Battle of Quiberon Bay

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Battle of Quiberon Bay
Part of Seven Years' War
The Battle of Quiberon Bay, Nicholas Pocock, 1812. National Maritime Museum
Date 20 November 1759
Location Quiberon Bay, Bay of Biscay
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Result Decisive British victory[1]
 Great Britain  France
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Great Britain Sir Edward Hawke Kingdom of France Comte de Conflans
24 ships of the line
5 frigates
21 ships of the line
6 frigates
Casualties and losses
2 ships of the line wrecked,
400 killed.
6 ships of the line wrecked/destroyed,
1 ship captured,
2,500 killed/drowned.
Map of Quiberon Bay

The naval Battle of Quiberon Bay took place on 20 November 1759 during the Seven Years' War. It took place in Quiberon Bay, off the coast of France near St. Nazaire. The British Admiral Sir Edward Hawke with 24 ships of the line caught up with a French fleet with 21 ships of the line under Marshal de Conflans and, after hard fighting, sank, captured, or forced aground six of them and dispersed the rest, giving the Royal Navy one of its greatest victories, as part of the Annus Mirabilis of 1759. In French it is known as Bataille des Cardinaux.


During 1759, the British, under Hawke, maintained a close blockade on the French coast in the vicinity of Brest. In that year the French had made plans to invade England and Scotland, and had accumulated transports and troops around the Loire estuary. The defeat of the Mediterranean fleet at the Battle of Lagos in August made the invasion plans impossible, but Choiseul still contemplated a plan for Scotland, and so the fleet was ordered to escape the blockade and collect the transports assembled in the Gulf of Morbihan.

During the first week of November a westerly gale came up and, after three days, the ships of Hawke's blockade were forced to run for Torbay on the south coast of England. Robert Duff was left behind in Quiberon Bay, with a squadron of five 'fifties' (ships of the line with 50 cannons) and nine frigates to keep an eye on the transports.[2] In the meantime, a small squadron from the West Indies joined Conflans in Brest and, when an easterly wind came on the 14th, Conflans slipped out. He was sighted by HMS Actaeon which had remained on station off Brest despite the storms but which failed to rendezvous with Hawke, by HMS Juno & Swallow which tried to warn Duff but were apparently chased off by the French, and by the victualler Love and Unity returning from Quiberon, which sighted the French fleet at 2pm on the 15th, 70 miles west of Belle-Isle.[3] She met Hawke the next day and he sailed hard for Quiberon into a SSE gale. Meanwhile, HMS Vengeance had arrived in Quiberon Bay the night before to warn Duff and he had put his squadron to sea in the teeth of a WNW gale.[4]


Having struggled with unfavourable winds, Conflans had slowed down on the night of the 19th in order to arrive at Quiberon at dawn. 20 miles off Belleisle he sighted seven of Duff's squadron.[4] Once he realised that this was not the main British fleet, he gave chase. Duff split his ships to the north and south, with the French van and centre in pursuit, whilst the rearguard held off to windward to watch some strange sails appearing from the west.[5] The French broke off the pursuit but were still scattered as Hawke's fleet came into sight.[5] HMS Magnanime sighted the French at 8.30[4] and Hawke gave the signal for line abreast.[5]

Tracks of English and French fleets

Conflans was faced with a choice, to fight in his current disadvantageous position in high seas and a "very violent" WNW wind, or take up a defensive position in Quiberon Bay and dare Hawke to come into the labyrinth of shoals and reefs.[6] About 9am Hawke gave the signal for general chase along with a new signal for the first 7 ships to form a line ahead and, in spite of the weather and the dangerous waters, set full sail.[7] By 2.30 Conflans rounded Les Cardinaux, the rocks at the end of the Quiberon peninsula that give the battle its name in French. The first shots were heard as he did so, although Sir John Bentley in Warspite claimed that they were fired without his orders.[8] However the British were starting to overtake the rear of the French fleet even as their van and centre made it to the safety of the bay.

Just before 4pm the battered Formidable surrendered to the Resolution, just as Hawke himself rounded The Cardinals.[9] Meanwhile, Thésée lost her duel with HMS Torbay and foundered, Superbe capsized, and the badly damaged Héros struck her flag to Viscount Howe[9] before running aground on the Four Shoal during the night.

