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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

Villaret was able to form a column of 16 ships to leeward


Out

of the confusion, an hour after the battle had begun, Villaret was able to form a column of 16 ships to leeward, and though ten of his vessels lay helpless between the lines, three drifted or were towed down to him and escaped. Howe has been sharply criticized for letting these cripples get away; but the battered condition of his fleet and his own complete physical exhaustion led him to rest content with six prizes aside from the sunken _Vengeur_. The criticism has also been made that he should have further exerted himself to secure a junction with the detachment on convoy duty, which on May 19 was returning and not far away. If he had at that time held his 32 ships between Brest and Rochefort, with scouts well distributed to westward, he would have been much more certain to intercept both Villaret's fleet and the convoy, which would have approached in company, and both of which, with the British searching in a body at sea, stood a good chance of escape. Howe's hope, no doubt, was to meet the convoy unguarded. The latter, protected by fog, actually crossed on May 30 the waters fought over on the 29th, and twelve days later safely reached the French coast. Robespierre had told Villaret that if the convoy were captured he should answer for it with his life. Hence the French admiral declared years later that the loss of his battleships troubled him relatively little. "While Howe amused himself refitting them, I saved the convoy, and I saved my head."

[Illustration:

BATTLE OF THE FIRST OF JUNE, 1794

Based on diagram in Mahan's _Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution,_ Vol. I, p. 136.]

Though the escape of the convoy enabled the French to boast a "strategic victory," the First of June in reality established British prestige and proved a crushing blow to French morale. A British defeat, on the other hand, might have brought serious consequences, for within a year's time the Allied armies, including the British under the Duke of York, were driven out of Holland, the Batavian Republic was established in league with France (February, 1795), and both Spain and Prussia backed out of the war. Austria remained England's only active ally.

During the remainder of 1794 and the year following only minor or indecisive encounters occurred in the northern theater of war, lack of funds and naval supplies hampering the recovery of the French fleet from the injuries inflicted by Howe. Ill health forcing the latter's retirement from sea duty, he was succeeded in the Channel by Lord Bridport, who continued his predecessor's easy-going methods until the advent of Jervis in 1798, instituted a more rigorous regime. It was not yet recognized that the wear and tear on ships and crews during sea duty was less serious than the injurious effect of long stays in port upon sea spirit and morale.

_French Projects of Invasion_

With their fleets passive, the French resorted vigorously to commerce warfare, and at the same time kept England constantly perturbed by rumors, grandiose plans, and actual undertakings of invasion. That these earlier efforts failed was due as much to ill luck and bad management as to the work of Bridport's fleet. Intended, moreover, primarily as diversions to keep England occupied at home and sicken her of the war, they did not altogether fail of their aim. Some of these projects verged on the ludicrous, as that of corraling a band of the criminals and royalist outlaws that infested France and dropping them on the English coast for a wild campaign of murder and pillage. Fifteen hundred of these _Chouans_ were actually landed at Fishguard in February of 1798, but promptly surrendered, and France had to give good English prisoners in exchange for them on the threat that they would be turned loose again on French soil.


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