Thomas Cochrane and the Battle of the Basque Roads, April 1809

Every Man Will Do His Duty,

Thomas Cochrane and the Battle of the Basque Roads

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Lord Cochrane, The Tenth Earl of Dundonald.[1]

“His courage, ingenuity and resource have never been surpassed: neither, unfortunately, has his lack of tact. His ship’s companies appear to have loved him, but he had a genius for fighting his superiors as well as the French…”[2]

“… the idea that the service as a whole was enthused by ‘the Nelson touch’ is far from correct, as the lethargic attack upon the French fleet in the Basque roads in 1809 demonstrated. Lord Cochrane, the hero of the debacle, was disgusted that more enemy ships were not destroyed by a fleet that played it safe. At stake, he believed, was that vital potency that Nelson had bequeathed. ‘If,’ he wrote after a court martial had acquitted his commander-in-chief, ‘the anticipation of possible danger is to awe a British fleet, when the enemy is within its reach, and by an effort of no uncommon enterprise might be destroyed, we must take our farewell of those gallant exploits … that have thrown a luster over the annals of our country.’”[3]

Thomas Cochrane was a firebrand frigate commander and master of littoral warfare. Known for his antagonistic responses to authority, Cochrane’s naval career became intensely political. In addition to speaking against government corruption as an MP, Cochrane led the naval efforts of the revolutionary Chilean, Brazilian and Greek causes.

Cochrane’s uncompromising approach to warfare, and the controversial fruits it tended to bear, is best illustrated by the case of the Basque Roads, 11-15 April 1809.

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Cochrane’s recruitment poster for HMS Pallas.[4] Note Cochrane’s inflated gun count which likely included carronades.

In 1804, Cochrane was appointed commander of HMS Pallas of 32 guns, and sent to cruise the Azores for Spanish shipping. His fortune quickly secured by a number of successful prize captures, Cochrane turned to politics and stood for parliament in the summer of 1806. After the application of liberal bribes, Cochrane was elected in October as MP for the rotten borough of Honiton.[5] In May 1807 he was elected as an independent representative for Westminster.

In the House of Commons, Cochrane’s advocacy for reform resulted in a hasty return to sea. With the Mediterranean fleet under Lord Collingwood, Cochrane was made captain of HMS Imperieuse. In January 1808 he was given a roving commission to intercept and harass the enemy as opportunity afforded.

Cochrane’s success during this phase of his career, described by Arthur Herman as “the single most valuable commission in Royal Navy history”,[6] led to Cochrane’s selection by First Lord of the Admiralty Mulgrave to advise on the raid planned for the Basque Roads where a large French squadron was being massed.

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Admiral of the Fleet, James Baron Gambier.[7]

Admiral Lord Gambier, Channel Fleet commander, was responsible for the blockade of the Basque Roads forces. Gambier was a distinguished battleship commander, notable for being the first to break the enemy line at the Glorious First of June as Captain of HMS Defence.[8] Made Baron following the bombardment and capture of the Danish Fleet at the Second Battle of Copenhagen, Gambier, with knowledge of blockade and siege tactics, was a natural choice for Channel Fleet command.

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Location of the battle.[9]

Nevertheless, First Lord Mulgrave was disappointed with Gambier’s sluggish persecution of the reduction of the Basque Roads force. The difficulty of attacking the inner anchorage, combined with Gambier’s lethargy, prompted Mulgrave to seek outside solutions.[10] Cochrane was brought in to move things along.

Cochrane arrived at the Admiralty in March 1809 and prepared a plan of attack involving the use of fireships. Gambier considered the dispatch of Cochrane to assist him as unnecessary and at the worst, insubordinate. Furthermore, Gambier was distrustful of Cochrane’s plan of attack with fireships.[11] When Cochrane arrived with the Channel Fleet, although greeted “warmly” by Gambier, Cochrane sensed resentment from the other Channel Fleet captains, wary of the outsider brought in over their heads by the Admiralty.[12]

Gambier’s force was powerful. The fleet comprised the, “120-gun Caledonia, two 80-gun ships, eight 74-gun ships, one 44-gun heavy frigate, four other frigates, three sloops, seven gun brigs, three smaller craft,” in addition to the Congreve rocket-ships, twenty fireships, four explosion ships, and two bomb vessels.[13] The explosion ships were packed with 1500 lbs of gunpowder and fitted with rockets.[14]