Meanwhile, the wind shifted to the NW, further confusing Conflans' half-formed line as they tangled together in the face of Hawke's daring pursuit. Conflans tried unsuccessfully to resolve the muddle, but in the end decided to put to sea again. His flagship, Soleil Royal, headed for the entrance to the bay just as Hawke was coming in on Royal George. Hawke saw an opportunity to rake Soleil Royal, but Intrépide interposed herself and took the fire.[10] Meanwhile, Soleil Royal had fallen to leeward and was forced to run back and anchor off Croisic, away from the rest of the French fleet. By now it was about 5pm and darkness had fallen, so Hawke made the signal to anchor.[10]

During the night eight French ships managed to do what Soleil Royal had failed to do, to navigate through the shoals to the safety of the open sea, and escape to Rochefort.[11] Seven ships and the frigates were in the Villaine estuary (just off the map above, to the east), but Hawke dared not attack them in the stormy weather.[11] The French jettisoned their guns and gear and used the rising tide and northwesterly wind to escape over the sandbar at the bottom of the Villaine river.[11] One of these ships was wrecked, and the remaining six were trapped throughout 1760 by a blockading British squadron and only later managed to break out and reach Brest in 1761/1762. [12] The badly damaged Juste was lost as she made for the Loire, 150 of her crew surviving the ordeal,[13] and Resolution grounded on the Four Shoal during the night.

Battle of Quiberon Bay: the Day After
Richard Wright 1760

Soleil Royal tried to escape to the safety of the batteries at Croisic, but Essex pursued her with the result that both were wrecked on the Four Shoal beside Heros.[11] On the 22nd the gale moderated, and three of Duff's ships were sent to destroy the beached ships. Conflans set fire to Soleil Royal while the British burnt Heros,[11] as seen in the right of Richard Wright's painting. Hawke tried to attack the ships in the Villaine with fireboats, but to no effect.[10]


The power of the French fleet was broken, and would not recover before the war was over; in the words of Alfred Thayer Mahan (The Influence of Sea Power upon History), "The battle of 20 November 1759 was the Trafalgar of this war, and [...] the English fleets were now free to act against the colonies of France, and later of Spain, on a grander scale than ever before". For instance, the French could not follow up their victory at the land Battle of Sainte-Foy in what is now Canada in 1760 for want of reinforcements and supplies from France, and so Quiberon Bay may be regarded as the battle that determined the fate of New France and hence Canada. Hawke's commission was extended and followed by a peerage (allowing him and his heirs to speak in the House of Lords) in 1776.

France experienced a credit crunch as financiers recognised that Britain could now strike at will against French trade.[14] The French government was forced to default on its debt.[14]

Order of battle


Battle of Quiberon Bay by Richard Perret
Name Guns Commander Men Notes
First Division
Soleil Royal 80 Capt. B. de Chasac 950 Flagship of Marquis de Conflans – Aground and burnt
Orient 80 Capt. N. de la Filière 750 Flagship of Chevalier de Guébridant Budes – Escaped to Rochefort
Glorieux 74 Villars de la Brosse 650 Escaped to the Vilaine, blockaded there until April, 1762[12]
Robuste 74 Fragnier de Vienne 650 Escaped to the Vilaine, blockaded there until 1761, returned to Brest in January, 1762[12]
Dauphin Royal 70 Chevalier d'Uturbie Fragosse 630 Escaped to Rochefort
Dragon 64 Vassor de la Touche 450 Escaped to the Vilaine, blockaded there until January, 1761[12]
Solitaire 64 Vicomte de Langle 450 Escaped to Rochefort
Second Division
Tonnant 80 Capt. St Victoret 800 Flagship of Chevalier de Beauffremont – Escaped to Rochefort
Intrépide 74 Chastologer 650 Escaped to Rochefort
Thésée 74 Kersaint de Coetnempren 650 Foundered
Superbe 70 Montalais 630 Sunk by Royal George
Northumberland 64 Belingant de Kerbabut 450 Escaped to Rochefort
Eveillé 64 Prévalais de la Roche 450 Escaped to the Vilaine, blockaded there until 1761, returned to Brest in January, 1762[12]
Brillant 64 Keremar Boischateau 450 Escaped to the Vilaine, blockaded there until January, 1761[12]
Third Division
Formidable 80 Capt. St André 800 Flagship of De Saint André du Vergé – Taken by Resolution
Magnifique 74 Bigot de Morogues 650 Escaped to Rochefort
Héros 74 Vicomte de Sanzay 650 Surrendered, but ran aground next day during heavy weather, burnt
Juste 70 François de Saint Aloüarn 630 Wrecked in the Loire
Inflexible 64 Tancrede 540 Lost at the entrance to the Vilaine
Sphinx 64 Goyon 450 Escaped to the Vilaine, blockaded there until April, 1762[12]
Bizarre 64 Prince de Montbazon 450 Escaped to Rochefort
Frigates and corvettes
Hébé 40 300 Returned to Brest
Aigrette 36 Escaped to the Vilaine
Vestale 34 254 Escaped to the Vilaine
Calypso 16 Escaped to the Vilaine
Prince Noir/Noire Escaped to the Vilaine
Vengeance ?


