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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Battle of the Saints

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This battle is frequently called by the date on which it took place - the 12th of April 1782. The French know it as the battle of Dominica, near the coast of which it was fought. The Saints are small rocky islets in the channel between the islands of Dominica and Guadaloupe in the West Indies. The battle is of exceptional importance in naval history; it was by far the most considerable fought at sea in the American War of Independence, and was to Great Britain of the nature of a deliverance, since it not only saved Jamaica from a formidable attack, but after the disasters in North America went far to restore British prestige. The comte de Grasse,with 33 sail of the line, was at Fort Royal in Martinique. His aim was to effect a combination with a Spanish force from Cuba, and invade Jamaica. A British fleet (36 sail of the line), commanded by Sir George, afterwards Lord Rodney, was anchored in Gros Islet Bay, Santa Lucia. On the 8th of April the British lookout frigates reported that the French were at sea, and Rodney immediately sailed in pursuit. Light and variable sea or land breezes made the movements of both fleets uncertain. Some of the ships of each might have a wind, while others were becalmed. On the 9th of April eight ships of the British van, at some distance from the bulk of their fleet, and nearly opposite the mountain called the Morne au Diable in Dominica, were attacked by fifteen of the French. The comte de Grasse, whose own ships were much scattered and partly becalmed, and who moreover was hampered by the transports carrying soldiers and stores, did not press the attack home. His chief wish was to carry his fleet through the channel between Dominica and Guadaloupe, while Rodney was anxious to force a battle. During the night of the 11th-12th the greater part of the French had cleared the channel, but a collision took place between two of their ships by which one was severely damaged. The crippled vessel was seen and pursued by four ships of the British van. The comte de Grasse recalled all his vessels, and bore down towards the British. Rodney ordered the last of his ships to lead into action, the others following her in succession, and the detached ships falling in behind as they returned from the pursuit. The two fleets in line of battle passed one another, the French steering in a southerly, the British in a northerly direction. Both were going very slowly. Fire was opened about 8 o'clock, and by 10 o'clock the leading British ship had passed the last of the French. While the action was in progress, one of the variable winds of the coast began to blow from the south, while the northern extremities of the fleets were in an easterly breeze. Confusion was produced in both forces, and a great gap was created in the French line just ahead of the "Formidable" (loo), Rodney's flagship. The captain of the fleet, Sir Charles Douglas, called his attention to the opening, and urged him to steer through it. The fighting instructions then in force made it incumbent on an admiral to preserve the order in which he began the action unchanged. Rodney hesitated to depart from the traditional order, but after a few moments of doubt accepted the suggestion. The "Formidable" was steered through the opening, followed by six of those immediately behind her. The ships towards the rear passed through the disordered French in the smoke, which was very thick, without knowing what they had done till they were beyond the enemy. About 1 o'clock the British had all either gone beyond the French or were to the east of them. The French were broken into three bodies, and were completely disordered. The comte de Grasse, in his flagship the "Ville de Paris," with five other vessels, was isolated from his van and rear. Rodney directed his attack on these six vessels, which were taken after a very gallant resistance. It was the general belief of the fleet that many more would have been captured if Rodney had pursued more vigorously, but he was content with the prizes he had taken. Two more of the French were captured by Sir Samuel Hood, afterwards Lord Hood, in the Mona Passage on the 19th of April.

See Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs (London, 1804), vol. 5; and a careful analysis from the French side by Chevalier, Histoire de la marine francaise pendant la guerre de l'independance americaine (Paris, 1877). (D. H.)

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Battle of the Saints'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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