Master of the Seas of the Two Indies: the Naval Career of Admiral Sir George Pocock

national portrait gallery

Early 19th Century oil painting of Sir George Pocock, based on a c. 1761 painting by Thomas Hudson.

The Career of Admiral Sir George Pocock

A distant figure in our time, Sir George Pocock was a consummate naval officer, with victories in both the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, responsible in the latter for securing command of the Indian Ocean during 1759, and for Britain’s greatest maritime operation of the 18th century – the capture of Havana in 1762. Closely associated with controversial figures such as Lord Clive, John Byng and the Earl of Albemarle, Pocock was marginalized in the historiography during the 19th century in comparison to the towering figures of Anson, Rodney, Hawke and Boscawen. Pocock nevertheless played an integral role in several of Britain’s most important maritime operations and his well deserved reputation for courage, steadfastness and imperturbability encourage modern reappraisal.

The Young Gentleman

George Pocock was born on 6 March 1706 at Thames Ditton, Surrey, the son of the Reverend Thomas Pocock and his wife Joyce Master. Thomas was a Royal Navy chaplain who ministered to the Royal Hospital at Greenwich.[i]


HMS Superb, captured French Superbe of 1710, flagship of Admiral George Byng, Pocock’s first posting in 1718

Pocock’s naval career began in 1718 at the age of twelve when he joined HMS Superb (64), the captured French warship then the flagship of Admiral George Byng (Viscount Torrington) – himself married to one Margaret, Joyce’s sister. Superb’s flag captain was Streynsham Master, Pocock’s uncle. Pocock was accompanied to sea by his cousin John Byng (of eventual Minorca infamy) who was also beginning his career aboard the flagship of the Admiral, his father.[ii] Pocock’s path was thus smoothed by his close association with senior officers and his extended network of relatives and relations.

Both Byng and Pocock were aboard Superb when it fought at the battle at Cape Passaro, Sicily, 11 August 1718.[iii] From here Pocock spent three years aboard the hospital ship Looe and a further four years aboard the warships Prince Frederick (70) and Argyle (50).


HMS Namur, 90 gun 2nd rate in which Pocock was made First Lieutenant in August 1732.

The Portrait of a Naval Officer, from Lieutenant to Post Captain

Pocock made Lieutenant on 19 April 1725 (other sources say December 1726), and was stationed aboard HMS Burford (70), followed by Romney (54), and then Canterbury (60).[iv] Pocock was next appointed to HMS Namur (90) the flagship of Admiral Sir Charles Wager, and in August 1732 he was promoted to First Lieutenant. Pocock’s first command was the fireship Bridgewater, to which he was appointed on 26 February 1733.

1719 frigate.jpg

1719 establishment frigate similar to the 1727 rebuilt 20 gun 6th rate HMS Aldborough, Pocock’s first command in 1738.

Pocock made Commander in February 1734,[v] and after four years of service was promoted, on 1 August 1738 at the age of 32, to Post Captain with command of the frigate Aldborough (20), first built in Pocock’s birth-year of 1706, then rebuilt in 1727.[vi] Thus, Pocock was stationed in the Mediterranean under Rear Admiral Haddock. The squadron in which Pocock served secured several lucrative Spanish captures following the declaration of war in 1739.[vii] Pocock continued in the Mediterranean until 1741, and then he returned to England.


HMS Woolwich in 1677 as a 54 gun 4th rate, by Willem van de Velde, rebuilt in 1702 and again in 1736 as a 50 gun ship, to which Captain Pocock was appointed in 1742.

In August 1742, now 36, Pocock was appointed to the Woolwich (50), a heavily rebuilt 4th rate originally completed in 1675.[viii] He was transferred briefly to the Shrewsbury and then in 1744 (or January 1743) he was appointed to the Sutherland (50) a new 4th rate only three years out of the yards, in command of which he was despatched to the East Indies, convoying British East India Company (BEIC) ships. These 4th rates of the 1733 and 1741 establishment were designed by Sir Jacob Acworth, the Surveyor of the Navy between 1715-1749. Although plentifully armed,[ix] they were nevertheless under-gunned due to a shortage in heavier ordnance that prevailed in Britain during the 1730s, and have further been criticized as cramped and overly expensive.[x]


Lines of the ‘Sutherland’-type 50 gun 4th rates built in 1741, Pocock’s command in 1744.


Block model of HMS Preston a 1733 establishment 50 gun cruiser built in 1742. The 853 ton 4th rate was crewed by 300 men and equipped with 22 18-pounders, 26 12-pounders, 14 6-pounders on the quarterdeck and four 6-pounders on the forecastle.


Model of 50-gun cruiser circa 1725, similar to the newer Sutherland commanded by Captain Pocock in 1744.

Pocock was ordered to the African coast in October 1744, but his sailing from Plymouth was delayed due to trouble fitting and manning the Sutherland and the operation was not carried out until April 1745 (Pocock arrived at Madeira on the 27th of that month).[xi]


The eastern Caribbean during the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the principle convoy assembly points at Antigua (British – red), and Martinique (French – blue) circled.


Map of Antigua made in 1780 and drawn from late 1740s surveys, base of Britain’s Leeward Island Station during the 18th century

Pocock was eventually assigned to the Barbadoes and Leeward Islands station under Commodore Edward Legge, who had been appointed to the Leeward Island station command on 24 October 1746.[xii] The Sutherland, arrived at Antigua on 28 April 1747. Under Legge’s command, Pocock’s Sutherland was employed on trade defence, convoy protection and shipping interdiction missions, working with the other cruisers on station in pairs. Sutherland worked alongside HMS Captain (70), Suffolk (70), Dragon (60), Sunderland (60), Dreadnought (60), Gosport (44), and assorted frigates and sloops against the French convoys sailing from Martinique.[xiii]



Second Battle of Cape Finisterre, 14 (25) October 1747, Rear Admiral Hawke’s action scattered a large French convoy that proceeded to the West Indies where it was intercepted by Pocock’s Leeward Island’s squadron in November.

Pocock was thrust into command when Commodore Legge became seriously ill in August and then died on 18 or 19 September 1747 at the age of 37. Pocock, the senior captain, now succeeded Legge as C-in-C.[xiv] Pocock’s singular achievement came in November with the capture of a scattered French convoy, the result of Rear Admiral Hawke’s action off Cape Finisterre, 14 (Julian, 25, Gregorian) October 1747.[xv] Pocock’s small squadron of cruisers, frigates, sloops and privateers captured as many as 40 merchant ships – and 900 prisoners – although a further 66 merchant ships from the original convoy of 252 made it to Martinique.[xvi]

Pocock returned to England, having been relieved in the Caribbean in May 1748 by Rear Admiral Henry Osborne. Shortly afterwards, on 18 October 1748, the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the War of Austrian Succession.

Pocock, now a wealthy – although not yet rich – man as the result of his shipping captures, moved into an apartment on St. James Street, London. In 1749, at the age of 43, Pocock was painted by Thomas Hudson.

Hudson, Thomas, 1701-1779; Admiral Sir George Pocock (1706-1792)

Commodore George Pocock, 43, painted by Thomas Hudson in 1749

Pocock had no command until 1754 when he was appointed to the Cumberland (66) for home duty, before being transferred to the Eagle (60) – although this ship was badly damaged in a storm, and Pocock returned to the Cumberland – to sail on 24 March with Rear Admiral Charles Watson and 400 troops, destined for the East Indies.[xvii]


Admiral in the Indian Ocean

The Seven Years War with France provided Pocock with the opportunity he needed to resume his naval career. Cumberland arrived in the Indian Ocean in September 1754 and Pocock’s role in the global conflict began at sea on 6 January (or 4 February) 1755 when he was advanced to the rank of Rear Admiral of the White.


Maps of India, showing European trade stations during the Seven Years War, and prevailing annual weather during.


Pocock sails for India in early 1755 aboard HMS Cumberland


The capture of Geriah, 12 – 13 February 1756, by Dominic Serres in 1771. Rear Admiral Watson’s flagship, HMS Kent is in the centre, with Pocock’s Cumberland to its right, facing backwards.

Cumberland reached Bombay on 10 November 1755. Watson and Pocock were soon engaged fighting the pirate Tugalee Angria, who sortied from his base at Geriah near Goa. Rear Admiral Watson in Kent, with Pocock as his second in command in Cumberland, transported a detachment of troops under Lieutenant Colonel Robert Clive to Geriah, arriving on 12 February 1756. Clive’s soldiers were landed in the evening while Watson’s force put Angria’s pirate flotilla to the torch and bombarded his base. Although Angria himself escaped, the pirate’s base and treasure (including £130,000 of spices, jewels, and other valuables) were captured. Watson returned to Madras at the end of April, and Pocock was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red on 4 June 1756.

Almost two weeks later Suraj-ud-Daula, the nineteen year-old nawab of Bengal, deployed 30,000 men to surround Calcutta, where Britain’s Fort William was garrisoned by a mere 500 soldiers. The fort fell on 20 June, the captured British prisoners suffering their ignominious fate in the notorious Black Hole of Calcutta – more than half dying from suffocation.[xviii]

News of this disaster reached Madras on 16 August, where Watson and Pocock were stationed. A relief expedition was organised but it was unable to sail until October when the prevailing winds made progress tortuously slow. Pocock’s mission, working with C-in-C Watson, was to escort a landing force to Calcutta, but the squadron did not arrive until 8 December,[xix] while Pocock’s Cumberland had became separated from the attacking squadron and was running short on supplies. By the time Pocock reached Calcutta, in January, Calcutta and the surrounding forts had already been recaptured by Watson’s landing force of 700 regulars, 600 sailors and marines, and 1,200 sepoys, commanded once again by Colonel Robert Clive. Nevertheless, Pocock was promoted to Vice Admiral of the White in February 1757 (or possibly earlier on 8 December 1756).

Clive, after defeating Suraj-ud-Daula in open battle and securing his cooperation through a peace treaty on 9 February, was eager to advance on towards the French trade post at Chandernagore. Conveniently, it was now that news arrived from Europe that war had indeed been declared between France and Britain, so Clive and Watson set off upriver.[xx]


Rear Admiral Watson’s force – KentTiger (under Pocock) and Salisbury – bombarding Chandernagore on 23 March 1757, by Dominic Serres, 1771

Pocock, arriving at Calcutta shortly after this, followed up the Hooghly river in a boat and barge flotilla. He arrived on 22 March 1757 and immediately took command of the warship Tiger (60), which along with Kent (70) and Salisbury (50) had managed to work themselves upriver. The bombardment was opened the following day. In this violent action Pocock himself was wounded when he was hit by flying splinters (Salisbury failed to get into position while Tiger suffered 13 killed and 54 wounded; Kent another 19 killed and 74 wounded).[xxi] Following the surrender of Chandernagore, Clive went on to defeat Suraj-ud-Daula – who had once again turned against the BEIC – in the famous battle at Plassey, 23 June 1757.[xxii]

On 15 or 16 August 1757 Rear Admiral Watson died of fever at Calcutta and Pocock assumed command of the entire East Indies squadron. Also at this time, Pocock learned of the court martial and execution of his cousin, Admiral John Byng, stemming from the latter’s failure to recapture Minorca (20 May 1756).


Royal Navy reinforcements arrive in 1757 & Pocock becomes C-in-C East Indies. Note the loss of Kent.

The Duel

Early in 1758 Pocock left Bengal for Madras, where he was met by Commodore Charles Steevens with reinforcements: four ships-of-the-line and a frigate,[xxiii] and on 5 February (or 31 January) Pocock was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Red.[xxiv]  The essence of fleet strategy in the Indian Ocean revolved around securing trade from the west coast of the sub-continent between April and September, before the monsoon season began, and no doubt the French would do what they could to interdict this trade.

Indeed, intelligence soon arrived that the French were sending reinforcements to counter-attack. A small force led by the skilled Anne Antoine Comte d’Ache de Serquigny had been despatched from Brest on 3 May 1757 (although three of d’Ache’s four ships-of-the-line had to be diverted to Louisburg).[xxv]


Build up of forces in the Indian Ocean during 1758, Pocock battles the Comte d’Ache for control of the East Indies.


Pocock’s East Indies squadron after being reinforced by Commodore Stevens in early 1758. Note Captain Richard Kempenfelt’s presence as Commodore Stevens’ flag-captain aboard HMS Elizabeth.

