Bay 7 June 1672 Redux Tuesday, Dec 6 2011 

Sea motive

Sea motive


This reenactment of the main fleet action during the Battle of Solebay scales the number of ships used down by a factor about of 3-4, so there are 12 Dutch Ships of the Line versus 10 ships for the Anglo-French fleet (6 English and 4 French) respectively. In addition, each side has six fireships to match the large numbers employed by each side  in the real battle.

The  Solebay ship damage sheets and the ship names are found in the link. 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 and the relative ease of movement given by the points of sail in the rules.

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 are struggling to form line ahead sailing south to north. Meanwhile, the Dutch sail with the easterly winds behind them, heading initially for the Anglo-French fleet.

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

Move 1

Volturnus blows with moderate strength from the east, propelling the Dutch fleet towards their Anglo-French adversaries, struggling to form a coherent line of battle. The English are sailing northwards, the French to the south.

Admiral De Ruyter, leading the prinsenvlag division signals to van Banckert, leading the triple prinsenvlag division to engage the French and their white flags. He will lead the other two divisions onto the English.

The Duke of York, leading the red division looks on aghast at his French allies, led by D’Estrées as they sail away from him.

Move 2

The wind and the fleets continue as before, with more of the Dutch coming over the horizon.

Move 3

At last the English begin to turn towards the enemy, with HMS St Andrew of the Blue squadron and HMS London of the Red squadron steering as close to the wind as they dare. van Banckert, turns his squadron led by Westfriesland of the triple prinsenvlag division towards the French.

Move 4

HMS St Andrew of the Blue squadron heads south east, close hauled, beating towards the Dutch. Even the White squadron l’Terrible has begun the same process, but heading on a north easterly course. The Dutch sail onwards, Westfriesland of the triple prinsenvlag squadron pulling away from the Dolphijn, leading the single prinsenvlag squadron.

Move 5

Volturnus continues to blow with moderate strength from the east, forcing the English and French squadrons to beat towards the Dutch bearing down on them. The Maagd van Dordrecht, leading the double prinsenvlag squadron separates from the Dolphijn. Will they manage to cross the T of the Anglo-French fleet? Only time and the next few manoeuvres will tell.

Move 6

The fleets are closing together fast, with the Dutch fan tailing out to intercept the English. The White squadron, lead by l’Terrible tacks to head on a south easterly course.

Move 7

Volturnus tires and passes the burden of the breeze to the south easterly zephyr, Subsolanus, who continues at reduced strength. The change in direction causes l’Terrible to immediately change tack and head north. The English blue and red squadrons head east. The Dutch continue to fan out in line astern, prior to the engagement.

Move 8

The first broadside comes from HMS Dreadnought, but it fails to make a mark on the leading Dutch ship, Dolphijn. The Dutch squadrons are trying to ‘ cross the T ‘ of the English.

Damage points:- Dutch = 0,  Anglo-French = 0

Move 9

Subsolanus, the zephyr of the south easterly breeze continues at a reduced strength. The paths of the first ships cross, leading to an exchange of fire between the Dolphijn and HMS Dreadnought. The honours favour the English. Both the English (HMS Dartmouth) and the Dutch (Gorinchem) light a fire ship apiece, sending them forwards in the expectation of disrupting the opposite fleet, and the hope of hitting a target. The crew of these ships row away steadfastly, seeking rescue from a friendly ship before the chaos ensues.

Damage points:- Dutch = 3,  Anglo-French = 2

Move 10

The English blue squadron gets to  ‘ cross the T ‘ of the Dutch double Prinsenvlag squadron and HMS St Andrew gives Maagd van Dordrecht a broadside.  HMS Dartmouth, the fire ship, causes anxiety to the rest of the ships in this Dutch squadron as the burning hulk bears down on them. The Dutch fire ship, Gorinchem, causes the English red squadron to take sail in, allowing the fire ship to pass. HMS Dreadnought receives more damage.

The French squadron steers north-east towards the melee, but they are still some distance away.