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Plan of attack, showing location of French ships.[15]

British Order of Battle:

Caledonia (120), Caesar (80), Gibraltar (80), Donegal (74), Bellona (74), Hero (74), Illustrious (74), Resolution (74), Revenge (74), Theseus (74), Valiant (74), Imperieuse (38), Aigle (36), Unicorn (32), Pallas (32), Indefatigable (44), Emerald (36), Mediator (32), Beagle (18), Doterel (18), Foxhound (18), Insolent (14), Encounter (12), Conflict (12), Contest (12), Fervent (12), Growler (12), Lyra (10), Redpole (10), Whiting (4 – fitted as rocket ship), Nimrod (10 – fitted as rocket ship), King George (10 – fitted as rocket ship), Thunder (8) (bomb), Ætna (8) (bomb), 20 fireships, 3 Congreve rocket barges.

The French force was under the command of Admiral Zacharie Jacques Allemand and moored in two lines with a frigate screen: “Elbe (40 guns), Tourville (74), Aquilon (74), Jemmappes (74), Patriote (74), and Tonnere (74); a center line, of the ships Calcutta (troopship), Cassard (74) Regulus (74), Ocean (120), Ville de Varsovie (80), and Foudroyant (80); and an outer line, of the ships Pallas (40), Hortense (40), and Indienne (40).” Backing this force were 2000 troops manning shore batteries (it was these batteries that particularly concerned Gambier).[16] Furthermore, Allemand had positioned his ships in staggered moorage such that the lines could fire through each other without risk.[17]

Gambier had dispatched the Unicorn to investigate the harbour on March 27, however Gambier’s information was sorely deficient, “at best a perfunctory examination.” Cochrane thus spent April 3rd and 5th gathering intelligence on the state of the defences personally, reporting back to Gambier.[18] Cochrane’s reconnaissance suggested no more than a dozen cannon and mortar in the Ile d’Aix battery, possibly as many as twenty. Gambier was convinced the battery’s strength was closer to 50 guns.[19] More significantly, Cochrane’s close reconnaissance indicated that the guns were in poor condition. In fact, the batteries were manned by conscripts.[20]

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Fireships attack the Regulus, night of 11 April 1809. Drawing by Louis-Philippe Crepin.[21]

The fireships arrived on 10 April, along with HMS Beagle, and William Congreve himself, aboard the Cleveland.[22] Orders were issued for the night of the 11th.[23]

Allemand was by now aware of the fireships and the likely British plan of attack and prepared defenses: ships boats were placed in the water to tow away the fireships, and sails were reduced to minimize flammable material.[24]

Cochrane personally led the fireship attack at the Basque Roads on the night of 11 April, beginning at 8:30 pm.[25] Two of the explosion vessels were moved into position. At 9:30 Cochrane ordered the fuses lit. Cochrane and his skeleton crew then took to boats and returned to Imperieuse.[26]

The first ships possibly damaged the 2 mile wide harbor boom (a chain of anchor cable) that covered the harbour entrance, however it was actually cleared by HMS Mediator as it led the fireship assault.[27]

Next the fireships attacked, launching rockets as they closed with the anchored fleet.

Many of the fireships failed to get into position or were grounded. The bomb vessel Aetna threw its shells against the enemy batteries, and was supported by rockets and the distant broadsides of Imperieuse, Unicorn, Pallas, and Aigle. The general scene was one of chaos with ships ramming one another and fireships burning in the anchorage.

As dawn broke on the morning of 12 April, 1809, Cochrane saw that the French fleet had in part been immobilized, with some warships run-a-ground completely. Only the Foudroyant and Cassard remained afloat and mobile.

The French forces thus immobilized, Cochrane, at 6 am, signaled for support. He was refused it by Gambier who delayed until the tide had risen, and around 10 am closed to three miles from the harbor. There he anchored, ordering only the Aetna and some other bomb ships to continue the engagement.[28] Meanwhile, the French fleet was slowly regaining its mobility, a combination of rising tide, lighter ships (by throwing their guns overboard) and the tireless efforts of the crews to warp the ships back into deep water.