Pocock flew his flag from HMS Yarmouth (70) and put to sea on 17 April, passing Negapatam and Fort St. David, and on 28 April Pocock’s squadron of seven intercepted the Comte d’Ache’s squadron of nine (eight total owned by the French East India Company, some acquired enroute at Mauritius) near Cuddalore.[xxvi] D’Ache had previously arrived at Fort St. David where he forced two of Pocock’s detached frigates to run aground, whence the British crews torched the ships to prevent capture.[xxvii]

D’Ache was escorting 1,200 French reinforcements (four battalions) under the command of the Comte de Lally (Lieutenant General Thomas Arthur Lally, baron de Tollendal, descendent of an Irish émigré; a solider of fortune) destined for Pondicherry. While Pocock was preparing to close with d’Ache, the Comte despatched Lally-Tollendal in the Comte de Provence (74) to make for Pondicherry, leaving d’Ache with only eight ships to fight Pocock’s seven.


HMS Yarmouth (70), Pocock’s command in 1758-9


View of Pocock’s first action with d’Ache, 29 April 1758


Order of battle for Cuddalore/Gondelour

Between 2:15 and 3 pm on 29 April Pocock steered directly for d’Ache’s flagship, the Zodiaque, and although he was receiving incoming fire from the French line, did not return fire until within pistol-shot.[xxviii] At the decisive moment he signaled for close action. In the ensuing battle (known as the battle of Gondelour in French and Cuddalore or Sadras in English), only four of Pocock’s ships engaged (leaving Cumberland, Newcastle, and Weymouth behind, and generating court martials for the three hesitant captains), and by the time the three laggard ships had caught up the British had been badly damanged, allowing d’Ache to make good his escape, limping into Pondicherry, where the Comte de Lally had already arrived.[xxix] Although Pocock flew the signal for general chase it was clear the British, with many sails and masts shot away, could not pursue and thus only the frigate Queenborough was sent ahead to try to locate the French squadron during the night, but to no avail.[xxx] D’Ache later lost the East Indiaman Bien-Aime (58) when it crashed ashore.[xxxi]

Nevertheless, Pocock’s force had inflicted numerous casualties: 162 killed and 360 wounded (or near 600 killed and wounded), in particular aboard d’Ache’s flagship. D’Ache, however, had done well himself, having achieved his objective of getting through to Pondicherry and had inflicted casualties of his own, primarily on the Yarmouth. Total British losses were 29 killed and 85 (or 89) wounded.[xxxii]

Pocock refitted at Madras and was prepared to sail on 10 May. Lally-Tollendal was on the move, however, and with 3,500 Europeans and another 3,000 Indian troops first captured Cuddalore and then laid siege to Fort St. David.[xxxiii] Pocock intended to relieve the siege of Fort St. David, but was unable to reach the outpost before it surrendered on 2 or 6 June, along with its garrison of 1,000.[xxxiv] Pocock’s normally cool temper was by now enflamed and upon return to Madras for victuals and water he ordered the court martials of Captains Vincent, Legge and Brereton, whom he held responsible for failing to engage on 29 April. Captain Vincent was relieved of his command, Legge was cashiered and Brereton reduced a year in seniority.[xxxv] The incident had stung Pocock – a man not easily shaken from his serene demeanour – and in later years he acknowledged this fact, coming to believe that he had been overly harsh in handing out these sentences.[xxxvi]


British and French order of battle off Negapatam, 3 August 1758. Notice the change of British captains following the court martials held in July.

Pocock put to sea again on 25 July and made a half dozen merchant ship captures before scouting the harbour at Pondicherry on the 27th. D’Ache, realizing he was about to be trapped, and with few provisions remaining, took his force of seven and a frigate and fled to sea, once again alluding Pocock’s general pursuit.[xxxvii] Pocock was, however, able to capture and burn a French ammunition ship that had been approaching Pondicherry.

Pocock sighted d’Ache on 1 August, and, although d’Ache skillfully delayed with a series of maneuvers all of August 2nd, Pocock was finally able to bring the Comte to action on the morning of the 3rd near Negapatam.[xxxviii] At 1:20 pm d’Ache decided it was time; his fleet drawn up in a crescent, and signaled to engage. Pocock followed suit, but was temporarily frustrated as d’Ache pulled his squadron away, firing chain shot at the English line, carrying away signals and masts.[xxxix] Pocock was determined to fight, however, and at 2:25 flew the signal for close action.

Captain Kempenfelt in the Elizabeth furiously attacked the Comte de Provence, temporarily setting it ablaze, then moving on to attack the Duc de Bourgoyne. Meanwhile, Pocock, in the Yarmourth, once again made for d’Ache’s flagship, the Zodiaque, and engaged it with a heavy fire, destroying the ship’s wheel. A gun exploded aboard the French flagship and in the confusion the Zodiaque collided with the Duc d’Orleans.[xl] With Yarmouth and Tiger closing in, d’Ache could see that the battle was turning against him – once again the daring French commander effected his escape, making for Pondicherry at 2:08 pm. Pocock signaled for general chase but, again, it was too late and d’Ache, although shaken, limped back into harbour. Pocock’s squadron suffered 200 casualties (31 killed and 116 – 166 wounded, including a slightly injured Pocock and Commodore Steevens – who had been shot by musket ball in the shoulder)[xli] to d’Ache’s 800 (250 killed and 600 wounded, amongst the latter including d’Ache himself as well as his flag captain).[xlii]

The strategic situation was liable to worsen as the French, on 9 March, had despatched additional reinforcements from Brest: Minotaure (74), Actif (64), and Illustre  (64), as well as Fortune (54) from Lorient on 7 March. The Royal Navy was able to spare only Grafton (70) and Sunderland (60) sailing from England on 8 March.[xliii]

In the meantime, with the monsoon season set to arrive, Pocock made for Bombay to effect his repairs while d’Ache sailed for Mauritius (where he combined with Captain Froger de L’Eguille’s force of three-of-the-line). On 14 December Lally-Tollendal sieged Madras, but the siege was broken when Captain Kempenfelt, despatched by Pocock, arrived with frigates and several small craft loaded with stores and reinforcements, forcing Lally-Tollendal to raise the siege on 17 February 1759.[xliv]


Order of battle for Pondicherry


Battle of Pondicherry, 10 September 1759, the culminating battle between Pocock (top) and d’Ache (bottom), concluding with d’Ache’s flight from the Indian Ocean, securing India for Britain, much as Admiral Saunders and General Wolfe had done for Canada at Quebec (13 September), Commodore Moore had done for Guadeloupe in the West Indies (1 May), while Hawke destroyed the Brest fleet at Quiberon Bay (20 November) and Boscawen destroyed the Toulon fleet at Lagos (18 August): the string of victories that made 1759 Britain’s annus mirabilis.


Royal Navy casualties at Pondicherry

The situation remained a stalemate until 17 April 1759, when Pocock, with the weather once again favourable, sailed for Ceylon, hoping to intercept d’Ache at sea. For the following four months Pocock cruised, hunting for the French squadron.[xlv] Nevertheless, d’Ache was nowhere to be found and with provisions running low, Pocock set course for Trincomale on 1 September. However, within 24 hours of this decision, the frigate Revenge located d’Ache’s squadron at sea and hastened to inform Pocock. Hearing of this break of good fortune Pocock put about and signaled for a general chase. D’Ache, once again faced with his old nemesis, knew exactly what to do and proceeded to amuse Pocock at sea for three days, until the French commander disappeared into a bank of haze.

Pocock immediately made to blockade Pondicherry, hoping to intercept d’Ache should he try for that port – which was in fact d’Ache’s intention as he carried supplies for that critical base.[xlvi] Pocock arrived off Pondicherry on 8 September early in the morning; exactly eight hours before d’Ache. The French squadron was sighted at 1 pm and two hours later had been identified as 13 sail.[xlvii] Pocock continued ahead of d’Ache to prevent his escape and hounded the French squadron for 48 hours, finally closing on d’Ache’s line at 2:10 pm on 10 September. On this occasion (known as the battle of Pondicherry) Pocock had nine of the line against d’Ache’s eleven. D’Ache, with Yarmouth nearly within musket shot, saw that battle was now unavoidable and signaled for action, Pocock immediately following. An intense cannonade commenced until d’Ache pulled away not long after 4 pm. Once again Pocock’s ships were too badly damaged in their masts and yards to pursue. In the pitched battle d’Ache himself was again wounded (and his flag-captain killed), one amongst a total of 1,500 French casualties. Pocock’s forces had sustained 569 casualties (118 killed and another 66 dying afterwards, with another 385 variously wounded).[xlviii] Furthermore, Captain Michie of the Newcastle had been killed.[xlix]

Pocock ordered the frigate Revenge to follow d’Ache while the English made quick repairs at sea. The next morning the English sighted the French squadron but d’Ache again made sail, disappearing over the horizon. With Tiger and Cumberland under tow, Pocock made for Negapatam to repair, where he sent to Madras for reinforcements. At sea again on the 20th, Pocock set course for Pondicherry, where he found d’Ache at anchor beneath the fortress guns on the 27th – the French admiral had achieved his purpose and had landed his supplies. To Pocock’s frustration d’Ache proceeded to slip away, avoiding the still damaged English ships. Pocock returned to Madras. D’Ache, meanwhile, made for Mauritius, leaving the Royal Navy in control of the Indian Ocean, and clearing the way for the capture of Pondicherry itself, accomplished on 15 January 1761.


The East Indiaman “Pitt” engages St. Louis on 28 September 1758/9, by Dunn Lawson. St. Louis was a veteran of all three of d’Ache’s battles with Pocock. An artistic representation of the grand naval duel for India – if the exact particulars are perhaps imaginary.

Pocock, his health weakened by five years of relentless warfare in the East Indies, was ordered to hand-over his command to Commodore Steevens and return to London at the end of 1759. Pocock, however, felt his presence was still required and thus did not relinquish his command until April 1760. Back in London, he was rewarded with a marble bust commissioned by a grateful East India Company. Later that year, at the age of 54, Pocock was elected MP for Plymouth, and was subsequently knighted in March 1761. Pocock used his influence and his close relationship with Lord Anson to advance the interests of his commanders, being able to get James Hawker promoted, although not William Owen.[l] Pocock believed in rewarding those who had supported him, telling a follower that, “…if not too open and glaring an impropriety, I might rely on him.”[li]

Of Pocock’s actions in Indian waters Sir Julian Corbett wrote in 1907, “It is the fashion now merely to deride his battle tactics, which after three actions in eighteen months had failed to secure a real decision, though the tactics which would have secured a decision against a superior force determined to avoid one are never very clearly indicated. More just it would be to praise his vehement ‘general chases’, the daring and resolute attacks which in manner yielded nothing to Hawke’s, and above all for the strategical insight and courage which enabled him to dominate a sea which it was practically impossible for his inferior force to command.”[lii]

As for D’Ache, Pocock’s great antagonist in those distant waters, Pitt’s American strategy – culminating in the capture of Quebec while treating India as a holding action – had effectively terminated the threat from Mauritius. Clive now wrote that, “…this time the superiority of our force at sea, I take for granted, is beyond dispute, and of consequence our resources must be more than those of the French… A victory on our side must confine the French within the walls Pondicherry; and when that happens, nothing can save them from destruction, but a superior force at sea…”[liii] On 8 June 1760 news arrived at Mauritius informing D’Ache that the English were now preparing to shift their efforts to the Indies and thus that he should expect an operation with sizable forces against his island base, precluding any chance of further operations in Indian waters.[liv] D’Ache sent two frigates to inform Pondicherry of this unhappy fate and in January 1761 that last, all-important, French base in India capitulated.[lv]


Return of a fleet into Plymouth Harbour, Dominic Serres, 1766

Triumph: The Havana Operation of 1762

War was declared against Spain on 4 January 1762 when the British government learnt of a treaty signed between France and Spain in August the previous year. The Cabinet, once again under the Duke of Newcastle, reached the decision to strike Havana on 6 January (a project Pitt had proposed before his resignation in October 1761), and Pocock, promoted to Admiral of the Blue, was selected for overall command, with Lieutenant General the Earl of Albemarle commanding the land forces.[lvi] Lord Anson drew up the plan, part of a two-pronged assault against the Spanish empire’s key colonial outposts: the Philippines and Cuba. On 7 January the Navy Board issued its request for transportation for the project and by the end of January the transports had been prepared and supplied for seven months rations. Pocock’s final orders arrived on 18 February.[lvii]


Lord Anson by Joshua Reynolds


Caribbean during the Seven Years War, showing Pocock’s “Old Bahama” route to Havana.


