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204 [NAVAL OPERATIONS
FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS
of the British government to seize on its enemy’s colonial possessions, not only because of their intrinsic value, but because they were the headquarters of active privateers. The occupation of the little fishing stations of St Pierre and Miquelon (14th May 1793) and of Pondicherry in the East Indies (23rd Aug. 1793) were almost formal measures taken at the beginning of every war. But the French West Indian islands possessed intrinsic strength which rendered their occupation a service of difficulty and hazard. In 1793 they were torn by dissensions, the result of the revolution in the mother country. Tobago was occupied in April, and the French part of the great island of San Domingo was partially thrown into British hands by the Creoles, who were threatened by their insurgent slaves. During 1794 a lively series of operations, in which there were some marked alternations of fortune, took place in and about Martinique and Guadaloupe. The British squadron, and the contingent of troops it carried, after a first repulse, occupied them both in March and April, together with Santa Lucia. A vigorous counter-attack was carried out by the Terrorist Victor Hugues with ability and ferocity. Guadaloupe and Santa Lucia were recovered in August. Yet on the whole the British government was successful in its policy of destroying the French naval power in distant seas. The seaborne commerce of the Republic was destroyed.
The naval supremacy of Great Britain was limited, and was for a time menaced, in consequence of the advance of the French armies on land. The invasion of Holland in 1794 led to the downfall of the house of Orange, and the establishment of the Batavian Republic. War with Great Britain under French dictation followed in January 1795. In that year a British expedition under the command of Admiral Keith Elphinstone (afterwards Lord Keith) occupied the Dutch colony at the Cape (August-September) and their trading station in Malacca. The British colonial empire was again extended, and the command of the sea by its fleet confirmed. But the necessity to maintain a blockading force in the German Ocean imposed a fresh strain on its naval resources, and the hostility of Holland closed a most important route to British commerce in Europe. In 1795 Spain made peace with France at Basel, and in September 1796 re-entered the war as her ally. The Spanish navy was most inefficient, but it required to be watched and therefore increased the heavy strain on the British fleet. At the same time the rapid advance of the French arms in Italy began to close the ports of the peninsula to Great Britain. Its ships were for a time withdrawn from the Mediterranean. Poor as it was in quality, the Spanish fleet was numerous. It was able to facilitate the movements of French squadrons sent to harass British commerce in the Atlantic, and a concentration of forces became necessary.
It was the more important because the cherished French scheme for an attack on the heart of the British empire began to take shape. While Spain occupied one part of the British fleet to the south, and Holland another in the north, a French expedition, which was to have been aided by a Dutch expedition from the Texel, was prepared at Brest. The Dutch were confined to harbour by the vigilant blockade of Admiral Duncan, afterwards Lord Camperdown. But in December 1796 a French fleet commanded by Admiral Morard de Galle, carying[P2: typo? carrying?] 13,000 troops under General Hoche, was allowed to sail from Brest for Ireland, by the slack management of the blockade under Admiral Colpoys. Being ill-fitted, ill-manned and exposed to constant bad weather the French ships were scattered. Some reached their destination, Bantry Bay, only to be driven out again by north-easterly gales. The expedition finally returned after much suffering, and in fragments, to Brest. Yet the year 1797 was one of extreme trial to Great Britain. The victory of Sir John Jervis over the Spaniards near Cape Saint Vincent on the 14th of February (see Saint Vincent, Battle of) disposed of the Spanish fleet. In the autumn of the year the Dutch, having put to sea, were defeated at Camperdown by Admiral Duncan on the 11th of October. Admiral Duncan had the more numerous force, sixteen ships to fifteen, and they were on the average heavier. Attacking from windward he broke through the enemy’s line and concentrated on his rear and centre. Eight line of battleships and two frigates were taken, but the good gunnery and steady resistance of the Dutch made the victory costly. Between these two battles the British fleet was for a time menaced in its very existence by a succession of mutinies, the result of much neglect of the undoubted grievances of the sailors. The victory of Camperdown, completing what the victory of Cape Saint Vincent had begun, seemed to put Great Britain beyond fear of invasion. But the government of the Republic was intent on renewing the attempt. The successes of Napoleon at the head of the army of Italy had reduced Austria to sign the peace of Campo Formio, on the 17th of October 1797,and he was appointed commander of the new army of invasion. It was still thought necessary to maintain the bulk of the British fleet in European waters, within call in the ocean. The Mediterranean was left free to the French, whose squadrons cruised in the Levant, where the Republic had become possessed of the Ionian Islands by the plunder of Venice. The absence of a British force in the Mediterranean offered to the government of the French Republic an alternative to an invasion of Great Britain or Ireland, which promised to be less hazardous and equally effective. It was induced largely by the persuasion of Napoleon himself, and the wish of the politicians who were very willing to see him employed at a distance. The expedition to Egypt under his command sailed on the 19th of May 1798, having for its immediate purpose the occupation of the Nile valley, and for its ultimate aim an attack on Great Britain “from behind” in India (see Nile, Battle of the). The British fleet re-entered the Mediterranean to pursue and baffle Napoleon. The destruction of the French squadron at the anchorage of Aboukir on the 1st of August gave it the complete command of the sea. A second invasion of Ireland on a smaller scale was attempted and to some extent carried out, while the great attack by Egypt was in progress. One French squadron of four frigates carrying 1150 soldiers under General Humbert succeeded in sailing from Rochefort on the 6th of August. On the 22nd Humbert was landed at Killala Bay, but after making a vigorous raid he was compelled to surrender at Ballinamuck on the 8th of September. Eight days after his surrender, another French squadron of one sail of the line and eight frigates carrying 3000 troops, sailed from Brest under Commodore Bompart to support Humbert. It was watched and pursued by frigates, and on the 12th of October was overtaken and destroyed by a superior British force commanded by Sir John Borlase Warren, near Tory Island.
From the close of 1798 till the coup d’état of the 18th Brumaire (9th November) 1799, which established Napoleon as First Consul and master of France, the French navy had only one object—to reinforce and relieve the army cut off in Egypt by the battle of the Nile. The relief of the French garrison in Malta was a subordinate part of the main purpose. But the supremacy of the British navy was by this time so firmly founded that neither Egypt nor Malta could be reached except by small ships which ran the blockade. On the 25th of April, Admiral Bruix did indeed leave Brest, after baffling the blockading fleet of Lord Bridport, which was sent on a wild-goose chase to the south of Ireland by means of a despatch sent out to be captured and to deceive. Admiral Bruix succeeded in reaching Toulon, and his presence in the Mediterranean caused some disturbance. But, though his twenty-five sail of the line formed the best-manned fleet which the French had sent to sea during the war, and though he escaped being brought to battle, he did not venture to steer for the eastern Mediterranean. On the 13th of August he was back at Brest, bringing with him a Spanish squadron carried off as a hostage for the fidelity of the government at Madrid to its disastrous alliance with France. On the day on which Bruix re-entered Brest, the 13th of August 1799, a combined Russian and British expedition sailed from the Downs to attack the French army of occupation in the Batavian Republic. The military operations were unsuccessful, and terminated in the withdrawal of the allies. But the naval part was well executed. Vice-admiral Mitchell forced the entrance to the Texel, and on the 30th of August received the surrender of the remainder of the