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Destruction of the French Fleet in Basque Roads – April 12th 1809

Imperieuse (38) engages the enemy singlehanded.

Infuriated, after 12 pm, Cochrane brought the Imperieuse in alone and engaged the enemy’s warships about 1 pm. He was engaged singlehanded against the Calcutta, Aquilon, and Ville de Varsovie. Between 1:30 and 1:45 Cochrane repeatedly signaled for assistance.

Cochrane described his predicament in his autobiography, “I did not venture to make sail, lest the movement might be seen from the flagship, and a signal of recall should defeat my purpose of making an attack; the object of this being to compel the commander-in-chief to send vessels to our assistance, in which case I knew their captains would at once attack the [French] ships which had not been allowed to heave off and escape.”[29]

Finally recognizing Cochrane’s intentions, Gambier dispatched additional ships to assist (two ships of the line and seven frigates). Seeing the approach of the Channel Fleet, the three ships engaged by the Imperieuse surrendered one by one, the last at 5:30. The Calcutta was set afire and exploded, and the Aquilon was likewise set afire by the British, an operation during which Cochrane was nearly killed: “He was assisting the captain of the Aquilon to retrieve some personal effects from his ship before it was fired, and was seated in a gig when it was struck by a stray shot. Ironically, the only casualty was the French captain,” who was mortally wounded.[30]

The Tonnerre was set afire by its own crew to prevent captured and exploded shortly thereafter. At 10 pm, Cochrane dispatched a ship’s boat with the objective of conducting a rocket attack against the Ocean, although the attack was not made and the French flagship had in fact been abandoned.[31] Cochrane remained with the Aetna into the morning 13 April, still trying to conduct attacks against the Ocean. Later on the 13th, Cochrane conducted another assault against Ocean with all the light ships he could muster, Beagle, Aetna, Conflict, Contest, Encounter, Fervent, Growler, Whiting, Nimrod, and King George. [32]

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Louis-Philippe Crepin’s depiction of Allemand’s force is disarray on 12 April 1809, showing Regulus run aground.[33]

Gambier instructed Cochrane to abandon his efforts and return to the flagship. Cochrane refused, carrying on with his efforts to destroy as many of the enemy warships as possible. Using his adhoc group of bomb and rocket ships, Cochrane was preparing to continue the battle on the morning of the 14th when Gambier again ordered him to the flagship. Cochrane was ordered to carry dispatches back to England, for which he departed on the morning of the 15th.[34]

In sum the French lost four warships and a frigate out of the 11 ships of the line originally in the anchorage.[35] Most of the surviving ships had lost their guns and over 200 crewmen were killed with 650 taken prisoner.[36] The Royal Navy suffered 10 men killed, 1 captured and 37 wounded.[37]

“The French government treated this disaster harshly. The French commanders were tried by court-martial; two were imprisoned, and Captain Jean Baptiste Lafon of the Calcutta was condemned and shot”.

Years later from St. Helena, Napoleon complained, “The French admiral was an imbecile… but yours was just as bad. I assure you that if Cochrane had been supported, he would have taken every one of the ships.”[38]

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Cartoon satirizing Gambier for his hesitancy, with Cochrane eager to attack at right.[39]

Nevertheless, Gambier’s hesitancy had apparently lost what Cochrane considered a great opportunity to destroy the entire French squadron. Cochrane was “disgusted at the failure to exploit the success at the Aix Roads and to annihilate the enemy, as would have been expected of him by Horatio Nelson.”[40]

In the resulting Court Martial, Gambier was acquitted and Cochrane found guilty of libel. Cochrane returned to parliament and spoke out against the Admiralty on charges of corruption. Cochrane’s return to sea, this time with the North American Squadron, was waylaid by an unfortunate turn of events. In 1814, as a result of a stock manipulation scandal (involving futures purchased on fraudulent claims of Napoleon’s death), Cochrane was struck from the Navy list and then expelled from the Commons on 5 July and then actually imprisoned until July 1815. In this affair it seems possible that Cochrane had been setup by his rivals at court.[41] On the other hand, Cochrane’s guilt in this affair remains a possibility.[42]

After returning to Parliament to continue his political career, Cochrane in May 1817 accepted the offer of the Chilean government to assist in the development of the revolutionary navy against Spain. He arrived in Valparaiso on 28 November 1818. Recognizing the serious threat Cochrane presented to Spanish interests, the government of Spain had attempted to buy-off Cochrane before his departure.

