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French frigate Forte (1794)
Sybille vs Forte
Forte in her battle against HMS Sybille
Career (France) Ensign of France
Name: Forte
Ordered: 5 July 1794
Builder: Lorient
Laid down: 30 May 1794
Launched: 26 September 1794
Commissioned: November 1794
Captured: 1 March 1799, by the Royal Navy
Career (UK) Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom
Name: HMS Forte
Acquired: 1 March 1799
Fate: Wrecked 29 January 1801
General characteristics [1]
Type: 42-gun Forte class frigate
Tonnage: 1020 tonnes
Length: 52 metres
Beam: 13 metres
Draught: 6.2 metres
Sail plan: Full-rigged ship

28 x  24-pounder long guns
10 x  8-pounder long guns

4 x  36-pounder carronades[2]

Forte was a French 42-gun frigate, lead ship of her class.


French serviceEdit

Launched on 26 September 1794 and commissioned two months later under Commander Beaulieu-Leloup, Forte was part of a large frigate squadron under contre-amiral Sercey, also comprising Prudente, Régénérée, Vertu, Seine, Cybèle and Preneuse. The division sailed to Ile de France to raid commerce in the Indian Ocean.

Forte took part in the Action of 8 September 1796, where the frigates drove off two British 74-guns.

In 1797, Forte and Prudente were sent to Batavia to ferry troops. Command of Forte was given to Captain Ravenel. Against the wishes of Sercey, General Malartic restored Beaulieu to command.[note 1]

Battle against HMS SybilleEdit

On 1 March 1799, off Bengal, Forte chased and captured two merchantmen. Around 22:00, as Forte sailed to take possession of her prize, a sail was detected leeward, which Beaulieu-Leloup deemed to be another merchantman in spite of the suspicions of his officers. The crew of Forte went to their sleeping quarters, and it took some time to realise that the strange ship was closing in and call to Battle Stations. When readied, Forte turned about and recognised the ship to be the 38-gun HMS Sybille, under Captain Edward Cooke. At 12:15, Forte opened fire with a few shots, which were left unanswered until she came down the side of Sybille, at which point the British frigate delivered a full broadside, turned about and raked her with a second broadside. In the confusion of the battle, the gun crew of Forte were not advised that Sybille had circled around to starboard, and they kept firing their port guns at a ship whose silouhette could be seen through the smoke, but which was actually one of the prizes. After some time, the mistake was realised and the starboard battery was manned; however, as part of the crew of Forte had been dispatched to man her prizes, her forecastle guns could not be used.

At 1:40, Captain Beaulieu-Leloup was killed by a cannonball. Command of Forte passed to Lieutenant Vigoureux. Around the same time, Captain Cooke was mortally wounded on Sybille and relinquished his own command. Vigoureux was killed at 2:00, and Lieutenant Luco took command. by that time, only 4 guns were still firing. Luco attempted to manoeuver, but the heavily damaged rigging collapsed at 2:25. Sybille enquired whether it was to be understood that Forte had struck her colours, and ceased fire when this was confirmed.

British serviceEdit

Forte was taken into British service as HMS Forte. Under Captain Hardyman, she was wrecked off Jeddah, Red Sea, on 29 January 1801. She was entering the port with a pilot, William Briggs, when she struck a rock. Briggs knew of the rock, which was visible the whole time, but failed to issue any orders. Hardyman eventually ordered the helmsman to turn, but it was too late. Forte reached the shore and ran up the beach, where she capsized. The court martial board admonished Briggs to be more circumspect in the future and penalized him one year's seniority as a master.[3]

Still, her ship's company served in the navy's Egyptian campaign (8 March to 8 September 1801). Therefore her officers and crew qualified for the clasp "Egypt" to the Naval General Service Medal, which the Admiralty authorised in 1850 for all surviving claimants.[4]

Notes, citations and referencesEdit

  1. Hennequin (p.210) proved a glimpse of Sercey's reluctance by referring to Beaulieu-Leloup as an "inept old man".
  1. Roche, op. cit.
  2. Troude, op. cit., p.173
  3. Hepper (1994), p. 97.
  4. The London Gazette: no. 21077. pp. 791–792. 15 March 1850.


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