An Overview of the Battle of Algeciras Bay (07.06 – 07.12 1801)

Preparations for the second installment of the Battle of Algeciras Bay by Capt. Jahleel Brenton


“Has she got out of the mole?” cried Stephen, at a considerable distance. “Has the battle begun? I would not have missed it for a hundred pounds.”
“There’s no hurry – no one will touch a gun for hours,” said Jack. “But I am sorry you did not see the 
Caesar warping out: it was a glorious sight. Come up the hill with me, and you will have a perfect view of both squadrons.” – Conversation between Stephen Maturin and Jack Aubrey, Master and Commander

The Battle of Algeciras Bay is an important event for the heroes of our beloved series. Jack witnesses the first part of the battle from aboard the Desaix after the Sophie’s capture, and Jack and Stephen witness the second part of the battle from the Rock of Gibralter once they are given their parole.

“The Battle of Algeciras Bay” refers to two separate battles in July 1801 between an allied French-Spanish fleet and the British near Gibraltar. In the first battle, the French drove off an attack by the larger British fleet and captured one ship of the line. In the second battle, the British pursued the Franco-Spanish fleet, destroying two Spanish ships and capturing one French ship.

The Initial Battle

The battle began on July 6, 1801, when the French Admiral Linois brought his three ships of the line and one frigate into Algeciras after finding that the British had blockaded Cádiz. No fewer than four Spanish forts protected the harbour at Algeciras, and so the French and Spanish considered it safe despite its proximity to Gibraltar.

The British observed these movements from Gibraltar, and decided to move quickly to try to neutralise this threat. On 8 July, a fleet under Admiral Sir James Saumarez sailed out from Gibraltar into the Bay of Gibraltar, intending to attack the French ships.

The British fleet consisted of six ships of the line. Saumarez had a seventh ship of the line, HMS Superb, but she and her accompanying brig Pasley were absent; Saumarez dispatched his sole frigate – the HMS Thames – to recall her, but they did not return in time.

The British squadron consisted of:

  • Caesar 80 (flag of Rear-Adm. James Saumarez, with Captain Jahleel Brenton)
  • Pompee 74 (Captain Charles Stirling)
  • Spencer 74 (Captain Henry D’Esterre Darby)
  • Venerable 74 (Captain Samuel Hood)
  • Hannibal 74 (Captain Solomon Ferris)
  • Audacious 74 (Captain Shuldham Peard)

The French squadron consisted of:

  • Formidable 80 (flag of Rear-Adm. Linois, with Captain Laindet Lalonde †)
  • Indomptable 80 (Captain Moncousu †)
  • Desaix 74 (Captain Jean-Anne Christy de la Pallière)
  • Muiron 40 (Captain Martinencq)

Saumarez’s six ships attacked the French ships and Spanish forts, but a lack of wind and numerous shoals in the harbour hampered the attack. The French squadron, with aid from the forts and Spanish gunboats, held its own. They were able to drive off the larger British force, although the French purposely grounded their ships to avoid capture. Saumarez lost the 74-gun Hannibal after it ran aground near Spanish fortifications and was obliged to surrender, which enabled the French to capture her. Calpe lost several men and boats attempting to rescue Hannibal’s crew. The rest of the British squadron suffered various degrees of damage and the British lost 121 men killed and 240 wounded. The French lost 306 killed, including Captains Laindet Lalonde and Moncousu, and 280 wounded.

Both sides retired to their respective sides of the bay, and over the next four days repaired their battle damage as best they could. The Pompée could not be repaired in the time available, and the Caesar was only repaired in time due to constant day-and-night work. The French refloated their ships and prepared them for sea.

The Gut of Gibralter

On July 12, the French squadron, which had been reinforced meanwhile by five Spanish ships of the line and another French ship of the line, left Algeciras for Cádiz, with Saumarez in pursuit. During the pursuit, the French and Spanish ships were faster, partly due to the extensive damage the British had received during the first stage of the battle.

The British squadron now consisted of:

  • Caesar 80 (flag of Rear-Adm. Saumarez, with Captain Jahleel Brenton)
  • Venerable 74 (Captain Samuel Hood)
  • Superb 74 (Captain Richard Goodwin Keats)
  • Spencer 74 (Captain Henry d’Esterre Darby)
  • Audacious 74 (Captain Shuldham Peard)
  • Thames 32 (frigate – Capt. Aiskew Paffard Hollis)
  • Calpe 14 (polacca – Cmdr. George Heneage Dundas)
  • Louisa 8 (armed brig – Lieutenant Francis Truscott)

The French element of the Franco-Spanish squadron now consisted of:

  • Formidable 80 (Captain Aimable Gilles Troude)
  • Indomptable 80 (Captain Lucas)
  • St. Antoine 74 (Commodore Julien le Roy)
  • Desaix 74 (Captain Christy-Pailliere)
  • Muiron 40 (Captain Martinencq)
  • Libre (?) 40 (Captain Proteau)
  • Vautour 14 (?) (Captain Kemel)

The Spanish element of the Franco-Spanish squadron consisted of:

  • Real Carlos 112 (Captain Don J. Esquerra)
  • San Hermenegildo 112 (Captain Don J. Emparran)
  • San Fernando 94 (Captain Don J. Malina)
  • Argonauta 80 (Captain Don. J. Herrera)
  • San Agustín 74 (Captain Don. R. Topete)
  • San Sabina 44 (frigate carrying the flag of both Vice-Adm. Moreno and Rear-Adm. Linois)

Saumarez gave the 74-gun Superb, which was not present for the first part of the battle and was thus undamaged, the freedom to pursue and attack the allied fleet at will. After night had fallen, the Superb sailed between the San Hermenegildo and Real Carlos, first-rate ships of 112 guns, and attacked them both. Superb then proceeded up the Franco-Spanish line, but between the darkness and the smoke from the firing, the Spanish did not realise that she had left. Real Carlos and San Hermenegildo furiously fired on one another, resulting in the loss of both ships. The Superb then attacked and captured the French St. Antoine.

The French Formidable, at the rear of the French line, fought 4 to 1 to protect her fleet. The British lost 17 killed and 100 wounded; the allies, 2,000 – including some 1,700 killed when the Real Carlos and San Hermenegildo blew up.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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