After Action report

Discussion in 'History' started by andym, Dec 21, 2006.

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  1. Cool or what?

    This is an eyewitness account of an action between two British and two French warships in 1756. The French were escorting a convoy into Rochfort when they were sighted by two British cruisers, Colchester, of 50 guns and Lyme, a frigate with 28 guns.
    " Colchester at sea, June 20 1756.
    .....The Lyme, captain Edward Vernon; and the Colchester, captain Lucius O'Brien, were ordered by admiral Boscawen, from the fleet, to cruise together on the coast of Brittany, and scarce a day passed but we either burnt or sunk some French vessel.
    On the 17th of May, in the morning, we took a French snow laden with deals and resin. An officer was sent on board to burn her; while he was doing it, the man at the masthead called down, that he saw a sail in the offing; upon which captain O'Brien hailed captain Vernon and desired him to make sail, and that he would follow, which he did with all the sail he could make. So soon as the officer returned from burning the vessel, and our boat hoisted in, a second sail was espied by the man at the masthead, and at half-past eleven a.m. we discovered they were enemies, as they also did at the same time with respect to us, making all sail they could to get from us, with top-gallant royals, lower, top-mast, and top-gallant steering sails, keeping all full. Seing they could not weather us on the other tack, sometimes they bore away two or three points, then hauled their wind; but finding we gained on them fast and that it was impossible to escape us, they shortened sail by degrees, till they were under three topsails, when they hoisted their colours and kept close together. We did the same; and as we neared them saw plainly the name of each ship wrote on their stern; the first called La Fidelle, of 32 guns; the other L'Aquillon, of fifty-eight, which we counted very distinctly; the later having eleven guns below on a side, twelve on her upper deck, four on her quarter deck, and two on her forecastle, with a great number of men at small arms in her tops, poop, quarter-deck and forecastle. we had a clear ship fore and aft, and eveything ready for action, with colours flying, our people in great spirits gave three cheers, as did the Lyme's people also. The French indeed answered us, but it was very faintly. Our captain's intention was to have gone between the two enemy's ships and to have given them each a broadside; but they kept too close for us to put that scheme in execution; we therefore took the first of the Fidelle, reserving ours for the Aquillon, which was the headmost ship; and at half past five in the evening, being close upon her weather quarter, she gave us her whole broadside below and aloft, as did the Fidelle also at the same time. We immediately returned it with our whole fire at the Aquillon, as did the Lyme at the other. The third broadside we received , most unluckily cut our tiller rope, great part of the steering wheel and lead trumpet, so that our ship directly came round too; upon which the Aquillon put her helm hard a weather and raked us fore and aft.
    Perceiving something extraordinary had happened on board us they let down their foresail and bore away, with design, as we supposed, to assist their their comrade, then warmly engaged with the Lyme at some distance; but we soon got tackles upon our tiller below, shivered our after falls, put our helm aport, and following her, got between the two enemy's ships, and upon the Aquillon's lee bow. Steering from bow to bow we gave her five smart broadsides, most of which raked her fore and aft, and so near as to be almost on board each other; our yard arms near touching hers. We then exchanged hand grenadoes for some time from our tops; and one of hers falling on our forecastle blew up a great number of musket cartridges, but happily did no great mischief. When we raked her she was silent, and for some time did not fire a gun; her ensign being foul, our people gave three cheers, thinking she had struck; upon which the Aquillon put her helm alee, hawled up her foresail (for we were then going large) and began to fire again. At this time our braces, bowlines etc being most of them shot away, we got down our steering sail tacks for braces and hauled upon a wind; but she got upon the weather gage of us, which we could never after recover. We now reeved a new tiller rope, but it proved too short, so that we were obliged to reeve the mizen sheet for the a tiller rope, and put a luff tackle in lieu; we continued engaging about point blank musket shot (the Lyme and Fidelle also still engaged, but at a considerable distance from us).
    The great quantity of bar shot, pieces of old iron bars etc. which the French fired upon us, tore our sails and rigging all to tatters, our mizzen topsail was down, the sheets, stoppers and slings entirely shot away, and the mizzen all in rags. In short, everything was so torn and cut to pieces, that we had not the ship under the least command; luckily for us it was fine weather and smooth water, or we must have lost all our masts, they being very much wounded, and scarce a whole shroud left to secure them. We saw, before dark, two of the Aquillon's ports beat into one, and about ten o'clock, several great explosions on board her. We were so near that the wads from each ship fell on the deck on fire, and one from her guns came into an upper deck port of ours, beat a cartridge of powder out of the man's hand that was going to put it into the gun; it set fire to some others, and blew up all the people near that gun, in a terrible manner.
    Other wads set fire to our hammocks on the poop but it was happily soon extinguished. Thus we continued to engage until half past twelve at night, when the Aquillon hawled on board her fore tack, set all the sail she could, kept close upon a wind, and left us in such a situation that it was impossible for us to follow her.
    The Lyme and Fidelle had left off engaging about ah hour and a half before us. Besides the shattered condition of our sails, masts and rigging, we received several shot between wind and water, and were obliged to turn our people from the guns to pump ship, for we made four feet water an hour, and heeled ship to caulk our leaks with plugs and tallow. All the remaining part of the night and next day we were employed in knotting, splicing, and reeving new rigging, and bending other sails. Our officers and men behaved well and in high spirits during the whole engagement; but out guns were very weakly manned, our people being obliged to help each other to run them out when loaded, and were all very much fatigued, having been up thirty-five hours. We had no more than four men killed on the spot, and thirty-five wounded, several of whom are since dead of their wounds, and others not expected to recover. The Aquillon (by account of a Danish ship from France) had upwards of sixty killed and a great number wounded, and went into Rochfort with great difficulty, being much shattered in her hull. The disproportion of the killed and wounded betwen us and the French may be easily accounted for, by considering, that it is their continual practice to fire at our masts and rigging, in order to disable our ships that way, and that they have generally almost double the number of men. In the action we fired upwards of forty broadsides, all well expended; not a single gun fired, but so near as to do execution on the enemy wherever it took place, and everything was conducted with as little noise and confusion as possible during the whole engagement, which was full six hours and half.
    After this it might be expected that we should immediately have steered for some port (as we find the Lyme did) but our captain judged it more the duty of an officer to do his utmost to rejoin his admiral, which we did, and had the carpenters from every ship in the fleet to fix our masts, yards, etc. and repair our hull; when we have received a fresh supply of stores and ammunition, I do suppose we will make out the time first intended for our cruize."