In 1820 Cochrane became involved in a Chilean project to liberate Peru, during which he antagonized the Chilean and Spanish governments: the latter by capturing the last Spanish warship in the South Pacific, and the former by capturing the newly appointed Chilean “protector” of Peru’s treasury when payment to his sailors was refused.[43] Cochrane also became involved in the Brazilian and Greek revolutions. Cochrane became Earl of Dundonald on 1 July 1831 after the death of his father, and was restored to the Royal Navy with rank of Rear Admiral and with a general pardon by William IV in May 1832. Cochrane was made Admiral on 21 March 1851.

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Albumen print of Cochrane, 1850s.[44]

Cochrane died on 31 October 1860. Cochrane was immortalized as the developer of the Chilean Navy, a debt Chile repaid through the legacy of his name.

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Chilean dreadnought Almirante Cochrane as requisitioned aircraft carrier HMS Eagle.[45]

Likely the definitive modern source on Cochrane’s early career is John Sugden’s 1981 PhD Thesis for the University of Sheffield, “Lord Cochrane, Naval Commander, Radical, Inventor (1775-1860)”, described by Nicholas Rodger as a “sober and critical life of Cochrane: a marvel indeed, but unfortunately unpublished.”[46] Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, it is freely available here.[47]

[1] http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/108718.html

[2] Naval Review, review of Review of “Life of a Seaman. Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald.,” by E. G. Twitchett, The Naval Review 20, no. 2 (1932): 405.

[3] John Sugden, Nelson: The Sword of Albion (London: The Bodley Head, 2012)., p. 852

[4] J. R. Hill and Bryan Ranft, eds., The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy (Frome, Somerset: Oxford University Press, 1995)., p. 147

[5] Andrew Lambert, “Cochrane, Thomas, Tenth Earl of Dundonald (1775-1860),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, January 2012).

[6] Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2004)., p. 401

[7] http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/107615.html

[8] Herman, To Rule the Waves., p. 401

[9] http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/Basque_Roads.svg

[10] John Sugden, “Lord Cochrane, Naval Commander, Radical, Inventor (1775-1860): A Study of His Earlier Career, 1775-1818” (PhD, University of Sheffield, 1981)., p. 112

[11] http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/navalbattles1800s/p/Napoleonic-Wars-Battle-Of-The-Basque-Roads.htm

[12] http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/navalbattles1800s/p/Napoleonic-Wars-Battle-Of-The-Basque-Roads.htm; N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006)., p. 555

[13] http://ageofsail.devhub.com/blog/774372-rockets-attack-on-basque-roads-1114-april-1809/

[14] Lambert, “Cochrane, Thomas, Tenth Earl of Dundonald (1775-1860).”

[15] Sugden, “Lord Cochrane, Naval Commander, Radical, Inventor (1775-1860): A Study of His Earlier Career, 1775-1818.”, between pages 113-4

[16] http://ageofsail.devhub.com/blog/774372-rockets-attack-on-basque-roads-1114-april-1809/ ; Ibid., p. 116

[17] Ibid., p. 113

[18] Ibid., p. 117

[19] Ibid., p. 117

[20] Ibid., p. 120

[21] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Regulus_under_attack_by_British_fireships_August_11_1809.jpg

[22] Sugden, “Lord Cochrane, Naval Commander, Radical, Inventor (1775-1860): A Study of His Earlier Career, 1775-1818.”, p. 123

[23] Ibid., p. 124

[24] http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/navalbattles1800s/p/Napoleonic-Wars-Battle-Of-The-Basque-Roads.htm

[25] http://ageofsail.devhub.com/blog/774372-rockets-attack-on-basque-roads-1114-april-1809/

[26] http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/navalbattles1800s/p/Napoleonic-Wars-Battle-Of-The-Basque-Roads.htm

[27] Sugden, “Lord Cochrane, Naval Commander, Radical, Inventor (1775-1860): A Study of His Earlier Career, 1775-1818.”, p. 126

[28] http://ageofsail.devhub.com/blog/774372-rockets-attack-on-basque-roads-1114-april-1809/

[29] Sam Willis, Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2008)., p. 160