Damage points:- Dutch = 4,  Anglo-French = 5

Move 11

Auster, the zephyr of the south wind takes over the burden of the wind. The battle between the English Blue squadron and the Dutch double  Prinsenvlag squadron now breaks down into a series of ship duels, with HMS Royal James particularly suffering. In retaliation, the English set alight HMS Success and she begins drifting towards the Dutch. Likewise, the English Red squadron and the Dutch  Prinsenvlag squadron also breaks down into ship to ship duels.  The first two fire ships coast gently on their way, missing their targets, but causing ships to swerve. The French white squadron is close to engaging with the Dutch triple Prinsenvlag squadron.

Damage points:- Dutch = 7,  Anglo-French = 9

Move 12

Auster continues to blow down on the chaos below. Maagd van Dordrecht receives another broadside and her fore and main masts are brought down. HMS Robert is put on fire, as she rams into the stricken ship and sets her alight. The frantic Dutch crew try to halt the flames, but in vain. But all does not go the English way, as HMS Dreadnought’s rigging is also brought down.

Damage points:- Dutch = 12,  Anglo-French = 11

Move 13

Subsolanus, the zephyr of the south easterly breeze regains strength and blows. The crew of the Maagd van Dordrecht  fail to put out the fire and it grows. The ship will surely explode soon, and some of the crew jump over the side, to take their chance with the sea.

The crew of the Vrede set her on fire and she coasts into the side of HMS Prince from the Red squadron. The Dutch crew watch with grim satisfaction as the fire catches. Their work done, they row towards a friendly Dutch ship.

In the chaos of HMS Dreadnought’s rigging, a fire breaks out in the fallen sails, and another ship begins the fight for survival.

The English Blue squadron and the Dutch double Prinsenvlag squadron steer away from the fires, with the leading ships trading ineffectual broadsides as they go.

L’Terrible and the Westfriesland begin trading broadsides.

Damage points:- Dutch = 13,  Anglo-French = 17

Move 14

Once again, Auster, the zephyr of the south wind takes over the burden of the wind, but does so with the lightest of breezes.

The Maagd van Dordrecht explodes, showering burning wood, metal and alas the crew across the sea.  HMS Prince, already struggling from the fire ship conflagration is caught in the demise of the Dordrecht, as two fierce fires burn. The crew, seeing the fate of the Dutch vessel, abandon ship.   HMS Dreadnought’s rigging continues to burn, and her crew also looks nervously on at the fate of the Dordrecht.

The Dutch single and double  Prinsenvlag squadrons sail to the east, with the die Zeven Provinciem  taking the worst of the damage.

The Westfriesland of the triple  Prinsenvlag squadron has no choice but to sail south west, and she suffers a pummeling from L’Terrible and le Sainte Phillipe, and HMS London. The rest of the Dutch triple  Prinsenvlag squadron, led by Pacificatie intercept the French White squadron.

Damage points:- Dutch = 24,  Anglo-French = 19

Move 15

Auster continues to blow with the lightest of breezes.

HMS Dreadnought succumbs to the fire and explodes, showing burning fragments across the sea. Far off to shore, the people of Suffolk hear the explosion, but cannot see who has fallen.

The Westfriesland continues its south westerly course, being boxed in by the English and French ships tormenting her.  L’Terrible, le Sainte Phillipe and L’ Superbe all fire into the Dutch ship, who returns fire as best she can. At the intersection of the Dutch and French squadrons, L’ Terrible and Pacificatie trade blows. Elsewhere, the English and Dutch squadrons sailing eastwards also continue to exchange broadsides, causing little damage.

Damage points:- Dutch = 29,  Anglo-French = 31

Move 16

HMS Prince explodes and sinks, another English ship lost today. The echo of the moment reaches the shores of Suffolk minutes many seconds later.

The Westfriesland is now a wreck; fore, main and mizzen masts have fallen and two fires have broken out. But all does not go the French way, as  L’ Terrible loses her fore and main mast.

The Dutch single and double Prinsenvlag squadrons sail to the south east, with the English blue squadron breaking off the chase.

Damage points:- Dutch = 35,  Anglo-French = 46

Move 17

Auster, the zephyr of the south wind continues with the lightest of breezes.