Lines of HMS Namur, 90 gun second rate built in 1756, Pocock’s flagship for the Havana operation.


Pocock’s initial force as assembled (minus transports, etc) at Spithead.

By 26 February the entire force was prepared and assembled at Spithead (Albemarle described Pocock’s effort as “indefatigable”).[lviii] Pocock was to proceed with his forces to the Lesser Antilles, rendezvous with Major General Robert Monckton and Rear Admiral George Rodney, then sail to St. Domingue to collect additional forces for the landing before moving onto his objective. Pocock was to collect another four thousand regulars and American militia from New York, as well as a planned regiment of 500 blacks and 2,000 slaves from Jamaica, plus pilots from the Bahamas (who turned out to be inexperienced).[lix] Celerity was imperative as the onset of the hurricane season in August was bound to terminate operations, as was the prevalence of tropical disease, such as yellow fever.[lx]

Pocock, with second in command Commodore Augusts Keppel,[lxi] departed England with five sail, 67 transports, and 4,000 troops (four regiments – the 22nd, 34th, 56th and 72nd) on 5 March and arrived at Barbados on 20 April, before sailing to Martinique on 26 April, the latter island recently captured by Rear Admiral Rodney and Major General Monckton that January (St. Lucia had also been captured on 25 February under Captain Augustus Hervey). Rodney had already been informed by the arrival of the Richmond late in March that he was to prepare to join with Pocock – orders made difficult by an expected French assault on Jamaica, to intercept which Rodney had despatched ten ship-of-the-line under Commodore Sir James Douglas.

In the event, further intelligence confirmed that the French attack was not likely to take place and thus Commodore Douglas, aware of the all important nature of the Havana operation, decided to use his detached squadron to blockade the French base at Cape Francois, Saint Domingue, thus preventing the French and Spanish fleet from combining and possibly threatening the invasion force when it arrived.[lxii] Next Douglas despatched the Richmond to the Old Bahama Channel to prepare soundings and make sketches for the approach.

When Pocock arrived at Martinique he assumed supreme command and immediately requested Rodney (who was then ill) to provide him with all available intelligence. Orders were also sent to Commodore Douglas to join him on 12 May off Cape St. Nicolas (Douglas, however, did not receive these messages until 3 May, and although he quickly despatched orders to collect his squadron this still took a number of days).[lxiii] As Rodney and Monckton were on bad terms at this stage of the occupation of Martinique, Pocock and Albemarle were required to significantly re-organize the landing force, including the purchase of slaves from Martinique and elsewhere (as it was realized that Jamaica was unlikely to provide any) – and about 600 slaves were thus obtained.[lxiv] Pocock further upset Rodney by taking charge of the latter’s flagship, Marlborough, and consigning his staff to a smaller 64, before departing.[lxv] Rodney subsequently penned an agitated series of letters outbound, including one to the Prime Minister.[lxvi]


The Havana invasion force departing Martinique, 6 May 1762 (not showing frigates, sloops, transports, etc).


Commodore Augustus Keppel by Joshua Reynolds, 1749. Keppel, aboard HMS Valiant, was Pocock’s second in command.


Lt. General George Keppel, the Third Earl of Albermarle by Edward Fisher based on Joshua Reynolds, 1762

Pocock departed Martinique on 6 May and collected a trade convoy on its way to Jamaica, building the invasion fleet up to over 200 transports and 13 ships-of-the-line. The fleet arrived at Cape St. Nicolas on 17 May and collected what few of Commodore Douglas’ ships were in the area – the rest being still dispersed on blockade duties or re-victualing. The full squadron did not join Pocock until 25 May.[lxvii] Pocock’s complete force now consisted of 20 ship-of-the-line, a 50-gun cruiser, five frigates, three bomb vessels, a sloop, a cutter and the transports carrying 11,000 troops. Pocock allowed the merchants bound for Jamaica to depart (another indication of the powerful Port Royal merchant lobby’s influence) under the escort of HMS Centurion, with Commodore Douglas aboard.

Pocock, entrusted with a copy of Anson’s Spanish charts,[lxviii] and his own navigational experience from his time in the West Indies station, worked the invasion force around the dangerous north coast of Cuba, utilizing skilled navigators such as Captain Holmes in the sloop Bonetta and Captain Lindsay in the Trent, alongside the Lurcher to prepare the way. These vessels were in the process of scouting a route when they found Captain Elphinston of the Richmond on 29 May, who had completed his survey of the approach. A combination of sounding boats and coastal torch-fires to navigate allowed the fleet to sail through the Old Bahama Passage.[lxix]

Minor success occurred during this phase of the operation, such as on 2 June when Captain Alms in the Alarm captured the Spanish frigate Thetis and the storeship Phoenix.[lxx]


Havana force passing through the Old Strait of Bahama towards Havana, 2 June 1762


Map of Havana, showing location of Royal Navy operations: Pocock’s bombardment of the Chorea castle (left), the bombardment of the Morro fortress (centre) and Keppel and Albermarle’s landing (right); 1762.


Detailed map of the same from David Syrett’s Navy Records Society volume on the capture of Havana

havana entrance2


Views of the harbour of Havana circa 1780, showing the harbour as entrance and exit.



El Morro Fortress overlooking the entrance to Havana harbour today.

OIL 002

Keppel covers Albermarle’s landing on 7 June 1762, by Dominic Serres.

Pocock arrived off Havana on 6 June and started the landing the following day, with Commodore Keppel – in fact Albemarle’s brother – in overall command. 3,963 soldiers and grenadiers, artillerymen and so forth were landed by 10:30 am. The light Spanish defences at the Coximar river delta were swept away by Keppel’s naval gunfire.[lxxi] While Keppel was carrying out this phase of the operation with his six of the line, Pocock moved with his 13 of the line past the harbour – where he identified 12 Spanish warships – and farther to the west, conducting a feint landing with the Royal Marines at his disposal. Meanwhile the Earl of Albermarle landed his complete force between the Boca Noa and Coximar rivers, supported by gunfire from Captain Harvey in the Dragon along with the sloops Mercury and Bonetta. On 8 June Pocock despatched frigates to scout for additional landing locations and to conduct soundings along the coast, in the process discovering that the Spanish had now sunk a blockship at the harbour entrance, followed by a second on 9 June.[lxxii]

The total Spanish force garrisoning Havana’s various redoubt and fortress environs was 2,800 – three regiments of infantry and a regiment of dragoons – regulars, marines and sailors (the Spanish Admiral in charge of the fleet in Havana harbour was one Hevia), 5,000 militia, 250 arsenal hands, and 600 freed slaves.[lxxiii]


Pocock’s diversion bombardment of the Chorrera batteries, 11 June 1762



The remains of the Terreon de la Chorrera today

After securing his position ashore, Albermarle informed Pocock that he intended to attack the La Cabana heights above the Morro fortress on the 10th, and so Pocock provided a diversion in the form of Captain Knight in the Belleisle, which, along with Cerebus, Mercury, Lurcher and Bonetta bombarded the Chorrera (Terreon de la Chorrera – Cojimar) castle. On the 11th at 1 pm Colonel Carleton, Albermarle’s Quarter-Master General, led the assault on La Cabana and carried the heights successfully. Major General William Keppel, the third Keppel brother, was now appointed to command the El Morro siege operation.

To follow up this success, Pocock ordered three bomb vessels and the sloops Edgar, Stirling Castle and Echo to attack the town of Havana. On 12 June the Spanish sunk yet another blockship, completely blockading the entrance to the harbour.

Battle of Havana by Serres

Havana: landing artillery, 30 June 1762, by Dominic Serres, c. 1770-1775


Another view of the 30 June landing

On the 15th further landings were made, including 800 marines in two battalions, the first under Major Cambell and second under Major Collins. Another 1,200 troops were landed under Colonel Howe. A few days later mortars were landed from Thunder and Grenado, which began to bombard Morro on 20 June. Cannon were ashore and emplaced, adding their weight of shell to the attack.[lxxiv] In the meantime, Pocock tasked Keppel with deploying Dragon, Cambridge and Marlborough, together led by Captain Hervey, against the Morro, and their cannonade commenced on 1 July. The three ships suffered heavily from the fortress guns (of which there were 70), however, and were called off after six hours of shelling. Captain Goostrey of the Cambridge was killed.

For the remainder of July the Earl of Albermarle sieged the El Morro fortress – despite ever shortening supplies of water and ever increasing sick cases – but it wasn’t until 30 July that the exploding of a mine enabled the taking of the castle by assault, during which as many as 1,000 of the Spanish garrison were made casualties (130 killed, 27 wounded, 326 captured another 213 drowned while fleeing) and the Captain of the Morro fortress, Don Lewis de Velasco, was mortally wounded.[lxxv]


Dragon, Cambridge and Marlborough bombarding Morro Castle, Havana, 1 July 1762 by Richard Paton


Losses sustained during the shelling on 1 July.


Flatboats assault Morro Castle, 30 July 1762, by Dominic Serres. Alcide (64) shown.

Pocock for his part continued to carry out his theatre-level operation, constantly in touch with frigates carrying information about movements around Cuba and Florida, covering the Jamaica convoys, and watching for the approach of expected American reinforcements (who arrived 28 July – although reduced by 500 men who were captured in their transports by the Comte de Blenac’s detached flotilla) and simultaneously managing the supply situation of the siege itself.[lxxvi]

Havana was now surrounded, and the Spanish governor, Don Juan de Prado, asked for terms on 11 August, surrendering two days later. 12 warships were captured, eight line-of-battle ships being fit for sea (the other three being the sunk blockships), as well as £3 million in the process,[lxxvii] with Pocock and Albermarle split to the tune of 1/3 of the total treasure; Pocock’s take amounting to £123,000. Pocock handed out rewards as well, and the flagship’s purser, master and carpenter were respectively made the storekeeper, master attendant and master shipwright of Havana.[lxxviii]

Havana 1762, Plate 11

British flatboats Entering Havana, 14 August 1762.  (note sunken blockship at harbour entrance)


The British fleet entering Havana, with HMS Namur, Pocock’s flagship, flying his pendent as Admiral of the Blue, 21 August 1762. Commodore Keppel leads his squadron in HMS Valiant at the left. By Dominic Serres, 1775.


Capture of the Spanish fleet at Havana by Dominic Serres, 1768


Spanish ships captured at Havana.


The central plaza at Havana under British occupation following the successful siege, by Dominic Serres, c. 1765-70

The operation, however successful and profitable, had been costly, in particular in terms of sick cases resulting from the temperate climate and difficulty of the extended siege (560 army killed, 86 Royal Navy; and 4,708 army sick cases and 1,300 sailors).[lxxix] Anson, the architect of the plan, had died in London of a heart attack on 6 June, and thus never learned of the success of the campaign.[lxxx]

Pocock sailed for home but lost two ships and 12 transports as a result of stormy weather during the Atlantic crossing, reaching Spithead finally on 13 January 1763.

Sir George Pocock. PAF3685

Pocock at 56 as Knight of the Bath, Admiral of the Blue, & C-in-C Havana, October (25 March) 1762


George Pocock as international celebrity: Chevalier de l’ordre du Bain, et Admiral de la flotte Britannique, fameux par les Explois sur les Mers des deux Indes

Legacy: An 18th Century Life

Pocock, now fabulously wealthy and internationally famous, purchased an estate at Mayfair, and, in 1764, bought the resplendent Orleans House at Twickenham. He married the widow Sophia Pitt Dent, together with whom he had a son, George (1765-1840; later the MP for Bridgwater and Baronet Pocock after 1821), and a daughter, Sophia (d. 1811), who married the Earl Powlet. Pocock retired in 1766 at the age of 60, returning to parliament where he notably voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act that February. Pocock, however, soon lost his seat in the 1768 election.[lxxxi] Pocock became master of Trinity House from 1786-1790, and was also vice-president of the Marine Society, his golden years noted for their public charity and serenity.


The Orleans House at Twickenham, painted by Joseph Nickolls c. 1750


The interior of the preserved Orleans House Gallery – the Octagon Room – as it stands today.

