De Grasse's Naval Army (March 1781 – April 1782)
Narrative prepared by M. Jacques de TRENTINIAN
I - Year 1781

Sailed out of Brest with:

  • 20 ships of the line (s.o.l) -- not including Suffren's squadron of 5 s.o.l., 1 frig, and 1 corvette.).
    Ville de Paris (106), Auguste (80), Languedoc (80), Saint-Esprit (80), Bourgogne (74)), César (74)), Citoyen (74), Diadème (74), Glorieux (74), Hector (74), Hercule (74), Magnanime (74), Marseillais (74), Northumberland (74), Pluton (74), Sceptre (74), Scipion (74), Souverain (74), Zélé (74), Vaillant (64).
  • 3 frigates: Aigrette, Diligente, Médée, plus 2 cutters: Alerte, Pandour.
  • And a convoy of 150 transports including reinforcements for French West Indies.
  • Suffren's squadron (until Açores [Azores] Island): 6 ships of the line and a small convoy.

At Fort Royal (Martinique):

  • On April 29, the above 20 s.o.l chased Hood's British squadron which had been blockading the French held harbor.
  • Landed French infantry reinforcement (3,791 men detached from 41 different regiments).
  • Captured the British island of Tobago on 1 June 1781.
  • Added to his naval force: 5 s.o.l; Caton (64), Experiment (50), Réfléchi (64), Solitaire (64), Victoire (74).
  • Left 2 frigates: Galatée, Médée at Fort Royal and sailed to Saint Domingue.

At Cap Français (Saint-Domingue), anchored on July 16:

  • Landed infantry reinforcement from France (2,371 men from 32 different regiments).
  • Added to his naval force: 5 s.o.l.: Actionnaire (64), Destin (74), Palmier (74), Triton (64), and for a few days, Intrépide (74) which burned in the harbour and sunk on 18 July.
  • Boarded Saint-Simon 3,300 men Infantry and artillery (on board the war ships).
  • Sailed to the Chesapeake with 29 s.o.l. (Hector and César joined after repair in Grenada, Actionnaire was left to protect trade (sailed with 180 merchant ships in October).
  • Frigate Andromaque was also among the warships embarking men (hussars); frigates Gentille, Railleuse rejoined a little later (26 August). Fée, damaged in her victorious fight against the British Nymphe, stayed for repair.
  • Frigate Aigrette made a detour to collect money in Cuba.

Laid anchor at the Chesapeake on August 30, with 28 s.o.l. and 4 frigates:

  • Left 4 s.o.l. and 3 frigates in the Bay to control York and James rivers:
    s.o.l.: Experiment (50), Experiment (50), Glorieux (74), Triton (64), Vaillant(64); frigates: Andromaque, Diligente, and Gentille.
  • Confronted Graves and Hood (5 to 10 September) with (in the following order):
    « Un bon présage : le Destin me précède et la Victoire me suit! » (De Grasse)

    24 sol: Pluton (74), Bourgogne (74), Marseillais (74), Diadème (74),
    Réfléchi (64), Auguste (80), Saint-Esprit (80), Caton (64),
    César (74), Destin (74), Ville de Paris (106), Victoire (74),
    Sceptre
    (74), Northumberland (74), Palmier (74), Solitaire (64),
    Citoyen (74), Scipion (74), Magnanime (74), Hercule (74),
    Languedoc (80), Zélé (74), Hector (74), Souverain (74);
    and 2 frigates: Aigrette and Railleuse.

  • Sailed back on 11 September.
  • Captured 2 British frigates: Iris and Richmond in the Bay.

Comte de Barras had arrived (from the south) in the Bay, on September 10, with:

  • 8 sol: Ardent, Conquérant, Duc de Bourgogne, Éveillé, Jason, Neptune, Provence, Romulus.
  • 2 frigates: Concorde, Surveillante, (3, including Hermione, which arrived later).
  • 18 transports, with the siege artillery and Choisy's detachment.
  • Having left in New England s.o.l. Sagittaire, and three frigates Astrée, Hermione, Résolue.
Frigate Hermione arrrived later (28 Sept) with powder and supplies.

Frigates Surveillante and Andromaque sailed to France after Yorktown campaign.

De Grasse left Virginia on 4 November.