    Colchester was nearly 10 years old, having been launched by Carter of Southampton in September 1746.
    Lyme was built in the Royal Dockyard at Deptford in 1748.
  2. This letter was from Capt Richard Tyrell aboard the Buckingham in 1758 to Commodore Moore.I love the off hand way he describes the action and the use of language to the French.The Weazle was only a 16 Gun Sloop,the Buckingham was a 3rd Rate ship of the Line with 70 Guns.In November Capt. TYRRRAL distinguished himself in an encounter with the French FLORISSANT,74, and two large French frigates.It was stated by Smollet that the number of slain on board FLORISSANT was greater than 180, and that her wounded exceeded 300. She was so disabled in her hull that she only just reached Martinique, the largest frigate lost 40 men and was so damaged as to be uncervicable for some time.
    He returned to England in March 1759 with dispatches from Commodore MOORE containing an account of the attack on Martinique in January and the more successful one on Guadaloupe. He was appointed to FOUDROYANT,80, in August (Rear Ad. Richard TYRREL died aged 50 on board his flagship, PRINCESS LOUISA, on 2 June 1766 and his body, at his own desire was thrown into the sea. There is a magnificent memorial in Westminster Abbey.)

    SIR, - Agreeable to your orders I sailed on Thursday night from St. Johns road; the next morning I got between Guadeloupe and Montserrat, and gave chace to a sail we espied in the N.W. which proved to be his Majesty's ship Weazle; upon enquiry, having found that he had not met his Majesty's ship Bristol, I ordered captain Boles come on board for directions as to his farther proceedings.
    While his orders were writing out, we discovered a fleet of thirteen sail W.S.W. standing to the S.S.W. upon which we immediately gave chace with all the sail we could possibly crowd. About two o'clock we discovered that they were convoyed by a French man of war of seventy-four guns and two large frigates. About half an hour after two the Weazle got to close as to receive whole broadside from the seventy four gun ship, which did herlittle or no damage. I then made the signal to call the Weazle off, and gave her lieutenant orders not to to go near the seventy-four gun ship, or the frigates, as the smallest of the latter was vastly superior to him in force. By following this advice he could not come to fire a shot during the whole action, neither, indeed, could he have been of any fervice. WhiIe I made all the sail I could, they were jogging on under their foresails and topsails, and when we came up within half gun-shot, they made a running fight during their stern-chace. The frigates, sometime raking fore. and aft, annoyed me very much, but also so retarded tbeir own way, that I got up with my bowsprit almosi over the Florissant's stern. finding I could not bring the enemy to a general action, I gave the Buckingham a yaw under his lee, and threw into him a noble dose of great guns and small arms, at about the distance of half musket- shot, which he soon after returned, and damaged my rigging, masts and sails considerably. The largest frigate being very troublesome, I gave him a few of my lower-deck pills, and sent him running like a lusty fellow, so that he never returned into action again. The Florissant likewise bore away, by which means he got under my lee and exchanged three or four broadsides (endeavouring still to keep at a distance from me) which killed and wounded some of my men. I presume however we did him as much damage, as our men were very cool, took good aim, were under good discipline, and fought with a true English spirit.
    An unlucky broadside from the French made some slaughter on my quarter-deck, at the same time I myself was wounded, losing three fingers of my right hand, and receiving a small wound over my right eye, which, by the effusion of blood, blinded me some a little while: I also had several contusions from splinters; but recovering immediately I would not go off the deck till the loss of bIood began to weaken me. The master and lieutenant of marines were dangerously wounded at the same time. I calIed to my peop1e to stand by, and do their duty, which they promised with the greatest cheerfulness. I then went down and got the blood stopped, but returned upon deck again; till finding the strain made my wounds bleed afresh, I sent for the first lieutenant, and told him to take the command of the deck for a time. He answered me that he would run alongside the Florrisant yard-arm and yard-arm, and fight to the last gasp. Upon which I made a speech to the men exhorting them to do their utmost, which they chearfully promised, and gave three cheers.