When Lally-Tollendal was captured – after the fall of Pondicherry – and sent to England, he pleaded that he might be introduced to Pocock, and, this request granted, is alleged to have spoken to the Admiral thus, “Dear Sir George, as the first man in your profession, I cannot but respect and esteem you, though you have been the greatest enemy I ever had. But for you, I should have triumphed in India, instead of being made a captive. When we first sailed out to give you battle, I had provided a number of musicians on board the Zodiaque, intending to give the ladies a ball upon our victory; but you left me only three fiddlers alive, and treated us all so roughly, that you quite spoiled us for dancing.”[lxxxii] Lally-Tollendal was traded back to France, where he was made a scapegoat for the failure in India, and executed at Paris on 9 May 1766.

Pocock outlived his erstwhile opponent of the East Indies, the Comte d’Ache, who died at Brest on 11 February 1780 at the age of 79.

Sir George Pocock, midshipman during the War of the Quadruple Alliance, commodore at the Leeward Islands during the War of Austrian Succession, master of the Indian Ocean and victor of Havana during the Seven Years War, Admiral of the Blue, died at Curzon Street, London, 3 April 1792 at the age of 86.


Sir George Pocock memorial at Westminster Abbey. Beneath Pocock’s coat of arms (two seahorses abreast a lion, topped by the crest of an antelope issuing from a naval crown, with motto, “Faithful to the King and Kingdom”), sits a majestic Britannia, confidently grasping a thunderbolt, her left arm resting on a profile showing Pocock’s distinctive Mona Lisa smile. Commissioned by George Pocock, esquire, and sculpted by John Bacon in 1796. Sir George is buried at St. Mary’s Church, Twickenham.


[i] James Stanier Clarke and John McArthur, eds., The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII, 2010th ed. (Cambridge University Press, 1802)., p. 442

[ii] Tom Pocock, “Pocock, Sir George (1706-1792),” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).

[iii] John D. Grainger, Dictionary of British Naval Battles (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2016)., p. 104

[iv] Pocock, “Pocock, Sir George (1706-1792).”

[v] List of Royal Navy Post Captains, 1714-1830, Navy Records Society online.

[vi] J. J. Colledge and Ben Warlow, Ships of the Royal Navy, The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy (Philadelphia & Newbury: Casemate, 2010)., p. 10

[vii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 442

[viii] Colledge and Warlow, Ships of the Royal Navy, The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy., p. 390

[ix] Brian Lavery, The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War, 1600-1815 (London: Conway Maritime Press, Ltd., 1998)., p. 119

[x] N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006)., p. 412; Robert Gardiner and Brian Lavery, eds., The Line of Battle: The Sailing Warship 1650-1840, Conway’s History of the Ship (London: Conway Maritime Press, 2004)., p. 19

[xi] Richard F. Simpson, “The Naval Career of Admiral Sir George Pocock, K. B., 1743-1763” (Indiana University, 1950)., p.2

[xii] Richard Harding, “Legge, Edward (1710-1747),” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).

[xiii] Herbert Richmond, The Navy In The War of 1739-48, vol. 3, 3 vols. (Cambridge University Press, 1920)., p. 70

[xiv] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 443

[xv] Grainger, Dictionary of British Naval Battles., p. 103; see also Hawke to Corbett, 17 October 1747, in Ruddock Mackay, ed., The Hawke Papers, A Selection: 1743 – 1771, Navy Records Society 129 (Aldershot, Hants: Scolar Press, 1990)., p. 51-55

[xvi] Richmond, The Navy In The War of 1739-48., p. 72

[xvii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 443; Martin Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War (London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2016)., loc. 1272

[xviii] Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1300

[xix] Robson., loc. 1300

[xx] Robson., loc. 1323

[xxi] Pocock, “Pocock, Sir George (1706-1792).” Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1341

[xxii] A. T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 – 1783 (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1987)., p. 306

[xxiii] Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., p. 275

[xxiv] William Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy, A History From the Earliest Times to the Present, vol. 3, 5 vols. (London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1898)., p. 565

[xxv] Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1347

[xxvi] Jonathan R. Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War (University of Nebraska: Thomson-Shore, Inc., 2005)., loc. 1847

[xxvii] Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1368

[xxviii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 445

[xxix]  Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 – 1783., p. 307

[xxx] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 446

[xxxi] Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War., loc. 1847

[xxxii] Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1401

[xxxiii] Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War., loc. 1847

[xxxiv]  Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 – 1783., p. 308

[xxxv] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 446

[xxxvi] N. A. M. Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy (London: Fontana Press, 1988)., p. 247

[xxxvii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 447

[xxxviii] Clarke and McArthur., p. 448

[xxxix] Clarke and McArthur., p. 449

[xl] Robson, A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War., loc. 1401

[xli] Clowes, The Royal Navy, A History From the Earliest Times to the Present., p. 181

[xlii] Sam Willis, Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2008)., p. 206

[xliii] Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War., loc. 1839

[xliv] Clowes, The Royal Navy, A History From the Earliest Times to the Present., p. 181

[xlv] Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 – 1783., p. 310

[xlvi] Julian Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy (London: The Folio Society, 2001)., p. 452-3

[xlvii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 451

[xlviii] Willis, Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare., p. 207

[xlix] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 451-4

[l] Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy., p. 337

[li] Rodger., p. 289

[lii] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 456-7

[liii] John Malcolm, Robert, Lord Clive: Collected from the Family Papers Communicated by the Earl of Powis, Kindle, vol. 1, 3 vols. (London: John Murray, 1836).

[liv] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 461-2

[lv] Lawrence James, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997)., p. 43

[lvi]  Rodger, The Command of the Ocean., p. 285

[lvii] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 546

[lviii] David Syrett, The Siege and Capture of Havana, 1762 (London: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne and Co. Ltd., 1970)., p. xv, also #64 Albemarle to Egremont, Portsmouth, 22 February, p. 51

[lix] Syrett., p. xiv

[lx] Syrett., p. xiv

[lxi] Alexander Howlett, “Captain Charles Middleton and the Seven Years’ War,” Canadian War Studies Association (blog), December 31, 2016,

[lxii] Syrett, The Siege and Capture of Havana, 1762., p. xvi-xvii

[lxiii] Syrett., #143, Pocock to Douglas, 26 April, p. 98-9

[lxiv] Syrett., p. xvi-xviii

[lxv] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 553; see also David Syrett, ed., The Rodney Papers, Volume I, 1742 – 1763, vol. 1, Navy Records Society 148 (Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005)., #876, Rodney to Clevland, 27 May 1762, p. 452-3

[lxvi]  Syrett, The Rodney Papers, Volume I, 1742 – 1763., #879, Rodney to Newcastle, 1 June 1762, p. 456-7

[lxvii] Syrett, The Siege and Capture of Havana, 1762., p. xix

[lxviii] Andrew Lambert, Admirals (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2009)., p. 153

[lxix] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 456

[lxx] Clarke and McArthur., p. 456

[lxxi] Syrett, The Siege and Capture of Havana, 1762., p. xxiii

[lxxii] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 457

[lxxiii] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 562 fn

[lxxiv] Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 458

[lxxv] Pocock, “Pocock, Sir George (1706-1792).”; Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, Volume VIII., p. 460

[lxxvi] Corbett, The Seven Years War, A Study in British Combined Strategy., p. 566-9

[lxxvii] Grainger, Dictionary of British Naval Battles., p. 222

[lxxviii] Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy., p. 287

[lxxix] Herbert Richmond, Statesmen and Sea Power (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1946).

[lxxx] N. A. M. Rodger, “Anson, George, Baron Anson (1697-1762),” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).

[lxxxi] Pocock, “Pocock, Sir George (1706-1792).”

[lxxxii] George Godfrey Cunningham, A History of England in the Lives of Englishmen, vol. 5 (London: A. Fullarton and Co., 1853)., p. 412

Bunker Hill, 17 June 1775: Amphibious and Infantry Operations

Bunker Hill: Amphibious and Infantry Operations


The Seven Years War ended with Britain ascendant in North America. Almost immediately, difficulties arose in administering this vast territory. Economic factors necessitated reform: in 1750 the population of British North America was 1.2 million, nearly doubling to 2.3 million in 1770.[i] New England’s growing population had outstripped its domestic wheat production. In 1763, Britain’s national debt totaled £130 million. Military costs in American spiraled, from £70,000 annually in 1748, to £350,000 at the close of the Seven Years War.[ii]


America at the end of the Seven Years War, 1763.[iii]

To offset these costs the Grenville government reformed Britain’s policy on trade control with the American colonies. The steady rise in Royal taxation and duties on British imports following the Treaty of Paris (1763), was reflected in the expansion of the Molasses Act (1733) as the Sugar Act of 1764,[iv] which included restrictions on shipping in an effort to limit smuggling.[v] The unpopular Stamp Act and Quartering Act of 1765 followed shortly. The Stamp Act, expected to generate £100,000 towards offsetting defence costs, was passed in addition to a battery of subsidies and other reforms aimed at stimulating trade between Britain and the colonies.[vi] Defence spending was cut, starting with the naval estimate, which declined from £2.8 million in 1766 to £1.5 million in 1768.[vii]

American boycotts on imports, as a result of the Stamp Act, led to the ascension of the Rockingham government. The Stamp Act was repealed, and replaced, by the Declaratory Act in March 1766.[viii] Next, Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend’s Acts of 1768 made modifications to the duties on paper, glass and tea, and was expected to generate £40,000 a year.[ix] Captured smugglers were made liable for seizure of property, including their ships. This situation was not acceptable to the wealthy Bostonian merchant class, amongst their supporters men such as John Hancock (whale oil, tea, Madeira) and Samuel Adams (heir to a brewing establishment).[x] Adams and James Otis circulated a letter in opposition to parliamentary taxation early in 1768.[xi] In the summer of 1768, General Thomas Gage was forced to dispatch troops to Boston from Halifax to maintain order.[xii]

Boston, population 16,000 in 1775, was the significant port in Massachusetts, the third largest port on the North Atlantic seaboard after New York and Philadelphia.[xiii] Boston was a center for opposition to the British colonial government. By 1775 there appeared a significant group of urban poor: Boston’s poor relief costs had quadrupled since 1740 and its population was no longer growing.[xiv] In 1771 the top 10% of Bostonians in the merchant and professional classes owned 60% of the city’s wealth.[xv]

The Sons of Liberty society, formed in Boston and New York, was opposed to the expansion of British economic and naval intervention in American trade.[xvi] There was a vested interest in maintaining New England’s laissez-faire status: while in 1763 “the average Briton paid 26 shillings” per annum in taxes, the equivalent for Massachusetts taxpayers was only one shilling.[xvii] Indeed, the New Englanders represented one of the wealthiest societies in the world at the time. Bootleggers out of Boston, Newport and New York continued to make a killing trading corn, cattle, lumber and codfish for sugar, rum and molasses, in the French West Indies.[xviii]


Paul Revere’s engraving of two regiments of British troops unloading at Boston in 1768.[xix]

Bostonians continued to protest the expansion of British tariffs and trade restrictions, despite Lord North’s January 1770 reduction on duties for commodities other than tea.[xx] When harassed British soldiers opened fire on a crowd and were generally acquitted in the following inquiry- what became known as the Boston Massacre of March 1770- tensions ran high between the Boston garrison and the colonials.[xxi] Shortly thereafter, Benjamin Franklin wrote for the London Chronicle, in November 1770, stating, “the Parliament of Britain hath no right to raise revenue from them [the Colonies] without their consent”.[xxii] In 1772 the sloop Gaspee was burned by John Brown and followers, after the sloop ran aground while chasing merchant shipping near Providence, Rhode Island.[xxiii]

The Tea Act of 1773 attempted to foist surplus British East India Company tea off on the Atlantic colonies (ironically tea prices were deflated in part by an American boycott of the Townshend Acts), thus keeping prices low and diminishing smuggling revenue.[xxiv] In response, the Sons of Liberty, including John Hancock and Samuel Adams, organized the Boston Tea Party of 16 December 1773. 342 boxes of BEIC tea, valued at £15,000 were destroyed.[xxv] The resulting Port Act of March 1774, and second Quartering Act in June, essentially established military control over the port and the naval blockade of Boston, to remain in force until an indemnity was paid for the tea.[xxvi] General Thomas Gage was made emergency governor.[xxvii] While the British maintained control over Boston, the surrounding countryside was of questionable loyalty. On July 1st, in Boston, Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves arrived as C-in-C North American Squadron aboard HMS Preston, and accompanied by the 5th and 35th regiments.[xxviii]

 NPG 4070; Thomas Gage by Jeremiah Meyer

General Thomas Gage by Jeremiah Meyer, circa 1770s.[xxix]