L’ Superb suffers at the hand of the Dutch, but the Allies inflict no damage in return.

Damage points:- Dutch = 35,  Anglo-French = 48

Move 18

The Dutch Single and Double Prinsenvlag squadrons sail to the south east, leaving the fight to their Triple Prinsenvlag squadron. The French continue to fire back.

Damage points:- Dutch = 35,  Anglo-French = 48

Move 19

What remains of the Westfriesland explodes and sinks. L’ Terrible loses her mizzen mast and now drifts helplessly, prey for Dutch fire ships.

Damage points:- Dutch = 37,  Anglo-French = 52

Move 20

HMS Royal James of the blue squadron pursues the Dutch Single and Double Prinsenvlag squadrons.  She remains in danger of being surrounded if the Dutch turn around.

Damage points:- Dutch = 38,  Anglo-French = 53

Move 21

The Dutch Single and Double Prinsenvlag squadrons turn to the south west, and consequently HMS Royal Prince suffers at the hand of the Dutch. She loses her mizzen mast, which will slow her down.

Damage points:- Dutch = 38,  Anglo-French = 54

Move 22

L’ Superb explodes and sinks. The remaining Allied ships know the battle is lost and begin to turn towards the east to sail home.

Damage points:- Dutch = 40,  Anglo-French = 65

Move 23

Only HMS Royal Prince continues the duel with the Dutch, inflicting damage on the Wapen van Enkhuizen.

Damage points:- Dutch = 41,  Anglo-French = 65

Move 24

HMS Royal Prince continues the duel with the Wapen van Enkhuizen, but neither ship does any damage.

Damage points:- Dutch = 41,  Anglo-French = 65

Move 25

The fleets have now disengaged and begin to sail towards their homes.

Damage points:- Dutch = 41,  Anglo-French = 65

Move 26

Auster, the zephyr of the south wind continues with the lightest of breezes, as he watches the ships sail for home.

The Dutch have a long journey and a hero’s welcome for their famous victory to look forward to.

The English and French ships have but a short time to reach shore and tell their tales of woe at the hands of their enemy.

Damage points:- Dutch = 41,  Anglo-French = 65

The entire battle sequence is available as an animated gif, best viewed in Windows picture viewer.

The Admirals fighting this battle were

Admiral Michiel de Ruyter

James, Duke of York, Lord High Admiral.

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

The Battle of Vélez-Málaga Redux Monday, Oct 20 2008 

Sea motive

Sea motive

The Battle of Vélez-Málaga was the largest naval battle in the War of the Spanish Succession.

It took place on 24 August 1704 south of Málaga, Spain, in an action between an Anglo-Dutch fleet,



which intercepted a Franco-Spanish fleet.



Both fleets had about 50 ships; mostly third rate ships of the line, with a few extra fire-ships and galleys employed, due to the mild weather. The battle itself was bloody, with about 5,000 casualties overall, but no ships were sunk on either side. Both combatants adhered to fighting by line of battle, which offered benefits from mutual support of fire by neighbouring ships, at the restriction of freedom of movement for the fleet. An engraving of the battle gives an impression of the action.

The Franco-Spanish fleet failed to defeat their rivals, and could not retake Gibraltar from the British. Thus, a tactical stalemate turned into an Grand Alliance strategic victory, with long ranging consequences.

Maurepas, a naval minister of Louis XV, once dismissed naval warfare thus: “I don’t think much of these naval combats. C’est piff poff on one side and the other, and leaves the sea as salty as before”. But it’s a deadly piff poff when you’re in the thick of it, as we shall shortly see.

This simulation uses 12 ships per side (i.e. approximately 1/4 ship in original battle), with an Anglo-Dutch fleet intercepting a Franco-Spanish fleet, using simple wargame rules. The names of the ships and the squadrons used for both fleets are found in the velez-malaga-damage-sheets. The weather gauge lies firmly with the Grand Alliance, with the wind blowing from the west, courtesy of the Venti Favonius, at a moderate strength, supporting the approach of the Anglo-Dutch Fleet. During the battle, the wind direction can alter via successive die rolls as explained in the rules. The Franco-Spanish fleet are initially unable to sail directly into wind to head off the Anglo-Dutch, and so wait for their arrival.