    I went down a second time much more easy than before. Poor Mr. Marshall was as good as his word, he got board and board with the FIorissant and received a broadside from her, which killed him as he was encouraging the men; thus he died an honour to his country and the service. The second lieutenant then came upon deck and fought the ship bravely, yardarm to yardarm. We silenced the Florissant for some time and she hauled down her colours, but after that, fired about eleven of her lower tier, and gave us a a volley of small arms, which our people returned with great fury, giving her three broadsides, she not returning a single gun. Captain Troy at the same time, at the head of his marines, performed the service of a brave and sallant officer, clearing the Florissant's poop and quarter deck, and driving her men like sheep down their main deck. Our top-men were not idle, they plied their hand grenades and swivels to excellent purpose. It is imposible to describe the uproar and confusion the French were in.
    It being now dark and we having all the rigging in the ship shot away, the enemy seeing our condition, took the opportunity, set her fore sail and top-gallant sails, and ran away. We endeavoured to pursue her with what rags of sails we had left, but to no purpose. Thus we lost one of the finest two-deck ships my eyes have ever beheld.
    IO cannot bestow encominiums to great on the people and officers behaviour, and I hope you will strenuously recommend the latter to the lords of the Admiralty, as they richly deserve their favour. Notwithstanding the great fatigue the ship's company had experienced during the day, they cheerfully continued up all night knotting and splicing the rigging and bending the sails.
    I flatter myself, when you reflect that one of the ships of your squadron, with no more than sixty-five guns (as you know some of them were disabled last January and not supplied) and 472 well men at quarters, should ber three French men of war, one of 74 guns and 700 men; another of 38 guns, 350 men; and one of 26 guns and 250 men; you will not think we have been deficient in our duty. If we had had the good luck to join the Bristol it would have crowned all.
    Capt. Boles being on board the Buckingham I gave him directions to go down and superintend the lower deck, which he performed with great alacrity.
    As we have been so greatly damaged in our masts, yards, sails and rigging, particularly our rigging, I have thought proper to send the carpenter of the Buckingham, as he can better give you an account, by word of mouth of what fishes we shall want, than I can in many words of writing.
    Before I conclude I cannot help representing to you the inhuman, ungenerous and barbarous behaviour of the French during the action; no rascally piccaroon , or pirate, would have fired worse shot into us than they did; such as square bits of iron, old rusty nails, and in short, everything that could tend to the destruction of men; a specimen of which, please God, I shall produce to you upon my arrival.
    I send you inclosed a list of the slain and wounded.
    I am Sir, etc.
    To Commodore Moore.
    Killed:- one officer, Mr George Marshall, 1st. lieutenant; 5 seamen, 1 marine.
    Wounded:- three officers, Capt. Tyrrel, Mr Matthew Winterborne, master, Mr Harris, lieutenant of marines; 2 midshipmen, 26 seamen, 3 marines.
    Died of their wounds:- One midshipman 1 seaman.
  3. Just picked this up Andym. Wonderful stuff! Considering the lack of our modern medical facilities, makes one wonder how these people coped!
    They were, after all, made from the same material as us, but seemed to be entirely oblivious to pain and suffering. Having been through the trauma of a bowel cancer operation, chemotherapy, etc., it often crossed my mind as to how I would have coped with the trials and tribulations borne by my forebears without the support of skilled medical staff and modern drugs, and, to be honest, I don't think I could have done. Have we become a Nation of "softies", or does the advance of medicine keep pace with the decline of our personal ability to withstand pain?
    I heard somewhere (think it was probably Dr.David Starkey's recent series on TV), that Edward 1st (I think) had an operation on his rear end to remove a tumour, whilst still giving orders to his subordinates! Not for me mate! I was "reasonably" happy with an epidural and spark out for the op. and ROYAL treatment by the York Cancer Care centre thereafter!
    As they say, it's all behind me now!!
    Thanks again for the insight into how OUR Royal navy earned its enviable reputation.