The Quebec Act of 1774 closed the Canadian frontier to the American settlers, and recognized the right to Catholic practice by the French-Canadians, upsetting the anti-papist colonialists in New England.[xxx] The Massachusetts Government Act came into effect in August 1774 and provided George III with the authority to appoint the members of the formerly elected Massachusetts Governor’s Council. Pursuant to this act, Governor Thomas Gage dissolved the Provincial Assembly then meeting in Salem in October 1774.[xxxi] That same month he fortified his position in Boston.[xxxii] The concern was to secure Boston as a port of entry for the Army’s supplies.[xxxiii] Meanwhile, on 5 September 1774 the First Continental Congress was convened at Philadelphia, and in December of that year a group of Sons of Liberty supporters raided Forts William and Mary at Portsmouth, stealing cannon, muskets and powder.[xxxiv]

The former Provincial Assembly, now the Concord based Massachusetts Provincial Government, raised its own militia and was preparing to resist the British.[xxxv] The result was that in February 1775 Massachusetts was declared to be in a state of rebellion. Lord North issued the Conciliatory Resolution on 27 February 1775, granting duties payable directly to the colonies and parliamentary regulation on trade only, so long as the colonies agreed to pay something for defence.[xxxvi]

It was too little too late for the Americans. Local governments now began to supersede their imperial governors, starting with New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina.[xxxvii] Gage, in Boston, received secret orders around the middle of April 1775 to the effect that he was to “arrest and imprison the principal actors & abbettors” meaning the Provincial Congress then at Concord, and probably including Sam Adams and John Hancock then hiding in Lexintgon.[xxxviii] Gage was opposed to antagonizing the continentals, however, he suffered a disconnect with the government in London, which believed that a show of force would reduce the rebellion.[xxxix]


Map of Boston and countryside, showing route of British forces and Patriot messengers to Concord.[xl]

The operation meant to carry out these orders resulted in the first conflict between British forces and the colonial militia, on 19 April 1775: the battles of Concord and Lexington.[xli] British forces deployed from Boston with the objective of capturing suspected militia arms caches at Concord. Colonial messengers, including Paul Revere, were able to tip-off the militia, as well as Adams and Hancock, before the British arrived. Outnumbered, the colonial militia retreated from Lexington to Concord and then to the countryside. The regulars entered Concord shortly afterward and rounded up, and captured or destroyed, several hidden cannon, victuals, and supplies of powder and musket ball.[xlii]


British column enters Concord, 19 April 1775.[xliii]

            The militia reformed outside Concord, and backed by companies of Minutemen, were able to confront portions of the British force, inflicting casualties. Realizing that opposition was stiffening, and with the mission to search Concord complete, the British withdrew to Boston. Harassed and ambushed along the way by an increasing numbers of colonials, the British were given an unmistakable message: the continentals were prepared to resist. 259 soldiers had been killed or wounded in the retreat from Concord.[xliv] The militia, now numbering over 10,000 men, moved to invest the British base at Boston, thus initiating the 11 month long Siege of Boston.[xlv]


Views of entrance to Boston Harbour. Boston, seen between Castle Williams and Governors Island, distant 4 miles. 1777 by J. F. W. Des Barres.[xlvi]


Charlestown in 1743.[xlvii]

The Siege

            With Boston under siege there was no going back. On 22 April, the Massachusetts shadow government called up 30,000 men.[xlviii] The Second Continental Congress convened on 10 May 1775, and the colonies continued to assemble their contingents through the summer. The British could draw only limited forces from their small standing army of 38,000.[xlix] Nevertheless, reinforcements arrived from Britain to supplement Gage’s small force of 3,000, including Generals Sir William Howe, John Burgoyne, and Henry Clinton; bringing the total force up to 8,000 regulars.[l]

 NPG D19390; William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe by Richard Purcell (Charles or Philip Corbutt), published by  John Morris

General William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe, by Richard Purcell, 10 May 1778.[li]

The American force, now numbering 20,000 men, had largely assembled around Boston, under the overall command of General Ward. A prisoner exchange took place on 6 June, and on the 12th Gage declared martial law, simultaneously offering a general pardon; Samuel Adams and John Hancock excepted.[lii]


View of Charlestown and the Charlestown Peninsula, 1775, showing the isthmus, Bunker Hill, Breed’s Hill and Moulton’s Point.[liii] Moulton’s Point rose only 35 feet above sea level, Breed’s hill was 75 feet in elevation, and Bunker Hill 110 feet, providing an unobstructed view of Boston.[liv]

The Second Continental Congress now authorized the American Continental Army and appointed George Washington as General and Commander-in-Chief on 15 June, his commission going through on the 17th.[lv] On 13 June at Ward’s HQ, Cambridge, information was received indicating that General Gage intended to take control of the Charlestown peninsula.[lvi] By June 15th it was known that Gage, at a council of war, had picked 18 June for the start of the Charlestown operation; and the Massachusetts authorities therefore deployed the Continental Army in preparation for a showdown.[lvii] The roster for the Continental detachment at Bunker Hill is here.[lviii]


Plan of Action for the Bunker Hill operation, by Lieut. Page of the Engineers, Major-General Howe’s Aide de Camp.[lix] Note location of “Bunker’s Hill” relative to Breed’s: reversed by Page.[lx]


The spoiling plan called for the occupation of Bunker Hill and the heights overlooking Charlestown, although, in the event, the central Breed’s Hill was selected. General Ward and General Warren, at Army HQ, were opposed to a heavy engagement. They knew the Continental Army was short on powder: the Army’s entire supply of powder amounted to 27 half barrels with another 36, “a present from Connecticut”.[lxi]


Regiments accounted at Cambridge HQ.[lxii]

General Israel Putnam commanded the division from which the American contingent that was to occupy the peninsula was drawn. Detachments from Massachusetts and Connecticut were selected, led by Colonel William Prescott and supported by Colonels Frye and Bridge.[lxiii] Captain Thomas Knowlton was attached with 200 Connecticut rangers. Support was provided by Colonel Richard Gridley, chief engineer, “with a company of artillery”- 49 men.[lxiv] The total force was at least 1,200 strong, carrying 24 hours of rations, and accompanied by all the entrenching tools in Cambridge.[lxv] Prescott’s orders were to fortify the Charleston peninsula, starting at Bunker Hill. He could expect support and fresh rations the following morning.[lxvi] As this contingent deployed it was joined by Major Brooks with more infantry and another company of artillery. Captain Nutting was dispatched with a small detachment of Connecticut men to investigate Charlestown, and Captain Maxwell of Prescott’s regiment was sent to patrol the shore and observe the Royal Navy warships in the Harbour.


Plan of Battle for Bunker Hill, Library of Congress[lxvii]

These ships were under the command of Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves:[lxviii] HMS Somerset, 68, (3rd rate, crew 520, built 1748) Captain Edward Le Cras; Cerberus, 36, (built 1770) Captain Chads; Glasgow, 24, (6th rate, 130 men, built 1757) Captain William Maltby; sloop Lively, 20 guns, 130 men, Captain Thomas Bishop; sloop Falcon, Captain Linzee; and the transport Symmetry with 18 or 20 nine-pounder guns, plus lesser gunboats and floating batteries.[lxix]

All afternoon on the 16th and morning on the 17th the Americans developed their entrenchments. By the morning of the 17th a small redoubt had been established on Breed’s Hill.[lxx]

The Battle

It was a hot day, with a light breeze blowing. The Continentals lacked water and were low on rations. At 9 am, HMS Lively, accompanied by Glasgow, as well as cannon from the shore batteries and howitzers from Copp’s hill, opened fire on the Continental positions.[lxxi] The Americans arranged a council of war: no reinforcements had arrived, and the British were evidently preparing to confront them.[lxxii] With rations running out, Major John Brooks was dispatched to HQ to report on the situation, where he arrived at 10 am. Along the way, Brooks passed General Putnam who was racing towards the Charlestown Heights to support Prescott with a detachment of one third of Colonel Stark’s regiment. Putnam arrived at the redoubt on horseback not long afterwards. Putnam’s orders were for the entrenching tools to be sent to the rear, with the exception for a group to start fortifying Bunker Hill, which had hitherto been ignored.[lxxiii]

At 11 am the rest of Stark’s regiment went in, along with Colonel Read’s fellow New Hampshire regiment.[lxxiv] Detachments from Colonels Brewer, Nixon, Woodbridge, and Major Moore followed. Little, Whitcomb, and Lt. Col. Buckminster made appearances with more handfuls of men. [lxxv] Joseph Warren now arrived, serving under Prescott, and encouraging the defenders of the redoubt. Ward continued to feed reinforcements to the heights throughout the day, however, for the duration of the battle there were no more than 1,400 Americans and their 6 guns on the field. In addition to the shortages of powder, the urgency of the situation revealed weaknesses at Army HQ: critical was a shortage of adequate horses for the purpose of message dispatch.[lxxvi]


Plan of Charlestown peninsula, showing Battle of Bunker Hill, produced in 1775.[lxxvii]


            Meanwhile, Gage called a council of war and the plan of operations was rushed to decision. Clinton and the majority of the council favoured a deployment at the isthmus. Gage opposed this on the concern that it would place the British detachment between two armies; Prescott’s detachment and Ward. Gage favoured a frontal attack, and issued orders to that effect at 10 am.[lxxviii] This deployment has generally been regarded as a mistake: not only did it force a frontal assault of the Continental positions, but to compound errors, it left the Continentals free to reinforce, or withdraw, through the isthmus. Furthermore, General Putnam, in overall command of the division to which Prescott was attached, had failed to fortify Prospect Hill north of the isthmus, and did not do so until 18 June. Thus, had the British deployed to the neck of the peninsula, Prescott would have found his detachment cut off from Ward, running low on rations, and dangerously exposed to the guns of the Royal Navy.[lxxix]


Amphibious movements

The British intended to warp HMS Somerset closer to the shore to better place the ship for fire support, but, due to the shallow waters, only the frigates, sloops and gunboats could close to provide direct support. HMS Glasgow and the transport schooner Symmetry directed fire against the Charlestown isthmus. Colonel James, Royal Artillery, with two boats equipped with 12 pounder cannon, supported the warships.[lxxx] Meanwhile, HMS Lively, Falcon, and the gunboat, Spitfire, “anchored abreast of… Charlestown, covered the landing of troops, and kept up a well-directed fire”.[lxxxi]

The base of Breed’s Hill was swept with naval fire as the regulars embarked. Gage dispatched ten companies of Grenadiers, ten companies of light-infantry, along with the 5th, 38th, 43rd, and 52nd regiments.[lxxxii] The British disembarked their force of 2,200 men at Charlestown point and took up position on Moulton’s Hill.


Array of American forces for the Battle of Bunker Hill.[lxxxiii]

By about 1 pm, Colonel Prescott could see that the British were deploying towards Mystic River and Charlestown with the intention of flanking the Continental positions by going around the redoubt. He thus dispatched Captain Knowlton with 400 men and two cannon to form works nearer the base of the Bunker Hill, thus cutting off the flanking efforts.[lxxxiv] Knowlton was soon supported by the New Hampshire detachments of Colonels Stark and Reed, together forming a line 900 feet long. Likewise, Captain Nutting was recalled from Charlestown to cover the redoubt’s south flank.

Between 1 and 2pm, General Clinton received orders to deploy from Boston with his detachment from the 47th regiment, plus 400 marines from the first battalion, and additional companies of Light Infantry and Grenadiers.[lxxxv]



Battle of Bunker Hill by E. Percy Moran, 1909.[lxxxvi]

            At 3 pm the British forces began their attack with a cannonade from their positions on Moulton’s, followed by an advance by the first two lines.[lxxxvii] General Pigot, with the 28th, 43rd, 47th, 52nd Regiments and Major Pitcairn’s marines, was ordered to take the redoubt on the left while Howe would take the main emplacements on the right. The light-infantry were dispatched to flank along the Mystic.[lxxxviii] The frontal attack was made by the Grenadiers and the 5th and 52nd regiments.[lxxxix] The British reached the Continental lines at about 3:30.