[30] Sugden, “Lord Cochrane, Naval Commander, Radical, Inventor (1775-1860): A Study of His Earlier Career, 1775-1818.”, p. 134

[31] Ibid., p. 136

[32] Ibid., p. 137

[33] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Regulus_stranded_on_the_shoals_of_Les_Palles_August_12_1809.jpg

[34] Sugden, “Lord Cochrane, Naval Commander, Radical, Inventor (1775-1860): A Study of His Earlier Career, 1775-1818.”, p. 138

[35] N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006)., p. 556

[36] Sugden, “Lord Cochrane, Naval Commander, Radical, Inventor (1775-1860): A Study of His Earlier Career, 1775-1818.”, p. 138

[37] Ibid., p. 119

[38] Ibid., p. 139

[39] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sternhold_and_Hopkins_at_Sea_or_a_Slave_out_of_Time.jpg

[40] Lambert, “Cochrane, Thomas, Tenth Earl of Dundonald (1775-1860).”

[41] Ibid.

[42] Naval Review, review of Review of “Life of a Seaman. Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald.,” by E. G. Twitchett, The Naval Review 20, no. 2 (1932): 405.

[43] Lambert, “Cochrane, Thomas, Tenth Earl of Dundonald (1775-1860).”

[44] http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw148125/Thomas-Cochrane-10th-Earl-of-Dundonald?LinkID=mp61959

[45] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HMS_Eagle_underway_1930s.jpeg

[46] Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., p. 852

[47] http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/3466/1/290354.pdf

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Nelson’s Touch: Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers, 1816

Nelson’s Touch: Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers, 1816

The Nelson Touch: noun, “a masterly or sympathetic approach to a problem.”1

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Admiral of the Blue, Sir Edward Pellew, Lord Exmouth.2

Sir Edward Pellew, Baron Exmouth, was C-in-C Mediterranean fleet in 1816: considered the “most brilliant frigate commander of the age” with a litany of achievements during the Napoleonic Wars.3 Pellew was 59 in 1816.4 First promoted to Captain at the age of 25 during the American Revolution, Pellew was a rising star in the Royal Navy, known as a gunnery specialist and a naval disciplinarian.5 A favourite of Chanel Fleet C-in-C, John Jervis (later First Sea Lord Earl St. Vincent) Pellew was given independent command during the blockade of Brest, where he excelled.6 Between 1804-9 Pellew commanded in the East Indies.7 Upon return to England in 1811 he was asked for choice of command and naturally selected the Mediterranean- where during the denouement of the Napoleonic Wars he covered Toulon.8 His command of the Mediterranean renewed in 1815, Exmouth remained C-in-C Mediterranean through 1816.

The bombardment of Algiers was ultimately justified as necessary to enforce the release of Christians enslaved there, significantly the new British subjects of the Ionian islands.9 As ordered Pellew was first to “call” at Tunis and Tripoli in March 1816.10 The Dey, the leading Algerian potentate backed by the Ottoman Janissary Crops, agreed to release any British prisoners and to ransom Christian Italian and Spanish slaves.11 Exmouth pressed to arrange the same deal the Tunisians and Tripolitanians had agreed to: in future, Christians captured would be treated as POWs rather than slaves.12 The Dey, whose income was at least partially reliant on the ransom of “slaves” could not agree to this.13

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Medal commemorating the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, 1807. Intended to deter Arabic speaking slave traders.14

A detailed account of the events leading up to the bombardment was provided by Pellew’s great-great- grandson for The Naval Review in 1966 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle.15

The C-in-C had only limited success in arranging the release of Christian slaves during his first visit to the Algerian port in 1815.16 The Admiral, however, aware of the recent international arrangements at Vienna, knew that the British foreign secretary, Lord Castlereagh, had arranged to make the international slave-trade formally illegal. Unfortunately there was no political mechanism beyond the Royal Navy for enforcement.17 Exmouth was not certain how the reactionary Tory Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, would negotiate concerning a unilateral movement against Algiers, so Exmouth returned to England to seek clarification.18 It turned out Liverpool’s government was as resolute in foreign policy as it was reactionary in public policy19 and thus with carte blanche asked Pellew for his requirements. The Admiralty’s expectation, based on Nelson’s dictum that ten sail-of-the-line was the smallest contingent reasonable for such an operation, was confounded when Exmouth requested only “five or six” battleships and “as many” frigates and bomb vessels.20 In fact, Exmouth had good intelligence from one of his frigate captains, Captain Ware, concerning the structure of the Algiers harbour and was aware that a few shallow draft ships would be more suited than a larger fleet contingent.21