The Franco-Spanish fleet have to double round the Anglo-Dutch Fleet, cross their ‘T’ and inflict more damage than they receive, provided the winds change direction. The Anglo-Dutch fleet have to prevent this fleet manoeuver, and in turn inflict more damage than they receive. This will stop an attempted relief of Gibraltar, which lies to the west, by the Franco-Spanish fleet. The English vanguard, under the command of Vice Admiral Sir John Leake in HMS Prince George closes down on the French line, waiting to come into range for combat to commence. Les Vaisseuls de la Marine Royal are ready.

The French vanguard, led by Vice Amiral de Villette Mursay in the ship Fier, steers slightly to port, bringing his ship in extreme range of the British vanguard.

Alas, the broadside causes no significant damage!

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 0 Franco-Spanish = 0

The weather now becomes fresher; still blown by Favonius, the west wind.

Fortuna Belli now frowns on Fier. The broadside from HMS Prince George takes out two of her port gun decks, and with a double six being thrown, Vice Amiral de Villette Mursay sees his ship catch fire. HMS Norfolk‘s broadside, destroys the remaining gun deck on the port side. Fier cannot retaliate, and must send all hands to put the fire out, otherwise it will shortly explode.

Fier fails to throw a 5,6, and so the fire continues to grow towards the ship’s magazine. Vice Amiral de Villette Mursay has no option but to steer his ship hard to starboard, away from the main fleet, in case the Fates dictate his ship explodes, and spreads further havoc in a chain reaction. Sérieux is now the flag of the French vanguard, under the command of Captain Chamelin. Its first broadside exacts some revenge against HMS Prince George, which loses a starboard gun deck. The Foudroyant‘s first broadside fails to make any damage on HMS Norfolk.

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 1 Franco-Spanish = 3

The weather gauge remains the same for the next move.

Broadsides from HMS Prince George fail to result in any damage to Sérieux, but shots to the sails from HMS Norfolk and HMS Barfleur bring down the mainsail and mizzen masts of Foudroyant.

Alas, the unhappy blue squadron, vanguard of the French fleet! Fier fails to throw a 6 to put the raging fires out, Fortuna Belli whispers to Morta it is time, and so the flames reach the ship’s magazine and she explodes. Admiral de Villette Mursay and his crew are lost, and all of France will grieve when they hear the news. The loss of rigging from Foudroyant, encourages her to steer to starboard towards the doomed Fier, and out of the line of battle to help save survivors. Before she turns, her broadside damages HMS Norfolk, and the Sage inflicts even more damage on HMS Barfleur. Revenge begins for the French after the loss of their brave Amiral and his crew.

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 3 Franco-Spanish = 14

The Venti Favonius runs out of breath, and his companion, Afer Ventus, takes over as the wind swings to the south west, still at the same moderate strength.

The English vanguard pass Sérieux, and further shots to her sails bring down her fore-mast. The main mast to Sage is also brought down by shots from HMS Swiftsure. The English red squadon comprising the centre of the fleet is now fully deployed.

Sérieux now replies in kind against HMS Norfolk, which loses another starboard gundeck. Sage and Tonnant, the flagship of Amiral de France de Toulouse, also fire and damages HMS Royal Sovereign, destroying a gundeck.

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 6 Franco-Spanish = 17

Afer Ventus continues to blow from the south west, still at the same moderate strength.

HMS Prince George senses her moment and decides to commit the vanguard to double round the French and cross their T. Sérieux is now crossed by fire from both the leading English ships, but their gunnery is less than their resolve, so all they bring down is the main mast. Fortuna Belli now frowns on the Englis, as broadsides ripple down the fleet as far as HMS Monmouth, causing no damage to the French. Meanwhile the Dutch rear guard, headed by Graaf van Albemarle has now arrived.