  4. No worries,i shall continue to look for similar reports.
  5. Vice Ad. CODRINGTON`s Official Letter on the Battle of Naverin.
    His Majesty`s ship Asia, in the Port of Nevarin,(1) Oct. 21, 1827.

    I have the honor to inform his Royal Highness the Lord High Admiral that my colleagues, Count Heiden and the Chevalier de Rigny, having agreed with me that we should come into this port, in order to induce Ibrahim Pacha to discontinue the brutal war of extermination, which he has been carrying on since his return here from his failure in the gulf of Patras, the combined squadrons passed the batteries, in order to take up their anchorage, at about two o`clock yesterday afternoon.
    The Turkish ships were moored in the form of a crescent, with springs on their cables, the larger ones presenting their broadsides towards the centre, the smaller ones, in succession within them, filling up the intervals.
    The combined fleet was formed in the order of sailing in two columns, the British and French forming the weather or starboard line, and the Rus­sian the lee line.
    The Asia led in, followed by the Genoa and Albion, and anchored close alongside a ship of the line, bearing the flag of the Capitan Bey, another ship of the line, and a large double-banked frigate, each thus having their opponent in the front line of the Turkish fleet. The four ships to windward, part of the Egyptian squadron, were allotted to the squadron of Rear-Admiral de Rigny; and those to leeward in the bight of the crescent, were to mark the stations of the whole Russian squadron; the ships of their line closing those of the English line, and being followed up by their own frigates. The French frigate Armide, was directed to place herself alongside the outermost frigate, on the left hand entering the harbour and the Cambrian, Glasgow, and Talbot next to her, and abreast of the Asia, Genoa, and Albion; the Dartmouth and the Musquito, the Rose, the Brisk, and the Philornel, were to look after six fire-vessels, at the entrance of the harbour: I gave orders that no gun should be fired, unless guns were first fired by the Turks; and those orders were strictly observed. The three English ships were accordingly permitted to pass the batteries and to moor, which they did with great rapidity, without any act of open hostility, although there was evident preparation for it in all the Turkish ships; but upon the Dartmouth sending a boat to one of the fire-vessels. Lieut. G. W. H. Fitzroy (2) and several of her crew, were shot with musketry. This produced a defensive fire from the Dartmouth and la Syrene, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral De Rigny, that was succeeded by a cannon-shot at the Rear Admiral from one of the Egyptian ships, which of course, brought on a return, and thus, very shortly afterwards; the battle became general. The Asia, although placed along side the ship of the Capitan Bey, was even nearer to that of Moharem Bey, the commander of the Egyptian ships and since his ship did not fire at the Asia, although the action was begun to windward neither did the Asia fire at her. The latter, indeed, sent a message, "that he would not fire at all," and therefore no hostility took place betwixt our ships for some time after the Asia had returned the fire of the Capitan Bey.
    In the mean time, however, our excellent pilot, Mr Peter Mitchell who went to interpret to Moharem my desire to avoid bloodshed, was killed by his people in our boat along side, whether with or without his orders, I know not; but his ship soon afterwards fired into the Asia and was, consequently, effectually destroyed by the Asia`s fire, sharing the same fate as his brother admiral, on the starboard side; and falling to leeward a mere wreck These ships being out of the way the Asia became exposed to a raking fire from vessels in the second and third line, which carried away her mizen-mast by the board, disabled some of her guns, and killed and wounded several of her crew. This narration of the proceed­ings of the Asia would probably be equally applicable to most of the other ships of the fleet. The manner in which the. Genoa and Albion took their stations was beautiful; and the conduct of my brother admi­rals, Count Heiden and the Chevalier De Rigny, throughout, was admira­ble and highly exemplary.
