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Copyright HighGrade. Shells from Aetna and thousands of rockets burst amid the confusion as the forts and all ships fired their guns at threats real and imagined; "a scene. To prevent explosion the stopcocks were opened and the magazine flooded. As the crew wrestled with this threat, the drifting Tonnerre and Patriote loomed out of the darkness. During this effort at least 50 men tumbled to their deaths in the fiery chasm between the ships as they tried to prevent the fire spreading on board. As dawn rose on 12 April, only Cassard and Foudroyant remained afloat, having drifted into the mouth of the Charente with the tide.

Calcutta lay on the Palles Shoal near the remains of Jean-Bart and Patriote and Tourville had grounded close to the mouth of the Charente not far from the frigate Pallas. Cochrane, now back on Imperieuse , immediately recognised that although no French ship had been directly destroyed by the attack, there was an opportunity to annihilate the French Atlantic fleet in a single morning. Grounded and vulnerable, the isolated French ships could be simply destroyed by a concerted conventional attack on the Aix Roads, with only the batteries and the two remaining ships afloat to offer resistance.

Gambier acknowledged this communication, but made no reply and gave no orders. Still there was no response from the distant British fleet.

Cochrane ordered further, sardonic, signals "Two sail of the line are enough" and "the frigates alone can destroy the enemy", although the first was never made as the signal officer judged that it would be received by Gambier as an insult, [66] and the second was made but never recorded in Caledonia 's logbook. Finally the fleet sailed at , but at Gambier ordered a halt after only 3 nautical miles 5.

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In doing so, Gambier conspicuously avoided making any signal which might indicate he intended an attack, even spelling out some long signals to avoid using the flag which meant "prepare for battle". While Gambier hesitated, one by one the French ships which had grounded began to refloat, although several grounded again. As they had removed their topmasts before the attack, they had survived the groundings with less damage than might otherwise have been the case, and were easier to kedge off.

British reinforcement entered Basque Roads at , just as the crew of Calcutta abandoned the ship, withdrawing across the shoal. For two hours these immobile French ships were battered by the British line with little reply, until at both raised Union flags as an indication that they had surrendered. The French ship was destroyed by a magazine explosion at , followed at by Calcutta , which had been mistakenly set on fire by an over-enthusiastic British boarding party. Although Gambier had no intention of risking his fleet in the narrow waters of Basque Roads, he had permitted three more transports to be fitted out as fireships, and at these were led into the anchorage by Stopford in Caesar , accompanied by Theseus and several launches equipped to fire Congreve rockets.

At however Caesar grounded on a shoal and remained stuck there until , close to Valiant , which had also grounded at low tide. The sight of the burning wrecks in the night once again spread panic throughout the French fleet, the grounded ships opening a heavy fire on the scuttled ships in the assumption that they were fireships. Captain Lacaille of Tourville was so unnerved that he immediately ordered his crew to abandon ship and set it on fire. The evacuation was so hasty however that the fires did not spread effectively, and the following morning the ship was found to still be intact, the crew returning to their prematurely abandoned vessel.

During the night about 30 sailors had joined him, keeping Touville in French hands until dawn came and the rest of the crew returned. At on 13 April Stopford gave the order for the inshore squadron to withdraw back to Gambier's fleet. Captain John Tremayne Rodd on the latter refused. During this engagement three small rocket ships reached Cochrane, whose frigate was becalmed too far from the action, from the main fleet.

On board, Gambier had sent a two-part letter. During the night the British did not renew the attack, and the following morning found that most of the French ships had successfully retreated up the Charente. At Gambier made the definitive signal ordering Cochrane to withdraw directly and replacing him in command with George Wolfe on Aigle. Cochrane reluctantly returned to the fleet and had a furious meeting with Gambier, accusing the admiral of "extraordinary hesitation" and urging a new assault.

Several other ships were exposed, but without a bomb vessel they lay beyond the range of the British fleet. The French sailors made significant efforts to retrieve these ships over the following days; on 16 April Indienne was deemed too damaged to be saved, abandoned, and set on fire. The frigate exploded at midday. For several days in severe gales and heavy rain the ship remained stranded in the mud while Wolfe worked to bring up newly arrived replacement bomb vessel HMS Thunder.

On the same day Gambier finally abandoned his blockade of the river and sailed his fleet for England. Almost as serious however were the legal ramifications of the battle. In both countries there was a storm of controversy; in France four captains faced courts-martial from 21 June on charges of having abandoned their ships too easily and failing to follow orders. The captain of Tonnerre was acquitted, the captain of Indienne was acquitted on the first charge but sentenced to three months' house arrest for the second and the captain of Tourville was sentenced to two years in prison and to be dismissed from the Navy for abandoning his ship prematurely.

In Britain, Cochrane arrived at Spithead on 21 April and news of the victory spread rapidly.


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Cochrane was initially celebrated for his achievement and made a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath on 26 April. The court was convened on 26 July; the inquiry panel president was Admiral Sir Roger Curtis and his deputy was William Young , both friends of Gambier and political opponents of Cochrane. Most seriously, the charts of Basque Roads supplied to the court had been drawn by officers from Gambier's ship and favoured Gambier's account of the action.

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Gambier continued in command until , and remained in service until his death in He resigned his commission and joined first the Chilean Navy and then the Brazilian Navy , before becoming commander of the Greek Navy during the Greek War of Independence. He was restored to the Royal Navy with a royal pardon in and died in , shortly after publishing an autobiography which furiously castigated the participants in the events 51 years earlier.

Blame for the French defeat has been apportioned between Allemand and Willaumez by historians. Willaumez's hesitation in February left the French in a precarious position, in particular his reluctance to attack the squadron under Beresford, victory over which might have granted his fleet access to the Atlantic. Allemand, having inherited this situation, compounded the problem by attempting to fortify his fleet's anchorage, inviting attack, rather than effect an escape or counter-attack. Once he determined to remain at anchor in Aix Roads, a British assault became inevitable.

In Britain, Gambier's conduct has been criticised by historians ever since the battle. For example, William Laird Clowes , wrote in that "there can be no question that affair of Aix Road was mismanaged by the Admiralty at home and by the Admiral on the spot" [97] and that "a great naval commander never loses an occasion to attack when conditions are favourable to him. Nelson, Nelson, where were you?

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Never could the absence of the man from a scene of action clearly designed for his drive and decision have been more painfully alive. And yet the action at Basque Roads has come to be regarded as a wasted opportunity, a bungled and confused affair. Years later, Napoleon wrote to an English correspondent that Cochrane "could not only have destroyed [the French ships],.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. War of the Fifth Coalition. See also: Order of battle at the Battle of the Basque Roads. See also: Court-martial of James, Lord Gambier. He not only threatened to resign the Navy if Cochrane was given command, but did so using "vehement and insulting language" within the hearing of other officers, telling Gambier that he "would go in with Tonnant , or any rotten old 74, to board the enemy's three-decked ship in Aix Road and bring her out".

He went on to remark to Cochrane and other officers that "I am no canting Methodist, no hypocrite, nor a psalm-singer.

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I do not cheat old women out of their estates by hypocrisy and canting". On 22 May he faced a court-martial for this conduct, and although he apologised to the court and to Gambier personally and claimed he spoke only from "an excess of zeal for the service", he was dismissed from the Navy. The London Gazette. Laughton , Retrieved 10 October Namespaces Article Talk. Views Read Edit View history.

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