Sérieux swings round to starboard to follow the English vanguard, and she brings down the fore-mast on HMS Prince George. Fortuna Belli smiles on the broadside reply from the French, as ships fromTonnant to La Sirene fire and their shots slam into the English fleet. Admiral Sir George Rooke on HMS Royal Katherine watches helplessly as she loses all gundecks on her starboard side, and, woe to thee, O ship! – catches fire. Will she go the same way as Le Fier?

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 14 Franco-Spanish = 18

Afer Ventus continues to blow from the south west, still at the same moderate strength and so the weather gauge remains the same for the next move.

HMS Prince George, HMS Norfolk and HMS Barfleur now ring Sérieux and rake her with broadsides, destroying her remaining gundecks on the port side. She now cannot return fire back on the English. O happy ship! O happy Admiral! HMS Royal Katherine manages to put out the fires and she resumes her position as flagship to the red Squadron, the English Centre. HMS Monmouth and HMS Kent fire broadsides against their opposite numbers in the French line of battle, and Esperance and La Sirene are damaged. The Dutch Rear now appears in strength, with Graaf van Albemarle leading, Gelderland next in line. They will soon be in battle.

Sérieux begins her retreat, but must be careful in not blocking the fire of the fast approaching French line of battle led by Sage, which is just out of range of the English. The French red squadron’s Sirene and Solide fire on the English, damaging HMS Monmouth and HMS Kent.

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 16 Franco-Spanish = 21.

The Venti Afer Ventus runs out of breath, and his companion, Auster, takes over as the wind swings to the south, still at the same moderate strength. The weather gauge is now neutral, favouring neither fleet.

Alas, unhappy ship! Sérieux is now reduced to a prize waiting to be captured, as further broadsides from HMS Norfolk and HMS Barfleur bring down the last of her rigging and rake her stern, destroying much of her starboard guns. HMS Prince George fails to hit Sage. HMS Kent and HMS Essex fire broadsides, damaging both the Sirene and Solide.

Sage fires a broadside beloved by Fortuna Belli and brings down the rigging on HMS Prince George, which will hamper the English vanguard. Solide and El Torro fire their broadsides. The Spanish shot is especially effective; in their delight, they see HMS Essex catch fire. Will she escape like HMS Royal Katherine did, or go the way of Fier, whose survivors are being rescued by Foudroyant?

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 20 Franco-Spanish = 26.

Auster continues to blow from the south, but at increased strength.

Broadsides from HMS Prince George and HMS Norfolk bring down the mizzen mast of Sage. HMS Essex manages to get her fires under control and then puts them out, thanks to the crew, Captain Hubbard and Fortuna Belli. Broadsides from HMS Kent to Graaf van Albemarle inflict further damage on their opposite numbers in the line of battle, with El Torro receiving a hit. Lieutenant-Admiral Gerard Callenburgh, in command of the rear on Graaf van Albemarle is delighted at the progress of the Dutch ships for they are ready to join battle.

Broadsides from Sage and Tonnant bring down the two leadings masts of HMS Norfolk, and for once the French fleet edges ahead of the Anglo-Dutch line of battle. Solide and El Torro fire in reply which hits Graaf van Albemarle.

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 23 Franco-Spanish = 29.

Auster now gives way to Subsolanus, blowing from the south-east, at increased strength. The weather gauge has now swung round in favour of the Franco-Spanish fleet. At this wind strength, seamanship will be sorely tested.

HMS Prince George manages to rig up a temporary sail and gets underway in strong seas. HMS Norfolk fires into Sage, damaging her. A broadside from HMS Swiftsure damages Tonnant. The Dutch now fire a broadside from Graaf van Albemarle to Dordrecht, against the Spanish, causing damage down their line of battle from El Torro to Santo Domingo.

Sage closes down onto HMS Norfolk and boards her. Despite gallant resistance from her depleted crew, HMS Norfolk conceeds and strikes her colours. The French have a new ship for their fleet if they can extract her from the mêlée and their tales will be retold many times! A small crew from the Sage transfers to Le Norfolk to begin the task. The French red squadron, Tonnant, Esperance and Sirene all fire broadsides as the ships pass the duel at the head of the line. The damage inflicted is light, as is that from El Toro, Santo Domingo and Sacra Familia against the Dutch.

