1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Quiberon, Campaign and Battle of
QUIBERON, CAMPAIGN AND BATTLE OF. Quiberon Bay, on the S. coast of Brittany, France, was the scene of the great naval battle which defeated the plan laid by the ministers of King Louis XV. of France, for the invasion of England in 1759, during the Seven Years' War (q.v.). An army had been collected at Yannes, in the south-east of Brittany, and transports had been brought together in the landlocked waters of the Morbihan which are connected with Quiberon Bay. The scheme of the French ministers was to combine twenty-one ships of the line lying at Brest under the command of M. de Conflans, with twelve which were to be brought round from Toulon by M. de la Clue. The army was then to be carried to some point on the coast of England or Scotland by the united squadrons. The British government was well informed of its enemy's intentions, and took vigorous measures of defence. Admiral Sir E. Hawke, afterwards Lord Hawke, was directed to blockade Brest with a fleet of twenty-live sail of the line, four ships of fifty guns and nine frigates. The four ships of fifty guns together with four frigates were detached, first under Commodore John Reynolds, and then under Commodore Robert Duff, to lie in Quiberon Bay and watch the entry to the Morbihan. During the whole summer, from the beginning of June, Sir E. Hawke kept his station off Brest, and the detached squadron occupied Quiberon Bay. The task of blockading M. de la Clue at Toulon was given to Edward Boscawen, who had with him fourteen sail of the line. Boseawen reached his station on the 16th of May 1759. At the beginning of July want of stores and water, together with the injury inflicted on some of his vessels by a French battery, compelled him to go to Gibraltar to provision and refit. He reached the port on the 4th of August. On the 5th M. de la Clue left Toulon, and on the 17th passed the straits of Gibraltar, where he was sighted by the look-out ships of Boscawen. The British fleet hurried out to sea, and pursued in two divisions, separated by a distance of some miles owing to the haste with which they left port. During the night of the 17th and 18th of August five of M. de la Clue's ships lost sight of his flagship, and steered for Cadiz. The other seven, which had been delayed for a time in the hope of rejoining their consorts, were overtaken by Boscawen and attacked in the afternoon of the 18th. One, the “Centaur” (74), was captured after a very gallant resistance, in which the British flagship was severely damaged. During the night of the 18th–19th of August, two of the French ships altered course to the west, and escaped. The remaining four fled to the north, and into Portuguese waters, where two were driven ashore and destroyed, while two were captured near Lagos. The five in Cadiz were blockaded by Boscawen's second-in-command, Admiral Broderick. La Clue was mortally wounded, and died ashore in Portugal. Although the defeat of his squadron had ruined the scheme for the combination of their forces, the French ministers decided to persevere with the invasion. M. de Conflans was ordered to put to sea. On the 9th of November a severe gale forced Sir E. Hawke from in front of Brest, and as his ships were in want of stores he sailed for Torquay. Finding the way clear, Conflans put to sea on the 14th, and steered for Quiberon. Sir E. Hawke left Torquay to resume his station on the same day. On the 15th he learnt from a look-out ship that the French had been seen at sea to the north-west of Belleisle, and steering south-west. Concluding that they were bound for the Morbihan he followed. Calms and contrary winds prevented either fleet from making much progress till the evening of the 19th, when the French were rather over 60 m. to the south-west of Belleisle, which is south of Quiberon. The wind had now changed to the north-west and was beginning to blow hard. M. de Conflans made for Quiberon under reduced canvas for fear of making the land in the night, the coast being one of the most dangerous in the world, on account of the rocky islands of Houat and Hoedik, and the long string of reefs which lie inside Belleisle. Hawke was steering in the same direction farther out at sea. On the morning of the 20th of November, Conflans was nearing the south point of Belleisle. The small squadron of Commodore Duff, warned of his approach, endeavoured to escape to sea before he could shut them in at Quiberon. One of the ships worked out through the very dangerous passage to the north of Belleisle, the others came round the south of the island, where they were nearly cut off and captured. As the pursuers came close to them the sails of Hawke's fleet were seen rising over the horizon. M. de Conflans immediately called off the pursuers, and endeavoured to form his line of battle. By midday he was able to estimate the full strength of Hawke's fleet of twenty-three sail of the line, which with the four 50-gun ships of Commodore Duff made twenty-seven vessels to his twenty-one. He therefore altered his mind, and decided to run inside the islands of Houat and Hoedik, and gain the anchorage of Quiberon. He concluded that as the day was far advanced and the wind was increasing, the British admiral would not dare to follow him into so dangerous a place. But Sir E. Hawke considered that the circumstances justified him in taking all risks, and seeing his enemy in retreat he ordered a pursuit. As the van of the French led by their admiral was turning inside the Cardinal rocks at the southern end of the reefs, his rear was attacked. The two fleets entered the Bay late in the evening, and there followed a battle unique in naval history, for it was fought in the dark, among rocks, in a severe gale, and on a lee shore. Two of the British liners were wrecked on a rock called the Four, but five of the French were taken or destroyed, among the latter was the flagship of Conflans, who escaped to the shore on a spar. Seven of the French ships ran into the little river Vilaine, being compelled to throw their guns overboard to lighten themselves before crossing the bar. Nine escaped to the south. The small number of prizes taken gives no measure of the importance of the victory, which broke the spirit and strength of the French fleet so effectually that it did not appear at sea again during the rest of the war, i.e. until 1763.
See Beaton's Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, vol. ii. p. 32I et seq.; Burrows's Life of Lord Hawke; Tronde, Batailles navales de la France, vol. i. p. 379 et seq. (D. H.)