HMS Royal George, Hawke's flagship at Quiberon Bay - Replica of walrus ivory
Name Guns Commander Men Notes
Royal George 100 Captain John Campbell 880 Flagship of Sir Edward Hawke
Union 90 Captain John Evans 770 Flagship of Sir Charles Hardy
Duke 80 Samuel Graves 800
Namur 90 Matthew Buckle 780
Mars 74 Commodore James Young 600
Warspite 74 Sir John Bentley 600
Hercules 74 William Fortescue 600
Torbay 74 Augustus Keppel 600
Magnanime 74 Viscount Howe 600
Resolution 74 Henry Speke 600 Wrecked on Le Four shoal
Hero 74 George Edgcumbe 600
Swiftsure 70 Sir Thomas Stanhope 520
Dorsetshire 70 Peter Denis 520
Burford 70 James Gambier 520
Chichester 70 William Saltren Willet 520
Temple 70 Washington Shirley 520
Essex 64 Lucius O'Brien 480 Wrecked on Le Four shoal
Revenge 64 John Storr 480
Montague 60 Joshua Rowley 400
Kingston 60 Thomas Shirley 400
Intrepid 60 Jervis Maplesden 400
Dunkirk 60 Robert Digby 420
Defiance 60 Patrick Baird 420
Rochester 50 Robert Duff 350
HMS Portland 50 Mariot Arbuthnot 350
HMS Falkland 50 Francis Samuel Drake 350
Chatham 50 John Lockhart 350
Venus 36 Thomas Harrison 240
Minerva 32 Alexander Hood 220
Sapphire 32 John Strachan 220
Vengeance 28 Gamaliel Nightingale 200
Coventry 28 Francis Burslem 200
Maidstone 28 Dudley Digges 200


HMAS Quiberon was a destroyer named in memory of the battle of Quiberon Bay. She served in the Royal Navy and then the Royal Australian Navy. Quiberon was launched in 1942 and saw operations in World War II. She was decommissioned in 1964.[15]


  1. Syrett (ed.). The Royal Navy in European Waters During the American Revolutionary War. p. 59.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Corbett, Julian S. (1907), England In The Seven Years War vol II, Longmans Green, p. 50<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Corbett pp52-3
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Corbett p59
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Corbett p60
  6. Corbett p61
  7. Corbett pp63-4
  8. Corbett p65
  9. 9.0 9.1 Corbett p66
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Corbett p67
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Corbett p68
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 O. Troude, Batailles navales de la France, Volume 1 [1]
  13. N°3 (printemps 2009) - Le Pouliguen
  14. 14.0 14.1 Corbett p72
  15. Cassells, Vic (2000). The Destroyers: their battles and their badges. East Roseville, New South Wales: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7318-0893-2. OCLC 46829686.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Sources and references

  • Charnock, John Esq., Biographia Navalis, Vols.5 & 6 (London 1798)
  • Clowes, W.L. (ed.). The Royal Navy; A History, from the Earliest Times to the Present, Volume III. (London 1898).
  • Jenkins, E.H. A History of the French Navy (London 1973).
  • Mackay, R.F. Admiral Hawke (Oxford 1965).
  • Marcus, G. Quiberon Bay; The Campaign in Home Waters, 1759 (London, 1960).
  • Syrett, David (1998). The Royal Navy in European Waters During the American Revolutionary War. Univ of South Carolina Press. ISBN 9781570032387.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tunstall, Brian and Tracy, Nicholas (ed.). Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail. The Evolution of Fighting Tactics, 1650-1815 (London, 1990).

External links