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 32 Franco-Spanish = 35.

Subsolanus, blowing from the south-east, now blows at maximum strength. The Fates have turned the battle into one against the wind and waves, as much as ship against ship and so firing efficiency falls together with an inability to board another ship until the wind drops. The weather gauge still remains in favour of the Franco-Spanish fleet. Can they exploit it?

With the wind still at maximum strength, the Anglo-Dutch fleet moves to head off the Franco-Spanish fleet, preventing them in their primary task of sailing off the combat area to the west, which would allow the recapture of Gilbraltar. As the English ships of the blue squadron sail on, they fire broadsides towards Tonnant. However, in the high seas these inflict only minor damage. The Dutch also have limited success against the Spanish ships further down the line of battle. Graaf van Albemarle to Nijmegen all fire and lightly damage the Santo Domingo. More success is gained against the badly damaged Sérieux. Shots from HMS Monmouth to HMS Kent damage her further, and in these high seas, she is on the point of sinking.

Alas, Amiral de France de Toulouse in Tonnant knows the battle cannot be won, and in high seas begins to break off the engagement and head for home. As he steers the French ships round, they fire on HMS Prince George, which catches fire. Further down the line, the Spanish reply against the Dutch, with broadsides from Santo Domingo to Jesus Maria Jose and Dordrecht receives some damage. Having captured her prize, Sage attempts to separate from the Norfolk, but the high seas prevent this, and so they remain lashed together.

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 36 Franco-Spanish = 41.

Subsolanus still blows from the south-east, at maximum strength.

HMS Swiftsure leads the Anglo-Dutch line of battle round, preparing to head back to Gibraltar. The other ships behind turn in response. Meanwhile, a combination of broadsides from Graaf van Albemarle and heavy seas claims Sérieux, which sinks, with the loss of all hands… The high winds and Fortuna Belli help extinguish the fires on HMS Prince George, and she escapes to fight another day.

The Sage and Norfolk manage to break free in the high seas, and both damaged ships begin turning for home, in the direction of the rest of the fleet. The Franco-Spanish ships are out of range of the Anglo-Dutch in the high seas, so the fight cannot continue. The task is now to get home safely in the ensuing storm.

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 36 Franco-Spanish = 42.

Subsolanus gives way to Vulturnus, blowing from the East, with slightly reduced force.

The turn to home by the Anglo-Dutch fleet continues, with each ship turning at the same point.

The Franco-Spanish fleet continue to slip away in the high seas.

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 36 Franco-Spanish = 42.

Vulturnus gives way to Caecius, the Venti of the freezing north east wind, at moderate strength. This direction plays havoc with the remaining lines of battle, which must tack to accomodate the weather.

Alas for Caecius! He scatters the line of battle of the Anglo-Dutch fleet waiting patiently for their appointed time to turn, forcing them towards the English red squadron, which will have to take avoiding action shortly.

The Spanish ships scatter too, off towards the south-east.

Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 36 Franco-Spanish = 42.

Caecius, the Venti of the freezing north east wind, continues his mischief.

The English squadrons scatter to the north west to avoid the approaching English and Dutch ships. It will take a considerable time to regroup all the squadrons into something battle worthy.

The Franco-Spanish fleet have their own disorder to attend to and sail for home, as do the Anglo-Dutch fleet. Thus the Battle of Vélez-Málaga Redux comes to an end.

Victoria sends her blessing to Admiral Sir George Rooke, commander Anglo-Dutch Fleet, and strikes a medal celebrating his victory; Imperium Pelagi, dominion of the sea.

An animated gif of the battle is below.


The Admirals fighting this encounter were:-

Admiral Sir George Rooke, commander Anglo-Dutch Fleet.

Amiral de France de Toulouse, commander Franco-Spanish Fleet.

Velez malaga colours


The Age of Sail Thursday, Jul 10 2008 

These are wargame rules used for the naval battles from the 17th century to the end of the War of the Napoleonic wars.

It simplifies both sailing and combat to make a game which lasts as long as your patience! For this game, you will need ships and a large playing surface.