    Captain Fellowes executed the part allotted to him perfectly; and with the able assistance of his little but brave detachment, saved the Syrene from being burnt by the fire vessels, and the Cambrian, Glasgow, and Talbot, following the fine example of Capitaine Hugon of the Armide, who, was opposed to the leading frigate of that line, effectually destroyed their opponents, and also silenced the batteries. This bloody and destructive battle was continued with unabated fury for four hours; and the scene of wreck and devastation which presented itself at its termination, was such as has been seldom before witnessed. As each ship of our opponents became effectually disabled, such of her crew as could escape from her endeavoured to set her on fire; and it is wonderful how we avoided the effects of their successive and awful explosions. It is impossible for me to say too much for the able and zealous assistauce which I derived from Captain Curzon, throughout this long and arduous contest; nor can say more than it deserves for the conduct of Commander Baynes and the officers and crew of the Asia, for the perfection with which the fire of their guns was directed; each vessel in turn; to which her broadside was presented, became a complete wreck.
    His Royal Highness will be aware that so complete a victory by a few, however perfect, against an excessive number, however individually inferior cannot be acquired but at a considerable sacrifice of life; accordingly, I have to lament the loss of Captain Bathurst, of the Genoa, whose example on this occasion is well worthy of the imitation of his survivors. Captain Bell, commanding the royal marines of the Asia, an excellent officer, was killed early in the action, in the steady performance of his duty and I have to mourn the death of Mr. William Smith, The master, admired for the zeal and ability with which he executed his duty, and beloved by all for his private qualities as a man. Mr. L. S. Dyer, my secretary, hawing received a severe contusion from a splinter, I am deprived temporarily of his valuable assistance in collecting and keeping up the general returns and communications of the squadron: I shall, therefore, retain in my office Mr. F. J. T. White, his first clerk, whom I have nomin­ated to succeed the purser of tbe Brisk. I feel much personal obligation to the Honorable Lieutenant-Colonel Craddock, for his readiness, during the heat of the battle, in carrying my orders and messages to the different quarters, after my aides-de-camp were disabled; but I will beg permission to refer his Royal Highness for further particulars of this sort to the details of the killed and ‘wounded, a subject which it is painful for me to dwell upon; when I contemplate, as I do with extreme sorrow, the extent of our loss. I console myself with the reflection, that the measure ‘which produced the battle was absolutely necessary for obtaining the results contemplated by the treaty, and that it was brought on entirely by our opponents. When I found that the boasted Ottoman word of honour was made a sacrifice to wanton savage devastation, and that a base advantage was taken of our reliance upon Ibrahim`s good faith, I own I felt a desire to punish the offenders. But it was my duty to refrain, and refrain I did; and I can assure hIs Royal Highness that I would still have avoided this disastrous extremity, if other means had been open to me. The Asia, Genoa, and Albion, have each suffered so much, that it is my intention to send them to England as soon as they shall have received, at Malta, the necessary repairs for their voyage. The Talbot, being closely engaged with a double banked frigate, has also suffered considerably, as well as others of the smaller vessels; but I hope their defects are not more than can be made good good at Malta. The loss of men in the Turco-Egyptian ships must have been immense, as his Royal Highness will see by the accompanying list, obained from the secretary of the Capitan Bey, which includes that of two out of the three ships to which the English division was oppposed. Captain Curzon having preferred continuing to asssist me in the Asia, I have given the charge of my despatches to Commander Lord Viscount Ingestre, who, besides having had a brilliant share of the action, is well competent to give his Royal Highness the Lord High Admiral any further particulars he may require.

    (Signed) EDWARD CODRINGTON, Vice-Admiral.

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