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Battle of St. Lucia
Part of the American War of Independence
Bataille de Sainte Lucie entre d'Estaing et Barrington 1778 - BHC0422,.jpg
Naval Battle of Santa Lucia, December 15, 1778. Left the 12 ships of d'Estaing. Right, the 7 vessels of Barrington. The French fleet was defeated.
Date15 December 1778
LocationOff St. Lucia, West Indies
Result British victory
 Kingdom of Great Britain  Kingdom of France
Commanders and leaders
Samuel Barrington Comte d'Estaing
7 ships of the line 12 ships of the line

The Battle of St. Lucia or the Battle of the Cul de Sac was a naval battle fought off the island of St. Lucia in the West Indies during the American War of Independence on 15 December 1778, between the British Royal Navy and the French Navy.[1]

Background[edit | edit source]

On 7 September 1778, the French governor of Martinique, the Marquis de Bouille, surprised and captured the British island of Dominica. On 4 November, French Admiral Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector Comte d'Estaing sailed for the West Indies from the port of Boston. On that same day, Commodore William Hotham was dispatched from Sandy Hook, New York, to reinforce the British fleet in the West Indies. Hotham sailed with "five men of war, a bomb vessel, some frigates, and a large convoy."[2] The convoy Hotham was escorting consisted of 59 transports carrying 5,000 British soldiers under Major General Grant.[3] The French fleet was blown off course by a violent storm, preventing it from arriving in the Caribbean ahead of the British. Admiral Samuel Barrington, the British naval commander stationed on the Leeward Islands, joined the newly arrived Commodore Hotham on 10 December at the island of Barbados. Grant's men were not permitted to disembark and spent the next several days aboard their transports. Barrington and Hotham sailed for the island of St. Lucia on the morning of 12 December.[4]

On the evening of 13 December and morning of 14 December, Major General James Grant,[5] supported by additional troops under Brigadier General William Medows[6] and Brigadier General Robert Prescott,[7] landed at Grand Cul de Sac, St. Lucia. Grant and Prescott took control of the high ground around the bay, while Medows continued on and took Vigie the following morning (14 December). It was on 14 December that the French fleet under d’Estaing arrived, forcing Admiral Barrington to move his ships into line of battle and forego his plan of moving the transports into Carénage Bay.[2] Admiral Barrington had the following ships at his disposal:

Ship[4] Guns Class Commander
Prince of Wales 74 Ship of the Line Admiral Samuel Barrington
Boyne 70 Ship of the Line
Preston 64 Ship of the Line Commodore William Hotham
St. Albans 64 Ship of the Line
Nonsuch 64 Ship of the Line
Centurion 50 Ship of the Line
Isis 50 Ship of the Line
Venus 36 Frigate
Aurora 28 Frigate
Ariadne 20 Frigate

Admiral d'Estaing's fleet was composed of the following ships:

Ship[8] Guns Class Commander Officers Volunteers Crew Total
Languedoc 80 Ship of the Line Admiral d'Estaing; Boulainvilliers 38 777 875
Tonnant 80 Ship of the Line Breugnon, chef; Bruyères, commandant 22 685 707
César 74 Ship of the Line Broves, chef; Raymondis, commandant 713 793
Zélé 74 Ship of the Line Barras 17 14 486 507
Hector 74 Ship of the Line Moriès
Guerrier 74 Ship of the Line Bougainville 22 400 422
Marseillais 74 Ship of the Line La Poype-Vertrieux 19 3 584 606
Protecteur 74 Ship of the Line Apchon 14 391 405
Vaillant 64 Ship of the Line Chabert 542
Provence 64 Ship of the Line Champorcin 14 408 422
Fantasque 64 Ship of the Line Suffren 13 419 432
Sagittaire 50 Ship of the Line Rioms
Chimère 32 Frigate Saint-Cézaire 15 225 240
Engageante 26 Frigate Gras Préville
Alcmène 26 Frigate Bonneval 11 196 207
Aimable 26 Frigate Saint-Eulalie 9 231 240

Naval engagement[edit | edit source]

Admiral Barrington was alerted to the presence of the French fleet by the frigate Ariadne. He organised his line of battle such that Isis and his three frigates (Venus, Aurora, and Ariadne) were close to shore guarding the windward approach, and he placed his flagship, Prince of Wales, toward the leeward. Barrington placed his transports inside the bay but behind his battle line. Barrington’s defensive strategy took him the entire night of 14 December, and by 1100 hours 15 December, most of the transports had been safely tucked behind his line.[3]

At 1100 hours 15 December Admiral d’Estaing approached St. Lucia with ten ships of the line, and was fired on by one of the shore batteries. D’Estaing then moved to engage Barrington from the rear, and a “warm conflict” raged between the two fleets, with the British supported by two shore batteries. D’Estaing was repulsed but succeeded in reforming his line of battle. At 1600 hours d’Estaing renewed his assault by attacking Barrington’s centre with twelve ships of the line. Again, heavy fire was exchanged and the French were eventually repulsed for a second time.[9]

Outcome[edit | edit source]

On 16 December Admiral d’Estaing appeared to be preparing for a third assault against Admiral Barrington’s line, but then sailed away towards the windward. On the evening of 16 December d’Estaing anchored in Gros Islet Bay with "ten frigates and twelve sail of the line, &c."[10] Admiral d’Estaing’s failure to break Barrington’s line on 15 December spelled doom for the local French garrison, which surrendered on 28 December.[11]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Orr, Tamra. St. Lucia. Marshall Cavendish, 2008; pp. 31. ISBN 978-0-7614-2569-4.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ekins, Charles. The Naval Battles of Great Britain: From the Accession of the Illustrious House of Hanover to the Throne to the Battle of Navarin. Baldwin and Cradock, 1828; p. 91.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ekins, p. 93.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ekins, pp. 91–93.
  5. Jaques, Tony. Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A Guide to 8,500 Battles from Antiquity Through the Twenty-first Century. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007; pp. 882. ISBN 978-0-313-33536-5.
  6. Cunningham, George Godfrey. A History of England in the Lives of Englishmen. A. Fullarton, 1853; pp. 133.
  7. Wilson, James Grant, and John Fiske. Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography. D. Appleton, 1900; pp. 5:109.
  8. Cited Rochambeau: A Commemoration by the Congress of the United States of America. DeB. Randolph Keim, ed. Washington, D.C.: 1907; pp. 230. From "Fleet of D'Estaing: Expedition of D'Estaing, 1778-1779." Xenophon Group and Expédition Particulière Commemorative Cantonment Society. Updated: 4/13/2003. Accessed: 12/09/2008. <http://xenophongroup.com/mcjoynt/fleet01.htm>.
  9. Ekins, pp. 92–93.
  10. Ekins, pp. 93–94.
  11. Jaques, pp. 882.

External links[edit | edit source]

  • Xenophon Group This "informal association of military historians" researches and presents historical information on warfare. The group attempts to purge the "false history" that has crept into the popular consciousness by offering well-documented historical accounts.
  • Expédition Particulière Commemorative Cantonment Society This organization is dedicated to documenting and commemorating the French expeditionary force (Expédition Particulière) and the overall French involvement in the American War of Independence.

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