            The Americans held fire until the regulars closed to within musket shot, and then unleashed a withering fire that broke the advance of the British. A brief fire-fight ensued, and the British retreated back to their positions at the base of the hill.[xc]

Admiral Graves, alleged to have gone ashore with Howe, at this point inquired if the destruction of Charlestown would be useful in reducing the harassing fire on the left wing.[xci] Howe agreed, and the order was given to fire red-hot shot into the town, while a group of marines from HMS Somerset landed with torches.[xcii] The destruction of Charlestown produced a prodigious quantity of smoke, however, prevailing winds carried the smoke away from the battlefield.


The Battle at Bunker’s Hill by Henry A. Thomas, Circa 1875. Showing the British landings and positions, Charlestown in flames, and HMS Somerset at left.[xciii]

Howe rallied his force and led another assault, the British firing as they went in.[xciv] The line was again held, the Regulars mowed down by the accurate fire of the Americans, although not without loss: “Colonels Brewer, Nixon, and Buckminster were wounded, and Major Moore was mortally wounded.”[xcv] British casualties at this point were over 500 in number.[xcvi] Two of Howe’s aides had been shot.


View of the Attack on Bunker’s Hill, with the Burning of Charles Town. June 17th 1775. Circa 1783, Engraved for Barnard’s New Complete & Authentic History of England.[xcvii]

The supporting naval vessels intensified their fire, torching Charlestown. The fleet developed an intense cannonade of “bombs, chain-shot, ring-shot, and double-headed shot” and was able to clear some of Continental forces from the Breed’s Hill redoubt, likewise destroying some of the Continental positions along the fence-line.[xcviii] In preparation for a third charge, Pigot marshaled elements of the 5th, 38th, 43rd, and 52nd Regiments and returned to attack the redoubt. Clinton was by now in position to reinforce, and Howe ordered a general bayonet charge, this time concentrated against the redoubt.


            The Battle of Bunker Hill, by Howard Pyle. 1897. Published by Scribner’s Magazine in February 1898.[xcix]


General Gardner presently arrived at the American lines with 300 men, and was put to task under General Putnam until Gardner was badly wounded. The Continentals were now desperately short on ammunition and lacked bayonets.[c]

The British final effort began between 4 and 5 pm. The regulars advanced under the cover of naval fire and field guns, then received musket fire at close range until the Continentals exhausted their ammunition and began to throw rocks.[ci] The regulars then stormed the American positions with the bayonet, starting with the redoubt, where Major Pitcairn of the marines was killed. Inside the redoubt, Colonel Prescott drew his sword and engaged in hand-to-hand combat, before escaping- but Joseph Warren was killed.[cii] All along the line the Continentals retreated with munitions exhausted. HMS Glasgow, along with the floating batteries stationed in Charles River, swept the retreating Continentals with cannon and grape shot.[ciii] By 5pm the peninsula was under Howe’s control. General Putnam tried to rally the Continentals as they fell back across the isthmus- they were too disorganized and depleted to continue- and thus they regrouped at Prospect Hill.[civ]


John Trumbull’s iconic Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill; painted in 1786.[cv]



Table showing American casualties.[cvi]


            441 continental soldiers had been killed, wounded or captured. 5 artillery pieces were lost.[cvii] Doctor Joseph Warren, General, Son of Liberty, Mason, had been killed.

           1,054 British soldiers and officers had been killed or wounded: 19 officers killed, 70 wounded, 207 soldiers killed, 304 wounded. [cviii] Gage gave these figures: “1 lieutenant colonel, 2 majors, 7 captains, 9 lieutenants, 15 sergeants, 1 drummer, 191 rank and file killed – 3 majors, 27 captains, 32 lieutenants, 8 ensigns, 40 sergeants, 12 drummers, 706 rank and file wounded.”[cix] Heavily outnumbered by the Continental Army, these were losses the British could ill afford. It was the beginning of the end for Gage’s command; Howe replaced him in October.[cx]



Washington takes command of the American Army at Cambridge, 1775.[cxi]

On 21 June, Washington left Philadelphia and headed for Boston where he assumed command on 3 July 1775.[cxii] In July 1775 the Continental Congress issued John Dickinson’s Olive Branch Petition, and Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms circular, aimed at a reconciliation settlement. The King did not seriously consider the offer.[cxiii] That August in London, George Germain replaced Dartmouth as colonial secretary.[cxiv] In February 1776, in Philadelphia, Thomas Paine anonymously published his Common Sense pamphlet.[cxv] H. H. Brackenridge’s heroic dramatization of the Battle of Bunker Hill appeared the same year.[cxvi]


Boston and the surrounding countryside, showing remains of Charlestown, and the location of the American and British commands after June 1775.[cxvii]

Charlestown was reduced to ruin. The heights had been secured, but it was a temporary solution. The battle did not break the siege of the Boston peninsula, nor did it completely secure the heights from Continental attack. Although the British held the captured redoubt atop Breed’s Hill with a small garrison, eventually the Continental Army moved in enough artillery to generate a crisis. On 17 March 1776, Howe was forced to abandon Boston, and he withdrew his army of 9,000 by sea to Halifax.[cxviii]

            In May 1776 British intelligence became aware that France planned to support the American revolutionaries with military aid.[cxix]


The Continental Congress votes Independence, July 2, 1776.[cxx]

In the autumn of 1776, General Howe deployed from Halifax with 23,000 men and bested Washington at New York, forcing the latter to withdraw to avoid encirclement.[cxxi] Washington won minor victories and Trenton and Princeton at the end of 1776. By July 1777, Howe confided in General Henry Clinton that he expected the war to last for another year, at least.[cxxii] The Royal Navy was to commence full mobilization in August 1777. In November, General Howe issued a general pardon to all rebels who “surrendered and reaffirmed their allegiance to George III.”[cxxiii] The month before, however, the 1777 campaign came to its distressing close with Burgoyne’s surrender of over 5,000 regulars at Saratoga to General Horatio Gates.[cxxiv] In February 1778, Louis XVI entered alliance with the Colonies, followed by Spain in 1779.

The Naval situation for Britain now became critical. In 1778 the Royal Navy possessed 117 ships of the line to France’s 59 and Spain’s 64. By 1779 France could marshal about 80 of the line.[cxxv] With 63 of the line massed in the channel, against only 57 for the Royal Navy, the combined Continental force blockaded Plymouth and threatened England with invasion.[cxxvi]


Battle of Bunker Hill and Subsequent Campaigns.[cxxvii]

Clinton, who had replaced Howe as C-in-C, now deployed to Savannah as part of Germain’s southern strategy, capturing it in December 1778. Charleston fell in May 1780.[cxxviii] By 1780 the cost of supplying the war in America was consuming £12 million a year (12.5% of the national income).[cxxix]


A Tuscan pillar was placed atop Breed’s Hill, to commemorate the spot where Joseph Warren was killed. Seen here in 1818.[cxxx]


Boston bird’s-eye view from the north. J. Bachman, 1877.[cxxxi]

Enlarged Joseph Warren monument of 1842 visible.


Today: the monument on Breed’s hill, with USS Constitution, 44 (1794).[cxxxii]



[i] Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (New York: Basic Books, 2004)., p. 71 note

[ii] J. F. C. Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Waterloo, vol. 2, 3 vols. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1955)., p. 272


[iv] Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2004)., p. 306-7

[v]; George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, America: A Narrative History, 6th ed., vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004). p. 193; Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power., p. 72; Herman, To Rule the Waves., p. 307

[vi] Ramsay Muir, A Shorty History of the British Commonwealth, 3rd ed., vol. 2, 2 vols. (London: George Philip & Son, Ltd., 1924)., p. 43

[vii] Herbert Richmond, Statesmen and Sea Power (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1946)., p. 141; Paul M. Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (New York: Humanity Books, 1976)., p. 109

[viii] Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Waterloo., p. 272

[ix] Ibid., p. 272

[x] Herman, To Rule the Waves., p. 309

[xi] Tindall and Shi, America: A Narrative History., p. 198

[xii] Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Waterloo., p. 273

[xiii] Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Penguin Books, 2001)., p. 306

[xiv] Ibid., p. 308

[xv] Ibid., p. 308

[xvi] Tindall and Shi, America: A Narrative History., p. 193

[xvii] Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power., p. 70

[xviii] Herman, To Rule the Waves., p. 306; Muir, A Shorty History of the British Commonwealth., p. 40


[xx] Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power., p. 72

[xxi] Lawrence James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Folio Society, 2004)., p. 107

[xxii] Ibid., p. 105

[xxiii] Herman, To Rule the Waves.,, p. 310; Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Waterloo., p. 273

[xxiv] Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power., p. 72 note; Herman, To Rule the Waves.,, p. 311; Muir, A Shorty History of the British Commonwealth., p. 47

[xxv] Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Waterloo., p. 274; Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power., p. 72, says £10,000


[xxvii] Herman, To Rule the Waves.,, p. 310

[xxviii] Nathaniel Philbrick, Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution (New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2013)., ebook


[xxx] James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire., p. 109


[xxxii] Henry Beebee Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism (New York: A. S. Barnes & Company, 1876)., p. 92

[xxxiii] Herman, To Rule the Waves.,, p. 310-11

[xxxiv] James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire., p. 110; Tindall and Shi, American: A Narrative History., p. 206


[xxxvi] Tindall and Shi, American: A Narrative History., p. 208

[xxxvii] James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire., p. 111

[xxxviii] John Shy, “Gage, Thomas (1719/20-1787),” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).; Tindall and Shi, America: A Narrative History., p. 209

[xxxix] James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire., p. 113





[xliv] Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Waterloo., p. 275



[xlvii] Richard Frothingham, “The Battle-Field of Bunker Hill: With A Relation of the Action by William Prescott, and Illustrative Documents” (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1876),

[xlviii] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 84

[xlix] Muir, A Shorty History of the British Commonwealth. p. 53

[l] Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Waterloo., p. 275; Muir, A Shorty History of the British Commonwealth., p. 54


[lii] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 37; Robert Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, vol. 4, 6 vols. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1804)., p. 75

[liii] Frothingham, “The Battle-Field of Bunker Hill: With A Relation of the Action by William Prescott, and Illustrative Documents.”, between p. 4-5

[liv] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., Ibid., p. 92

[lv] Tindall and Shi, America: A Narrative History., p. 210

[lvi] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 93

[lvii] Ibid., p. 93



[lx] Frothingham, “The Battle-Field of Bunker Hill: With A Relation of the Action by William Prescott, and Illustrative Documents.”, p. 7

[lxi] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 99, 94-5

[lxii] Richard Frothingham, Battle of Bunker Hill (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company., 1890)., p. 13

[lxiii] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 95

[lxiv] Ibid., p. 95

[lxv] Frothingham, Battle of Bunker Hill., p. 16

[lxvi] Ibid., p. 17


[lxviii] A. W. H. Pearsall, “Graves, Samuel (1713-1787),” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[lxix] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 96; see also, Frothingham, Battle of Bunker Hill., p. 23

[lxx] Frothingham, “The Battle-Field of Bunker Hill: With A Relation of the Action by William Prescott, and Illustrative Documents.”, p. 8-9

[lxxi] Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783., p. 76, Ibid., p. 75

[lxxii] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 98

[lxxiii] Frothingham, Battle of Bunker Hill., p. 27

[lxxiv] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 100

[lxxv] Ibid., p. 100

[lxxvi] Frothingham, Battle of Bunker Hill., p. 26


[lxxviii] Frothingham, Battle of Bunker Hill., p. 29

[lxxix] Charles Francis Adams, “The Battle of Bunker Hill,” The American Historical Review 1, no. 3 (April 1896): 401–13., p. 404, 407

[lxxx] Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783., p. 75

[lxxxi] Ibid., p. 76; on the Spitfire see, T. D. Manning and C. F. Walker, British Warship Names (London: Putnam, 1959). p. 415

[lxxxii] Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783., p. 76


[lxxxiv] Frothingham, “The Battle-Field of Bunker Hill: With A Relation of the Action by William Prescott, and Illustrative Documents.”, p. 9-10

[lxxxv] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism. , p. 108


[lxxxvii] Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783., p. 77

[lxxxviii] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 106

[lxxxix] Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783., p. 77

[xc] Frothingham, “The Battle-Field of Bunker Hill: With A Relation of the Action by William Prescott, and Illustrative Documents.”, p. 20

[xci] Philbrick, Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution., Kindle, ebook

[xcii] Beatson, Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783., p. 77; Frothingham, Battle of Bunker Hill., p. 50-1


[xciv] Frothingham, “The Battle-Field of Bunker Hill: With A Relation of the Action by William Prescott, and Illustrative Documents.”, p. 49

[xcv] Frothingham, Battle of Bunker Hill., p. 53

[xcvi] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism. , p. 107


[xcviii] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism. , p. 107; Frothingham, “The Battle-Field of Bunker Hill: With A Relation of the Action by William Prescott, and Illustrative Documents.”, p. 12


[c] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 109

[ci] Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Waterloo., p. 275; Tindall and Shi, American: A Narrative History., p. 211-2; Frothingham, Battle of Bunker Hill., p. 61

[cii] Frothingham, “The Battle-Field of Bunker Hill: With A Relation of the Action by William Prescott, and Illustrative Documents.”, p. 22

[ciii] Ibid., p. 22

[civ] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 110


[cvi] Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism.