Exmouth’s picked squadron sailed from Plymouth on 28 July composed of the following warships:

Queen Charlotte (100 guns, flagship, flag-captain James Brisbane), Impregnable, (98, rear-admiral of the blue David Milne, flag-captain Edward Brace), Superb (74, captain Charles Ekins), Minden (74, William Paterson), Albion (74, John Coode), Leander, (50, Edward Chetham), Severn (40, Frederick Aylmer), Glasgow (40, Anthony Maitland), Granicus (36, William Wise), and the Herbus (36, Edward Palmer).22 The British assault compliment was five brigs and four bomb vessels: the Beelzebub, Fury, Hecla and Infernal.23

 capellen

Baron Theodorus Frederik van Capellen.24

Exmouth was reinforced by Dutch Vice-Admiral Baron Frederik van de Cappellen’s squadron at Gibraltar. The Dutch Admiral’s force added six warships, four 40 gun frigates, a 30 gun frigate and an 18 gun ship.25

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Cartographic map of the Algiers fortification complex with attack positions, showing the mole and inner harbour.26

The Algerian defences covering the harbour were formidable: in stone fortified positions around a shallow littoral there were emplaced 318 cannon firing various weight of naval ball (many in double or triple tiers, or batteries), eight mortars, and two long barrelled 68 lb heavy guns. These defences were flanked by additional cannon along the coast and supported by positions on the heights behind the city, the total number of cannon in excess of 1,000, manned by 4,000 Algerians.27

These fortified positions were supported by the entire Algerian fleet, positioned in the inner harbour and composed of nine large vessels (frigates and corvettes) and “nearly 50 gunboats”.28

The combined British and Dutch force arrived on 27 August 1816.29 Exmouth sent in shore parties under flag of truce to present ultimatums. The Algerian government was to release the British consul- then held hostage- as well as all other European prisoners, and to abolish Christian slavery.30 With an expectation of rejection amidst a burning desire to bring the enemy action, only two hours were allowed for a response.31

 attackplan

The plan of attack was minimalist but careful.32 Exmouth intended to concentrate against the mole: the enemy strongpoint covering the anchored fleet and destroy both.33 Each ship was provided with a copy of Captain Ware’s earlier reconnaissance and instructions of the position the C-in-C intended to occupy.34 Extensive firing practice and a novel gunsight aided preparation.35

Forming a perpendicular line, the battleships would shell the entrance to the inner harbour, with the Dutch frigates covering the city batteries. Bomb vessels would throw their shells and rockets from 2,000 yards, with the gunboats in support.36

Exmouth did not waste time, taking advantage of favourable wind, Leander led the first detachment followed by Queen Charlotte, Implacable and Superb, towards the heavily fortified “mole” position at 1435 hours. Apparently, the Algerians at this point opened fire. Exmouth immediately retaliated, ordering firing.37

Bombardment_of_Algiers_1816_by_Chambers (1)

George Chambers 1836 painting of the bombardment, showing the destruction of the inner harbour warships.38

Essentially, the fleet formed into perpendicular line, dropped anchors, and proceeded to obliterate the Algerian positions from ranges as short as 80 or 50 yards. Queen Charlotte poured in 50 gun broadsides, after three salvos completely demolishing the fortifications opposite.39 Leander closed with the Algerian frigates covering the entrance to the inner harbour, pinning their crews with overwhelming fire, while simultaneously engaging batteries opposite, despite suffering heavy casualties as a result.40 At 1600 hours Pellew dispatched Lieutenant Richards in one of Queen Charlotte‘s boats to set fire to the Algerian frigate covering the entrance to the inner harbour. Two Royal Navy seaman were killed in the process but the task was accomplished.41

HMS Impregnable, unable to close range, was firing from a distance with heavier guns but suffering serious casualties.42 At 1630 hours Admiral Milne requested support from Exmouth.43 Pellew dispatched the Glasgow to draw fire, but due to the now prevailing calm weather was unable to get into position.44

Meanwhile, the bomb vessels wrought deadly work to the Algerian’s anchored fleet in the inner harbour: by 1900 hours all of the Algerian gunboats were aflame and under continuous bomb and rocket attack.45

large (1)“The bombardment of Algiers, 27 August 1816” also showing Algerian frigate aflame.46 Note high angle bomb and rocket attacks.