The Wind.

The direction of North needs to be decided on the play surface table. The game makes use of a simple compass, for indicating wind direction and ships turning circle. The starting wind direction can be set to any of the eight point compass positions, with battles fought in the Atlantic, Medditeranean likley to get prevailing west winds, whilst those in the Carribean are likely to be east winds. In addition, a counter showing the current wind speed (ranging from 1 to 7) is required. At the start of the game, the wind speed is set to 4. At the end of each round, a dice is thrown and the wind changes accordingly. The wind direction is adjusted, by the Venti (the Gods of the winds) by rolling a die. 1 = move wind 1 points anticlockwise. 2-5 = no change to current wind direction 6 = move wind 1 points clockwise. Also at the end of each round the wind speed is adjusted by rolling a die. 1 = reduce wind speed 1 level 2-5 = no change to current wind speed 6 = increase wind speed by 1 level Thus the Gods, or if you will, chance will constantly move the wind during a battle.


The scale of movement of the ships is 1 cm = 1 unit of distance. To find the maximum speed a ship may sail at, multiply the current wind speed, moderated by its current Points of Sail (angle to the wind) by the total amount of movement the ship may have, found from the number of masts. The Points of Sail are shown below.

If the ship is moving at a direction of +45° to the wind (close hauled), then reduce the speed by one. If the ship is moving at a direction of +45° to 135° to the wind (beam reached to broad reached), then increase the speed by one. If the ship is moving at a direction of +180° (running by the wind), then the wind speed is unaffected.

So, for example, if a ship of the line has 3 masts and the wind speed is 4 and it’s sailing +180° (running by the wind), the ship may move 3×4 = 12 units of distance, which equals 12 cm. If the wind increased to strength 5, the maximum distance increases to 3×5 = 15 units, which is 15 cm.

If the wind increased to strength 5, and the ship is sailing +90° (beam reached) the maximum distance increases to 3×6 = 18 units, which is 18 cm. If the wind increased to strength 5, and the ship is sailing +45° (close hauled) the maximum distance increases to 3×4 = 12 units, which is 12 cm.

Note that lower rated ships (including Pirate ships and Frigates) have a main mast which gives them 2 units of movement per wind speed, so undamaged, sailing +180° (running by the wind), with a wind speed of 4, they would have a maximum movement allowance of (2X1 +1X2) x4 = 16 units of distance, which equals 16 cm.

The minimum speed any ship may make in one move is 1 cm. Losing masts in combat reduces maximum movement by the level indicated from the number of masts left. Alternatively, if all masts have been shot away, the ship will drift 1 unit in the direction of the wind. Ships may repair fallen masts by throwing one dice per turn; getting a 6 repairs the mast, but the crew cannot man their guns or board another ship whilst they attempt to repair their masts. Ships may sail in any direction, except directly into wind, when tacking alternatively to port and starboard by one compass point allows a ship to head into wind (Example if the wind is due south, a ship may not sailing a due north direction, but must tack from NE to NW in order to progress in a northerly direction).

All ships must use the 16 point turning circle below to change direction (each point takes one unit of movement, i.e 1 cm).

Thus to alter course by 90° would take 4 units of movement, i.e 4 cm.

Conventionally, ships in squadrons follow the leading ship and turn at the position this ship did, holding a line of battle. Pirates however can only sail independently of each other.

A ship may drop anchor and cannot move until an entire move has passed to raise the anchor again. Ships passing over shoals or mudflats marked on the playing surface do so at their peril, for they must throw a dice and a score of 1, 2, 3 indicates they founder and cannot move again until they throw a 6 and refloat.

The Ships and Damage Records

You need damage records for each ship to log the damage that each sustains. Damage records for ships in the navies of England {(Commonwealth(1648 – 1660), Royal Navy (1660 to 1707) and (1708 to 1800) }, France {La Royale (1618 to 1789)}, Netherlands {United Provinces (1648-1795}, Spain {Armada Española (1660 to 1796)} and Privateers can be found below:-

Ship damage sheets

Each ship is named, and has 3 gun decks on both the port and starboard side (with the exception of Pirate and Frigate ships, which have only 2 gun decks), 3 masts and 3 hull integrity units. The ships are numbered on their mounting card and named. The masts indicate how much each contributes to the movement. The gun decks are shown separately for port and starboard, each allowing a single dice to be thrown when firing or in hand to hand fighting. As damage ensures, these cells are marked off one by one.


