Today is one of my favorite days of the year, where I get to gleefully celebrate a French defeat.
The battle, fought in the Atlantic in 1794, came at the start of the decisive phase of what is sometimes known as the Second Hundred Years’ War which went on from 1689 to 1815. It was the first battle at sea of the Revolutionary War and was about the struggle for maritime supremacy between Britain and France. From the British point of view one aim was to stop the French Revolution spreading into Europe. Monarchies throughout Europe feared a wave of revolutions.
The battle was fought 400 miles out at sea, which was extraordinary for those days – battles were usually fought offshore. This was because the French admiral had drawn the British blockading fleet right out into the Atlantic to allow for the arrival of a big grain convoy which the French were expecting from America. It was an enormous battle. Twenty-five British ships of the line fought against twenty-six French ships. It was a battle, too, which was fought to the finish, which was quite unusual then. It lasted for four hours of hard pounding on each side and resulted in a major victory for the British, even though the grain convoy got though.
You can read more on the battle here at Wikipedia.
Hey, if you can't rejoice at a French defeat, what *can* you rejoice at?
Also On This Date In Naval History: Okay, it was actually yesterday, but I forgot to post about the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, the decisive naval battle-- among the only major naval battles-- of the First World War.
I've recommended the book before, but if you have any interest at all in naval history, Robert Massie's Castles of Steel contains some of the finest accounts of the Great War at sea that I've read, especially the chapter on Jutland.
Seriously: Military history appeals to buffs like me, but even if stories of the past don't always carry valuable lessons for today, they at least can provide a healthy sense of perspective.
For instance, as of 1 June, sadly there were 2,471 Americans killed in action in over three years of combat in Iraq.
In comparison, in just over one day of naval combat in 1916, more than 6,000 British sailors (and 2,500 German) were killed.
Now, the naval war during the Great War was nowhere near as deadly as the meat grinder along the Western Front, but it held its own special horrors:
At 16:00 [HMS Indefatigable] was smashed aft by three 11 inch (280 mm) shells from Von der Tann, causing damage sufficient to knock her out of line. Von der Tann landed another 11 inch (280 mm) salvo on one of her 12 inch (305 mm) turrets at near-maximum range. The plunging shells easily pierced the armour and, with no time for the heroics that saved Lion, Indefatigable was ripped apart by a magazine explosion, sinking in moments with all but two of her crew of 1,019 officers and men. . .
. . . at 16:25 Queen Mary was hit by what may have been a combined salvo from Derfflinger and Seydlitz, and she disintegrated in a magazine explosion with all but nine of her 1,275 man crew lost. . .
. . . Defence was destroyed in a spectacular explosion viewed by most of the deploying Grand Fleet, sinking with all hands (903 officers and men). . .
. . . A series of 12 inch (305 mm) shells struck Invincible, which blew up and split in two, killing all but six of her crew of 1,032 officers and men, including Rear Admiral Hood. . .
. . . at 02:00 on 1 June, Black Prince of the ill-fated 1st Cruiser Squadron met a grim fate at the hands of the battleship Thüringen, blowing up with all hands (857 officers and men) as her squadron leader Defence had done hours earlier. . .
Massive ships destroyed in a flash, entire crews vaporized or immediately drowned. No chivalry at sea for them. You read all this, and you begin to understand the horror contained within British Admiral Beatty's infamously droll words at Jutland:
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today. . . "