[cvii] Ibid., p. 103

[cviii] Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Waterloo., p. 275;; p. 111

[cix] Battle of Bunker Hill, The Boston Patriot, June 17, 1818.

[cx] Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Waterloo., p. 276


[cxii] Philbrick, Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution., Google ebook.; Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution: 1775-1781, Historical and Military Criticism., p. 90

[cxiii] Tindall and Shi, American: A Narrative History., p. 212

[cxiv] James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire., p. 113


[cxvi] H. H. Brackenridge, The Battle of Bunkers-Hill. A Dramatic Piece, of Five Acts, in Heroic Measure (Philadelphia: Robert Bell, 1776).


[cxviii] Fuller, A Military History of the Western World. Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Waterloo., p. 276

[cxix] N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006)., p. 334

[cxx] Tindall and Shi, America: A Narrative History., p. 215

[cxxi] Muir, A Shorty History of the British Commonwealth., p. 56; James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire., p. 118-9

[cxxii] James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire.,, p. 120

[cxxiii] Ibid., p. 118

[cxxiv] Muir, A Shorty History of the British Commonwealth., p. 58; p. James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire., p. 121

[cxxv] Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery., p. 110

[cxxvi] Herman, To Rule the Waves., 313

[cxxvii] James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire., p. 117

[cxxviii] Ibid., p. 121

[cxxix] Herman, To Rule the Waves.,, p. 311;

[cxxx] Frothingham, “The Battle-Field of Bunker Hill: With A Relation of the Action by William Prescott, and Illustrative Documents.”, p. 15


[cxxxii] ;

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


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.


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.


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.


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]


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]


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.


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]


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]


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.


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.


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]


[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


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


[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


[12]; N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006)., p. 555


[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] ; Ibid., p. 116

[17] Ibid., p. 113

[18] Ibid., p. 117

[19] Ibid., p. 117

[20] Ibid., p. 120


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

[23] Ibid., p. 124




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


[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


[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


[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).”



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 <>; Charles Rathbone Low, The Great Battles of the British Navy, London: Routledge, 1872 <>, 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 <>

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

HMS Inflexible: Scion of the Mediterranean Fleet

HMS Inflexible:

Scion of the Mediterranean Fleet


Lithograph of Inflexible, 1880.1

The ironclad battleship displaced between 11,407 and 11,880 tons.2 Propelled by twin screw compound expansion engines fired by 12 boilers, the warship developed 8407 horsepower for a top speed of 14.75 knots.3 Coal bunkers provided for 1200 tons of coal for a range of 5200 miles at 10 knots.4 As complete, Inflexible featured a full sailing rig.5 The rig was replaced with masts between 1885 and 1887 when Inflexible was recommissioned.6


Drawing showing Inflexible‘s formidable citadel armour.7

Built 16 years after HMS Warrior, the ironclad was protected by a belt 24 to 16 inches thick, turrets 17-18 inches thick and a deck covered in 3 inches of plate. The plate of the central citadel was applied as two layers of 12 inch compound armour, wrought iron and steel.8 440 sailors and officers crewed the ship.9 Inflexible was the first RN ship lit by electricity.10 Inflexible was further protected by 135 watertight subdivisions and 12 bulkheads.11 Inflexible served mainly in the Mediterranean Fleet during the 1880s and 1890s, after November 1893 becoming the Portsmouth Port Guard ship until 1897. Placed in reserve in November 1901, Inflexible was broken up for scrap in 1903.12


Painting of Inflexible with sailing rig.13

Planned as a counter to the heavy ironclads being developed by Italy (the famous Duilo and Dandolo),14 Inflexible was to carry 60 ton muzzle-loading cannon.15 In response to the Italian plan to purchase larger calibre Armstrong cannon (eventually settling on 100 ton guns), Inflexible was up-gunned to 81 ton muzzle-loaders and laid down on 24 February 1874.16 When complete, the Inflexible carried four 81 ton 16.25 inch bore muzzle-loading cannon in twin turrets, capable of firing about one round every 11 minutes, although they had been rated at a shell every two to five minutes.17 Inflexible was also the first British battleship to feature torpedo tubes, one mounted on both port and starboard bows.18 Two auxiliary torpedo tubes were carried one a piece aboard Inflexible‘s steam launches.19 Supporting this powerful main armament were four 6 lb QF guns, eight 4.7 inch cannon and a pair of 3 lb guns.20 Like all ironclad battleships of this period, the Inflexible also carried a prow ram.


Sir John Fisher, as Captain Royal Navy (RN), commanded Inflexible at the bombardment of Alexandria.21 Fisher as Captain HMS Inflexible22

Inflexible was commissioned on 5 July23 and fully ready for sea by October 1881.24 Sir Edward Reed, former Secretary and later Chief Constructor of the Institute of Naval Architects and by 1880 a liberal MP, felt the design deficient, leading to the formation of a government committee resulting in delays to completion.25 As a result of these maneuverings, Inflexible required seven and a half years to complete.26 Selected as a choice commander for the RN’s newest, heaviest warship, John Fisher was the first to command Inflexible.27


Model of Inflexible as complete.28

The bombardment of Alexandria: Egyptian General Ahmed Arabi led a revolt against the European backed Khedive government of Egypt, and besieged the government palace at Alexandria. Arabi then moved to strengthen Alexandria’s harbour defence.29

At the time, the Mediterranean Fleet was under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir Frederick Seymour.

Seymour had at his disposal, in addition to HMS Inflexible: Alexandria, Invincible, Sultan, Superb, Temeraire, Penelope, Monarch, and gunboats Beacon, Bittern, Condor, Cygnet, and Decoy. Reinforcements from the Channel Squadron were dispatched including Achilles, Agincourt and Tamar.30


Drawing of naval squadron between 1870-5 including HMS Penelope (1867), and Invincible (1869) ships that took part in the 1882 attack against the Alexandria fort complex.31

Following the British defeat in the First Boer War of 1881, the Gladstone administration was under significant pressure to prevent a repeat.32 The government thus authorized Seymour to issue an ultimatum (set for 11 July 1882) for Arabi’s forces to stop work on the development of Alexandria’s fort defences.33 A “massacre” of Europeans by a mob likely influenced Seymour to issue his ultimatum.34 To attack the Alexandria fort complex Seymour placed his flag aboard HMS Invincible and along with Penelope and Monarch planned to close to decisive range against the Res el Tin forts. Inflexible would stand-off and shell the forts with its heavy cannon.35 A detachment of gunboats led by Charles Beresford in the Condor would attack the Marabout forts. A large squadron of international vessels stood by to evacuate non-Egyptian subjects. All told, Seymour could employ ninety heavy guns.36


Plan for the bombardment, showing disposition of RN ships along coast and International Squadron to north west.37

On 11 July 1882 at 0700 Seymour launched his ten and a half hour attack.39 Alexandra fired the first salvo and at 0830 the Monarch detonated an Egyptian magazine.40 Inflexible and Temeraire moved to attack the forts at Pharos and Ada while Condor attacked the forts at Marsa.41 When firing ceased at 1730, Inflexible had fired 88 of its 16 inch shells.42 The fleet poured in over 3000 shells, silencing ten of the 44 Egyptian cannon and inflicting hundreds of causalities.43 American observers described Temeraire‘s fire as the most accurate.44 The RN suffered fifty-three casualties.45 Seymour ordered Fisher to land marines to secure the forts on 13 July.46 Fisher deployed 150 sailors and 450 marines for this purpose.47 Fisher and the Inflexible moored at Alexandria and later Port Said before returning to Malta, Fisher suffering from dysentery no doubt worsened by a heavy prescription of opium. Fisher developed malaria and was thus invalided to England.48 He returned to duty in April 1883.49


Bombardment of Alexandria, 11 July 1882, painting by De Simone (1883).38

Following the naval demonstration, a conference was arranged at Constantinople, although the Ottoman Empire refused to intervene. Britain then dispatched Sir Garnet Wolseley in a unilateral fashion, whose army defeated General Arabi at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir in September 1882.50 Although Arabi had been defeated, Britain had interjected into an Egypt beset by internal crisis- namely the Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan.


Edinburgh, slightly smaller battleship of similar configuration to Inflexible in 188751

Inflexible would be the last British battleship built to carry a full sailing rig.52


Inflexible in 1887.53

3 Tony Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ships., San Diego, CA.: Thunder Bay Press, 2001, p 259

4 <;; Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ships, p 259

5 Massie, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War, Toronto: Random House of Canada Ltd., 1991, p 390

8 Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ships, p 259; Archibald Hurd, “Her Majesty’s Navy, 1837-1897” in The Ludgate no. 4 (June 1, 1897): 161–166, p 163

9 Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ships, p 259

15 Eric Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, p 53

16 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 53

17 Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ships, p 259; John Leather, World Warships in Review 1860-1906, Purnell Books Services, London: Purnell Book Services Limited, 1976, p 13; Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 53; Massie, Dreadnought, p 419

18 Leather, World Warships in Review 1860-1906, p 13

19 Massie, Dreadnought, p 420

21 James Morris, Pax Britannica: The Climax of an Empire, vol. 2. 3 vols., Reprinted 1981., Bungay, Suffolk: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1968, p 241

25 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 42, 59; <;

26 Massie, Dreadnought, p 419

27 Massie, Dreadnought, p 151

29 Massie, Dreadnought, p 420-1

30 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 66-7

32 J. F. C. Fuller, The Conduct of War: 1789-1961, New Brunswick, N. J.: Da Capo Press, 1992, p 132

33 Massie, Dreadnought, p 421

34 Ramsay Muir, A Short History of the British Commonwealth, vol. 2., 2 vols., Third edition, London: George Philip & Son, Ltd., 1924, p 655

35 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 66-7

36 Massie, Dreadnought, p 421

39 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 66-7; Massie, Dreadnought, p 421

40 Arthur Herman, To Rule The Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, New York: HarperCollins’ Publishers, 2004, p 468

41 Herman, To Rule The Waves, p 468

42 Massie, Dreadnought, p 421

43 Massie, Dreadnought, p 421

44 Herman, To Rule The Waves, p 469

45 Herman, To Rule The Waves, p 468

46 Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, p 67

47 Massie, Dreadnought, p 422

48 Massie, Dreadnought, p 422-3

49 Massie, Dreadnought, p 424

50 Muir, A Short History of the British Commonwealth, p 655

51 Leather, World Warships in Review 1860-1906, p 28

52 Massie, Dreadnought, p 419

Sea Harrier FRS1: Operation Corporate

Sea Harrier FRS1: Operation Corporate


Lt. Commander Andy Auld’s FRS.1 (XZ499) 800 NAS at HMS SHEATHBILL [Port San Carlos] in June 1982i

The 14,000 lb aircraft was powered by a single Rolls-Royce Mk 104 Pegasus vector thrust turbofan, generating 21,500 lbs of static thrust.ii The aircraft could accelerate to Mach 1.25 (600) knots in a dive. Armed with 2 30 mm ADEN gun pods (200 rounds), with options for cluster bombs (600 lb) or rocket pods (2 inch) and 5,000-8,000 lbs of payload including AIM-9L “Sidewinder” IR missiles.iii Harriers were flown by NAS Nos 800, 801, 809 and (HQ, training) 899.iv 899 NAS had previously been 700A Intensive Flying Trials Unit at RNAS Yeovilton. Harrier trials had been conducted as early as August 1969, when the first Harrier landings were made aboard HMS Blake. Operational trials were carried out a decade later in 1979.v In March 1980 the newly formed 899 (HQ) squadron possessed 6 In 1998 FRS.Mk 1s were operating with NAS 800 and 801, in addition to 899 squadron.vii

General Leopoldo Galtieri’s military junta government declared “that 1982 would be ‘The Year of the Malvinas’” clarifying beyond a doubt the Argentine intention to settle the Falklands question.viii On 31 March 1982 intelligence was received “indicating that an Argentine Task Force” was heading towards the Falklands.ix


Hermes, Centaur class,in May 1981. Note NAS 800 Harriers at stern.x

The Falkland Islands in addition to South Georgia, were invaded on the night of 1/2 April 1982.xi HMS Invincible was placed on alert on April 2.xii Argentine bank assets in Britain were frozen on April 3.xiii A rapid series of events followed, beginning with the establishment of the shipping Exclusion Zone on April 5. The “Zone”- termed as such to avoid the wartime connotations of “blockade” – was established for 200 miles around the islands.