  • Left in the bay (under La Villebrunne), s.o.l. Romulus, and two frigates Diligente, Hermione. On 2 February 1782 , Hermione sailed to France, embarking Viomenil and 18 officers. Departing for Boston, Diligente ran aground on Cape Henry and was lost (24 sailors died).
  • Dispatched on 8 November to Le Cap (Saint-Domingue), s.o.l. Provence, Triton, Vaillant, Victoire (on 22 March 1782, they will escort a 150 ship convoy to France) plus frigates Gentille and Railleuse.
  • Arrived on 25 November at Fort Royal (Martinique) with the remaining s.o.l. (28 + 8 – 1 – 4 = 31) and frigates.
  • The same day, marquis de Bouillé, French governor of the Leward Islands, with Amazone, Galatée and Médée, recaptured the Dutch island of Saint Eustache.


II - Year 1782 Campaigns

2-1: De Grasse in charge.

Capture of St Kitts, Montserrat and Nevis.

  • On 5 January, the French 29 sol. fleet leaves Fort Royal (Matrinique).
  • Squadron from New England (Astrée, Résolue, Sagittaire), lay anchor in Fort Royal. On 13 January, La Pérouse with frigate Astrée sails to rally at St Kitts.
  • The fleet receives from France reinforcement: frigate Neréïde, followed by s.o.l. Triomphant (80) and Brave (74), under comte de Vaudreuil.
  • Confrontation with British admiral Hood's 22 s.o.l. fleet.
  • On 25 and 26 January, French capture Brimston Hill Fort (the "Gibraltar of the West Indies") and of St Kitts, Montserrat and Nevis islands.
  • De Grasse is back on 8 Feb. at Fort Royal. New reinforcements arrive from France on 19 Feb.: 19: s.o.l. Couronne (80), Magnifique (74), Dauphin Royal (70), frigates Engageante, Fripone, corvette Cérès, escorting 50 ships.
  • After comte de Kersaint's operation to free Dutch colonies in Surinam (Berbice, Essequebio, ...), frigate Aimable, is positioned in Guadeloupe.

Attempt against Jamaica

  • From Fort Royal (Martinique), De Grasse sets sail on 8 April, with 35 s.o.l., of which two of 50 cannons escort a 100 transports convoy.
  • A first indecisive combat is fought against British admiral Rodney on 9 April.
  • At les Saintes (12 April) and off Porto Rico (19 April), the French fleet loses 7 s.o.l., plus frigate Aimable and De Grasse is made prisoner, but saves his convoy of French troops.

2-2: Vaudreuil takes the relay.

  • Vaudreuil replaces De Grasse as theater naval commander; he rassembles the remaining 28 ships of the line and 7 frigates Richmond, Galatée, Astrée, Néréide, Amazone, Engageante, Iris.
  • 12 s.o.l., which are not copper clad, (Conquérant, Dauphin Royal, Destin, Diadème, Éveillé, Expériment, Languedoc, Magnanime, Marseillais, Palmier, Réfléchi, Saint-Esprit) are not kept with the remaining combatant fleet. Two are stationned for trade protection at Cap Français (Saint-Domingue).
  • Vaudreuil deploys La Perouse with s.o.l. Sceptre plus frigates Astrée and Engageante on a raiding expedition in the Hudson Bay.
  • Sagittaire and Zélé are stationed at Fort Royal.
  • On 5 July, the remaining 13 s.o.l. plus frigates Amazone, Néréide, Iris and 9 smaller ships are sent to Boston for refitting.
  • Magnifique goes ashore and sinks. The US Congress offers France the America as a replacement.
  • On 6 Dec 1782, Solitaire is captured by a British squadron.
  • On Christmas' eve, 1782, Vaudreuil sets sail, with most of Rochambeau's expeditionary corps, from Boston to wait for the Franco-Spanish new Armada at Porto Cabello.

On January 29, 1783 Rochambeau embarks for France on frigate Emeraude.

Last French forces in America, (Lauzun's Legion and the siege artillery) embark at Wilmington (Delaware) on 11 May 1783 on frigates Astrée (back from Hudson Bay via France), Danaé, Gloire, plus American transports Saint James and Duc de Lauzun.


© J. de TRENTINIAN

This webpage complements another page which arrays the French naval ships in a matrix chart.
See: Naval Fleets Under Comte DE GRASSE During the 1781-1782 Campaigns

Return to webpage FRENCH NAVAL LEADERS AND THE FRENCH NAVY IN THE AMERICAN WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE.


Page posted 25 August 2010; revised 2 September 2010.