The bombardment lasted nine hours,47 The general conflagration caused by the burning Algerian navy spread to the surrounding town as the bombardment continued into the evening. At 2200, with the enemy’s positions either totally destroyed or on fire (and the expedition ships running low on ammunition) Exmouth signalled that the fleet was to cut its cables and move out to sea.48 The fleet reformed at 0200 on 28 August out of range of any surviving batteries.49

Over 800 casualties were suffered by the Royal Navy, with 128 killed: a 16% casualty rate.50 Queen Charlotte had eight killed, 131 wounded. Impregnable 50 killed 160 wounded. Superb eight killed 84 wounded (including Captain Ekins). Minden seven killed, 35 wounded. Albion three killed, 16 wounded (including Captain Coode). Leander 17 killed and 118 wounded. Severn three killed and 34 wounded. Glasgow 10 killed and 37 wounded. Garnicus 16 killed and 40 wounded. Herbus, four killed and 17 wounded. Infernal had two killed and 17 wounded. The Dutch had 13 killed and 52 wounded.51

 medal1

Medal made between 1816 and 1820 commemorating the bombardment, with Exmouth’s bust on obverse (not shown).52

Exmouth’s flag-captain, James Brisbane met with the Dey of Algiers on 29 August during which, with the Algerian port defences still smouldering around, the Dey agreed to the expedition’s demands.53 Money changed hands, including large sums to compensate the British consul for loss of property and to Naples and Sicily for repatriating their former slaves, of which 1,200 Christians were freed.54

Admiral Pellew returned to England on 3 September and was shortly thereafter made Viscount.55 Amidst the numerous decorations and promotions handed out, Rear-Admiral Milne was knighted as Knight Commander and Captains Ekins, Aylmer, Wise, Maitland, Paterson and Coode were made Knight Companions.56

Memory of the devastation caused by the 1816 bombardment resulted in the absolution of a planned 1824 bombardment in advance of the Dey’s capitulation.57

exmouthSir Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, painted 1818.58

“Admiral Edward Pellew’s thundering subjugation of Algiers reaffirmed that Britannia was still very much the unrivalled mistress of the oceans.”59

3 Herman, To Rule The Waves, p 400; see also A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 319

4 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 319

5 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 319

6 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 320; Jervis described Pellew’s efforts during the aborted capture of Belle Ille as “the most masterly I ever saw”

7 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 320

8 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 320

9 <http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/14159.html>; Charles Rathbone Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, London: Routledge, 1872 <http://books.google.ca/books?id=slgBAAAAQAAJ>, p 430; A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 321

10 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 322

11 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 430;

12 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 321

13 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 322

15 A. P. P. [Pellew?], “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” in The Naval Review 54, no. 4 (1966): 318

16 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 322

17 Paul Kennedy, The Rise And Fall of British Naval Mastery, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976, p 165

18 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 430

19 Ramsay Muir, A Short History of the British Commonwealth, vol. ii, third edition, London: George Philip & Son, Ltd., 1924, p 325-6

20 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 431

21 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 321

22 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 5; A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 320

23 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 431; Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 5

25 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 431

27 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 431-2

28 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 432

29 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 431

30 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 432

31 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 432

32 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 323

33 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 322

34 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 324

35 A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 324

36 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 433

37 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 432

39 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 433

40 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 433-4

41 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 433

42 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 5

43 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 434

44 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 434

45 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 434

47 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 5

48 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 434; A. P. P., “Lord Exmouth and the Bombardment of Algiers” p 319

49 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 434

50 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 5; Andrew Lambert, “The Shield of Empire” in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy, edited by J. R. Hill and Bryan Ranft,,Oxford Illustrated Histories, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, p 167

51 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 434-5

53 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 435

54 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 435

55 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 435 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viscount_Exmouth>

56 Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, p 435

57 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 5

59 John Sugden, Nelson: The Sword of Albion, London: The Bodley Head, 2012, p 853