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In September 1781 the French Admiral, the Compte, Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse, landed French reinforcements for General Washington's troops in Virginia and then defeated the British fleet under Admiral Graves at the Battle of the Capes. These actions contributed greatly to the success of the American revolutionary cause. De Grasse's warships left the Virginia coast on 4 November 1781 and sailed for the Caribbean capturing British possessions on the way. Within three months the only islands remaining under British rule were Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbados. In April 1782, de Grasse regathered his forces and prepared to join with the Spanish for an invasion of Jamaica.
On April 8, 1782, de Grasse left Martinique with his entire fleet of 33 ships-of-the-line and headed for a rendezvous with 12 Spanish ships-of-line and 15,000 troops for an invasion of Jamaica. Also with him was a convoy of over 100 cargo ships filled with goods and products bound for France. Prior to joining with the Spanish war ships, the convoy was to take off on its own for France.
While de Grasse was preparing his fleet at Fort Royal, the British Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney arrived in the Caribbean from England and immediately took command of the British Caribbean forces which now comprised 36 ships-of-the-line.
De Grasse's intentions were plain. From the heights of St. Lucia and through reports from his frigates, Rodney kept watch on the French fleet. When he learned of its departure, he set off in pursuit. Within a couple of days, the fleets were in sight of each other.
On April 12, the two fleets engaged at close range on parallel but opposite courses near Les Iles des Saintes, a group of small islands near Martinique. As the leading French ships reached the rearmost British ships, de Grasse signalled his fleet to reverse course so that the action could continue on parallel courses, but the command was not carried out by all of his captains.
This, together with a sudden change in the wind opened gaps in the French battle line. Seizing this opportunity, Admiral Rodney executed a manoeuver never used before in a naval battle. He turned his ships through ninety degrees and sailed through the broken French line, splitting it into four segments. By doing this, the guns on both sides of the British ships were brought to bear on the French with little risk of return fire.
De Grasse could not reform his line and as the battle progressed, six heavily damaged French ships surrendered. Finally, the Ville de Paris, de Grasse's 130-gun flagship, struck her colours and de Grasse surrendered to the British Captain, Lord Cranston. Over 400 of the Ville de Paris' crew had been killed and more than 700 wounded. All the French ships were either sunk or captured and overall more than 3,000 men lost their lives.
Admiral Rodney brought the captured ships to Jamaica and the grateful colonists erected a marble statue in his honour. This statue now stands in Kingston's Spanish Town Square. The Ville de Paris was brought into service with the British fleet and was painted by C. Sturt. If you have any information about the painter, please send me an e-mail.
Click on the link to return to the Sturt home page .