Combat occurs either by firing or boarding another ship. Each gun deck has an arc of fire of 90 degrees. Port side has a fire arc of NE to SE and the starboard side NW to SW if the foredeck is N. Each gun deck can fire once per round and uses 1 dice throw when firing to indicate whether damage is inflicted.

Each gun deck in the arc may fire once in the round at any point in a players move.

The firing player must declare before the dice are thrown if he is aiming for the masts, or the gun decks then roll the dice, one for each gun deck shooting. If the result on each dice is equal or greater than the value indicated in the range table below, a hit is scored and the gun deck or hull is irretrievably damaged. Sails may be repaired as outlined earlier.

Score for hit on  Hull (gun decks)  or Sails
0- 4cm                3-6                             4-6
4- 8cm                4-6                             5-6
8-12cm               5-6                                 6

The following ruler shows the scores needed at each range.

If gun decks were selected as the target, then each hit will knock out one gun deck on the side you are firing at. If sails were chosen then each hit will remove a mast. If it is a broad side, then the owner of the target ship chooses which mast. If however the hit came from the fore or aft, then the masts will be removed in order from the fore or aft onwards along the ship. Firing directly from the stern creates equal damage to both sides of the ship, making it particularly effective in damaging ships.

If a firing player manages to get a pair of sixes in the firing round, the target catches on fire. In the next round the ship on fire must throw a 5 or 6 to put the fire out. If unsuccessful, the fire grows and in the next round,

the ship must throw a 6 to put the fire out. If unsuccessful, the ship blows up and is immediately sunk and removed from the game. All ships within 12cm of this explosion risk catching fire themselves. Use the range table above for damaging hulls to determine if any other ships catch on fire.

If all gun decks and the hull markers are lost, the ship is prone to sinking in high seas (when the wind speed reaches 6 or higher in the game). For each move that ships in this damaged state sail in high seas, if a 1 or 2 is thrown, the ship will sink.

Boarding a ship occurs when two ships contact each other. A battle ensues with each remaining gun deck giving a dice throw for the ship. Simply total the score for each ship from the number of dice thrown for each gun deck. The highest total wins and captures the opposing ship. Once the ships are in contact, it takes a throw of 6 on a dice to disentangle them. On separating, the captured ship must be manned by at least one gun deck from the winning ship. The gun deck must be marked off on the ships record, and it can no longer contribute to the winning ships combat effectiveness. The transferred crew is the captured ships new combat potential and mans the gun decks accordingly.

Game Sequence

Define wind direction and strength.

Players lay out their fleets.

Both players dice for who moves first, winner moves first.

Player 1 Fire removal stage (5,6 first turn, 6 second turn. Immediate explosion if unsuccessful, check to see other ships catch fire).

Tries to separate any entangled ships if desired.

Tries to refloat any ships foundered on shoals.

Checks to see if severely damaged ships (no gundecks or hull integrity units) sink in high seas (wind speed greater than 5 units). The ship will immediately sink if a 1 or 2 is thrown.

Moves their ships and checks if any ships foundered on shoals when first encountering them.

Combat exchange via broadsides or boarding with enemy at the end of the movement phase.

Player 2 repeats sequence above.

Round restarts by redefining wind direction and strength according to die rolls.

1 = move wind 1 points anticlockwise.

2-5 = no change to current wind direction

6 = move wind 1 points clockwise


1 = reduce wind speed 1 level

2-5 = no change to current wind speed

6 = increase wind speed by 1 level

The winner is the Admiral inflicting the most damage on the opposing fleet.

Age of Sail

The rules are a simplified version of naval combat during the Age of Sail, and provide very interesting if turbulent games!


Contact the author using the comments page below if you would like further details on how to use them.