Task Force 317, under overall command of Admiral Fieldhouse, was composed of three distinct naval components: CTG 317.8 (Carrier Battle Group, RA Woodward), CTG 317.0 (Amphibious Task Group, Commodore Clapp), CTG 317.1 (Landing Force, Brigadier Thompson).xiv Submarines were operated under the separate command of Task Force 324.xv

During the Falklands War the Fleet Air Arm operated 20 FRS Harriers, squadrons aboard HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible.xvi RAF No. 1 Squadron GR3s also operated from Hermes.xvii In combat, 28 Harriers flew 2,197 sorties, resulting in 23 shoot-downs.xviii No 800 NAS and 899 (Hermes) flew 1,126 sorties and launched 14 AIM-9L sidewinders (only two of which missed their targets).xix No 801 and elements of 809 NAS were stationed aboard Invincible.xx

On 1 May 1982 seven aircraft were brought down by Sea Harriers for no losses.xxi The case of 1 May provides a startling example of the Harrier’s combat capability and the skill of the NAS and RAF operators. That afternoon, RAF Flight Lieutenant Paul Barton (801 Sqd.) and Lieutenant Commander John Eyton-Jones in two Harriers were on combat air patrol westward of the Task Force at 15,000 feet when HMS Invincible reported an enemy flight of six aircraft approaching, although this and another force aborted their attacks after firing several radar guided anti-air missiles and a resulting dog-fight.xxiii The flight was intercepted by a pair of Harriers flown by Lts Hale and Penfold. Penfold was able to attack and destroy Dagger C-433 with an AIM-9.xxiv

Dave Smith

Lt Dave Smith landing ZA193/93 on Hermes after destroying Dagger (C410 of Grupo 6) […] with his port AIM-9L Sidewinder on 24 May 1982”xxv ( 9 IAI Daggers were downed by Sea Harriers.xxii )

The major engagement of 1 May occurred when the FAA (Argentine Air Force) launched a coordinated attack with 20 aircraft. The first elements (a pair of Mirage IIIEAs from Grupo 8 flown by Captain Garcia Cuerva and Lieutenant Carlos Perona) were intercepted by Barton and wingman Lieutenant Steve Thomas (XZ452 and XZ453).xxvi xxvii Barton downed Perona (later recovered by the FAA) with an AIM 9, while Thomas chased Cuerva, damaging the latter’s aircraft with an AIM 9.xxviii Cuerva was unfortunately killed in a friendly fire incident as he returned to base.xxix The next day Thomas downed two Daggers, beginning the legend of the Harrier as Black Death: La Muerte

The same day, 9 Harriers carrying thousand lb bombs attacked Stanley Airport in support of the ‘Black Buck’ Vulcan raids.xxxi Harriers from Hermes and Invincible were launched against Stanley Airport and dropped thousand lb and cluster bombs.xxxii Dave Stanley’s NAS 800 Harrier (ZA192) was hit by 20mm flak as he overflew the airport on 1 May.xxxiii Nigel “Sharkey” Ward, commander No. 801 NAS, has critiqued the Vulcan missions, each of which required 18 refuelling missions flown by 12 aircraft and 130,000 gallons of fuel “sufficient to fly 260 Sea Harrier missions… dropping 1,300 bombs.”xxxiv


IAI Dagger (Dassault Mirage 5) flown by Argentine Air Force.xxxv

The next day, 2 May 1982 HMS Conquerer torpedoed the ARA General Belgrano. On 4 May the FAA launched a pair of Super Etendards armed with 2 of Argentina’s 5 air capable Exocet missiles against the Task Force, resulting in the fatal strike against HMS Sheffield.xxxvi


Sheffield after Exocet strike.xxxvii

Retaliation attacks by Vulcan and Harrier aircraft was organized on 4 May. It was during this operation that Lt Nick Taylor, in XZ450 was hit and killed by AA. The attack was carried out by the remaining aircraft, ZA192 (cluster bombs) and XZ460 (1,000 lb bombs).xxxviii On 9 May, four Harriers, including XZ460 and ZA191 bombed and strafed the Argentine trawler Narwhal.xxxix On 10-11 May attacks were carried out by NAS 800 against the Stanley airfield: due to the Roland missiles defending the airport, bombs could only be dropped at 18,000 feet and were generally inaccurate.xl On 15 May the Argentine supply ship Rio Carcarana was spotted near Port King, and was attacked by Harriers XZ459 and XZ494, resulting in the ships abandonment.xli A similar fate met the Bahia Buen Suceso docked at Fox Bay and attacked by Harriers XZ500 and ZA191.xlii

On 18 May Atlantic Conveyer arrived carrying 4 FRS aircraft (No 809 NAS) and 4 GR.3s (No 1 RAF, of which two more aircraft arrived shortly afterwards).xliii


GR3 and FRS1 comparison.xliv

In a series of events known as “Bomb Alley” to the British, and “Death Valley” to the Argentines, the Ardent was sunk on May 21 by Skyhawks A-4Q0660 and A4Q0665 (A-4Q0660 was destroyed by XZ457’s AIM-9 launch and A-4Q0665’s pilot was forced to eject as a result of cannon hits).xlv Another Skyhawk in the area, A-4Q0667 was downed by cannon fire from Harrier XZ500.xlvi The sinking of the Ardent was a result of the Argentine attempt to disrupt Operation Sutton, the landing at Port San Carlos. During this operation, several waves of Dagger and Skyhawk aircraft attacked the Task Force. Patrolling Harriers XZ492 and XZ496 intercepted three Skyhawks and downed two of them. XZ455 and ZA176, launched in support, caught four incoming Daggers and destroyed C-409.xlvii

The Antelope was sunk on May 23, the same day Hermes CAP ZA192 and ZA191 intercepted a helicopter resupply force enroute from Port Stanley to Port Howard.xlviii The Coventry & Atlantic Conveyor were destroyed on May 25. The day before three Daggers were downed by Harriers XZ457 and ZA193.xlix Terrible losses were also inflicted upon the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad on June 8 when they were attacked by eight Skyhawks and five Daggers.l Three Skyhawks were downed by AIM-9s and cannon by ZA177 and XZ499 in the evening of June


Coventry hit fatally by three 1,000 lb bombs.lii

Lastly the Fearless was destroyed on June 8. Of these losses, the Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor were destroyed by Exocets fired from FAA Super-Etendard 3-A-203.liii The loss of Atlantic Conveyor was particularly disastrous as not only had 10 Harriers been scrambled to intercept, but the Conveyor also carried the lion’s share of the Chinook helicopters required for the Commando heavy lift for land operations.liv The Argentines claimed to have scored an Exocet hit upon HMS Invincible, in addition to several bomb hits, on 30 May 1982, though Invincible sustained no damage that The majority of damage inflicted upon the Task Force was the result of A-4 Skyhawk attacks with conventional munitions. Skyhawk kills included the Ardent, Antelope and the Coventry. In total the 48 Skyhawks possessed by Argentina sank “a destroyer, two frigates and two landing ships” though at the steep and unacceptable price of 22 planes.lvi


Hermes returns to Portsmouth, 21 July 1982lvii

The campaign to liberate the islands was concluded by 14 June with the surrender of the Island’s garrison.lviii Two Harrier pilots were killed in combat operations. XZ450, 800 NAS stationed on HMS Hermes, pilot Lieutenant Nick Taylor, was shot down by 35mm gunfire 4 May 1982.lix Lt Cdr Batt was killed when ZA192 crashed on take-off in late May.lx 

For their part, the FAA’s 14 Super Etendards sank two RN ships for no losses (Gunston, ed., The Encyclopedia of Modern Warplanes, p 106). The success of the carriers at the Falklands demonstrated the value of naval aviation for the Royal Navy: all the more significant considering the pre-Falkland RN cutbacks (Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century, London: Frank Cass, 2004, p 194), p 273

ii Kev Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2009, p 311

iiiDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 311-3, 246; Bill Gunston, ed., The Encyclopedia of Modern Warplanes, Etobicoke, Ontario: Prospero Books, 1998, p 77

ivDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 313

v Longstaff, The Fleet Air Arm, p 240-1

viReginald Longstaff, The Fleet Air Arm: A Pictorial History, London: Robert Hale Ltd., 1981, p 242

viiGunston, ed., The Encyclopedia of Modern Warplanes, p 77

viii J. F. Woodward & Patrick Robinson, One Hundred Days; The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1992, p 68

ix Lawrence Freedman, The Official History of the Falklands Campaign, vol., 2, New York: Taylor & Francis Inc., 2005, p 3

x John Jordan, An Illustrated Guide to Modern Naval Aviation and Aircraft Carriers, London: Salamander Books Ltd., 1983, p 40-1

xi Finnis, Airlife – History of the Fleet Air Arm, p 162

xiiADM 53/189407, Ships log of HMS Invincible, 2 April 1982. National Archives, p 8

xiii Freedmen, Official History, vol 2, p 92

xiv Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century, London: Frank Cass, 2004, p 194

xvDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 243

xvi Bill Finnis, Airlife – History of the Fleet Air Arm – From Kites to Carriers, Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 2000, p 166

xviiIan Speller, “Limited War and Crisis Management: Naval Aviation in Action from the Korean War to the Falklands Conflict,” in British Naval Aviation: The First 100 Years, edited by Tim Benbow, 151–76, Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies Series, Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2011, p 171

xviii Speller, “Limited War and Crisis Management” p 171

xix Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 263, 244

xxDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 245

xxiDavid Hobbs, “The Empire Strikes Back: The Battle of the Falklands in 1914 and the Falklands War of 1982” in Dreadnought to Daring, edited by Peter Hore, 358–72, Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2012, p 363

xxiii Christopher Chant, Air War in the Falklands: 1982, Osprey Combat Aircraft 28, Botley Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2001, p 43-5

xxiv Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 248

xxv Andy Evans, The British Aerospace Sea Harrier, Bedford, UK: SAM Publications, 2007, p 23

xxvi Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 264

xxvii Chant, Air War in the Falklands, p 45-7

xxviii Chant, Air War in the Falklands, p 47

xxix Chant, Air War in the Falklands, p 48

xxx Wragg, A Century of British Naval Aviation, p 183

xxxiSpeller, “Limited War and Crisis Management” p 172

xxxii Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 247

xxxiii David Wragg, A Century of British Naval Aviation, 1909-2009, Pen and Sword, 2009, p 182; Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 248

xxxiv Speller, “Limited War and Crisis Management” p 172; see Nigel Ward, Sea Harrier over the Falklands, London: Orion Books, 1993, p 183-6; Wragg, A Century of British Naval Aviation, p 183

xxxvi Freedman, Official History, vol 2, p 259

xxxviii Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 251

xxxix Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 251

xl Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 251

xliDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 252

xliiDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 252

xliii Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 252

xliv Chant, Air War in the Falklands, p 17-8

xlv Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 255

xlvi Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 255

xlvii Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 255

xlviii Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 256

xlix Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 258-9

l Darling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 260

liDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 260

liii Salvador Huertas, “Super Etendard in the Falklands” in Wings of Fame: The Journal of Classic Combat Aircraft, vol., 8, London: Aerospace Publishing Ltd., 1997, p 25

livDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 259

lv Huertas, “Super Etendard in the Falklands” p 29

lvi Salvador Huertas & David Donald, “A-4 Skyhawk in the Falklands” in Wings of Fame: The Journal of Classic Combat Aircraft, vol., 12, London: Aerospace Publishing Ltd., 1998, p 29

lviii Alexander and Malcolm Swanston, Atlas of Air Warfare, Victoria, Australia: Hinkler Books Pty Ltd, 2009, p 212

lix James Spirit & Martin Paul, “One of Our Aircraft is Missing,” 27 Jan 2005 <>

lxDarling, Fleet Air Arm Carrier War, p 257-8