Action of 13 January 1797

The Action of 13 January 1797 was a minor naval battle between a French ship of the line and two British frigates off the coast of Brittany. The French 74-gun ship Droits de l’Homme had been part of the Expédition d’Irlande, an unsuccessful attempt by a French expeditionary force to invade Ireland. The frigates outmanoeuvred the much larger French vessel and drove it onto shore in heavy seas, resulting in the deaths of between 400 and 1,000 of the 1,300 persons aboard. Six sailors drowned after running onto a sandbank while failing to escape a lee shore. The seas were so rough that the French ship was unable to open the lower gun ports during

About Action of 13 January 1797 in brief

Summary Action of 13 January 1797The Action of 13 January 1797 was a minor naval battle between a French ship of the line and two British frigates off the coast of Brittany during the French Revolutionary Wars. The French 74-gun ship Droits de l’Homme had been part of the Expédition d’Irlande, an unsuccessful attempt by a French expeditionary force to invade Ireland. The frigates outmanoeuvred the much larger French vessel and drove it onto shore in heavy seas, resulting in the deaths of between 400 and 1,000 of the 1,300 persons aboard. Six sailors drowned after running onto a sandbank while failing to escape a lee shore. The engagement lasted for more than 15 hours, in an increasing gale and the constant presence of the rocky Breton coast. The seas were so rough that the French ship was unable to open the lower gun ports during the action and as a result could only fire the upper deck guns. The damage the more manoeuvrable British vessels inflicted on the French vessel was so severe that as the winds increased, the French crew lost control and the ship was swept onto asandbar and destroyed. The action was one of the first naval battles of the French Revolutionary  Wars, with the other being the Action of 18 June 1793, which saw the capture of the Cléopâtre by Sir Edward Pellew and the subsequent sinking of the East Indiaman Dutton in January 1796. The British Channel Fleet normally maintained a squadron off Brest to blockade the port, but its commander, Rear-Admiral John Colpoys, had withdrawn his force from its usual station 20 nautical miles offshore to 40 nautical miles northwest of Brest because of severe Atlantic winter gales.

The only British ships within sight of Brest were an inshore squadron of frigates under Sir Edward Pellew in HMS Indefatigable, accompanied by HMS Amazon, HMS Phoebe, HMS Révolutionnaire and the lugger HMS Duke of York. In December 1796, a French expeditionary force departed from Brest on an expedition to invade Ireland. This army of 18,000 French soldiers was intended to link up with the secret organisation of Irish Republicanism known as the United Irishmen and provoke a widespread uprising throughout the island. It was hoped that the resulting war would force Britain to make peace with the French Republic or risk losing control of Ireland altogether. Morard de Galles planned to sail his fleet from the French naval fortress of Brest under cover of darkness on the night of 15–16 December. Believing that the British fleet must be the larger force of a larger force, he used temporary lights and fireworks to direct his main fleet through the channel. Observing French fleet’s departure from the harbour at dusk, PelleW dispatched the Amazon to Brest with warnings, before approaching the main fleet at dusk.