Campagne du Large late July - Mid August 1691:

1691 Campaign
Campagne du large Smyrna fleet arrives in Kinsale 1691
Map part 2: 2nd move to Brest
Date:26 July - Aug. 1691
Outcome:Indecisive
Belligerents:
FranceEngland
United Provinces
Commanders:
TourvilleRussel
Almonde

1 Smyrna Fleet vs Campagne du Large

1.1 The Campagne du Large was defensive

The whole 1691 campaign is generally called the Campagne du Large (i.e. the campaign on open sea), but this is a confusing generalization. Up till the time the alliance secured the Smyrna fleet on 23 July, the French fleet was actively challenging the Anglo-Dutch fleet in the approaches to Ireland and the Channel. After that the French fleet was primarily busy evading the Anglo-Dutch fleet, which was a defensive strategy.

1.2 Effects of the arrival of the Smyrna Fleet

This change in French operations can be explained by the effects of the arrival of the Smyrna Fleet. With its arrival the Anglo-Dutch fleet had achieved its first strategic objective. It could therefore focus on its next strategic goal, which was to eliminate the French fleet.

On the contrary the French had missed a strategic objective. With the prospects of a huge bounty gone, there was less reason to take risks. Therefore they focused on countering the Anglo-Dutch strategy to eliminate them. They moved way south, so that any possible battle would be fought on more advantageous terms.

1.3 Start of the Campagne du Large

The real Campagne du Large therefore starts when the French changed to a defensive strategy aimed at remaining at sea, and thereby covering the west coast of France, but evading a battle from which the fleet could not safely retreat.

This started when the alliance fleet crossed the Channel and arrived near Ouessant for the second time on 27 July, and the French fleet evaded to the south-west. This is why the previous page is about the 1691 Smyrna Fleet, and this page is called Campagne du Large.

1.4 The changing situation in Ireland

On 22 July the decisive Battle of Aughrim would bring the alliance very close to ending the war in Ireland. At the start of the alliance manoeuvre to the French coast this was not clear, but it invalidated the post-Smyrna fleet French strategy which did not take the situation in Ireland into account. When the French fleet finally entered Brest the Campagne du Large ended while leaving a very serious problem in Ireland.

2 The alliance fleet moves to the French coast

2.1 The Alliance fleet attacks

On 13 July 1691 the alliance merchant fleet from the Mediterranean (the Smyrna Fleet) had anchored in Kinsale (Ireland). On 20 July 1691 the alliance battle fleet reached Kinsale. It took a few days to escort the Smyrna fleet into the Channel, but after that, the Smyrna fleet was safe. This meant the aliiance battle fleet could switch to offensive action.

The alliance battle fleet left the merchants on 25 July and sailed to Ouessant / Ushant. On 28 July the packetboat The Spanish Alliance arrived in Falmouth, and reported a big fleet at 47 degrees, sailing to Belle-Isle, probably the French. It also reported a fleet sailing to Ouessant, probably the alliance battle fleet. Later on the tale was the French battle fleet at 47 degrees on the 26th, and the alliance fleet near Ouessant on the 27thOHC 09 Aug 1691.

2.2 The French fleet in comfortable hiding

So Russel found himself near Ushant on 27 July, but had no idea where the French fleet was. On 31 July the alliance fleet was still near Ushant, and the French reported near Belle-IsleOHC 11 Aug 1691. The map by Vauvré indicates that from 26 - 31 July, the French fleet was cruising a small (c. 50*100km) area c. 150 km WSW of Brest. Letter from Nantes of 7 August had the alliance fleet hear Ushant sailing SW, and the French still near Belle-Isle. From Brest on 3 August that the alliance was near Conquet, and Tourville between Belle-Isle and Port-LouisAC 16 Aug 1691. Meanwhile convoys of small ships were regularly bringing in fresh supplies, so this French hiding was even a bit comfortable.

2.3 The French fleet is discovered

After reaching Ouessant, Russel ordered Cloudesley Shovell in the Plymouth with 16 English and Dutch warships and tenders to reconnoitre Brest. When Shovell was about 2 km from St. Matthew's point, he saw 30 Breton ships coming out of Brest escorted by 3 warships of 36-40 guns. Shovell had part of his squadron put up French colours, and others none at all. It seems this ruse worked because the French were still expecting some of the captured Barbados ships, which indeed came in at about that date. Realizing their mistake, the French fled. A French frigate of 30-40 was almost trapped, but passed to leeward between the Plymouth and the Centurion. In passing the Plymouth shot down its main yard, but it fled along the rocky coast, where the English pilots did not dare to follow LG 10 August 1691.

The Marquess of Carmarthen in his sloop then succeeded in capturing two men out of a boat (a vessel small enough to be carried aboard another vessel). These reported the French fleet to be 84 ships of the line, which the English admiral could hardly believe. Furthermore that the French fleet had been at sea near 40 days (true). That hardly one week ago, a ship of 80 had sailed from Brest to join it. And that a few days ago a water ship had come in that left the main fleet 40 leagues west of Ouessant (probably true)(cf. Burchett).

Apart from this 6-7 of the small ships were captured, but these proably had no information about the French fleet OHC 23 August 1691. The Bridget galley chased a ship ashore and burnt it. The Centurion's pinnace took two fishing boats.

2.4 The French fleet evades to the west

The encounters with the supply ships gave Russel intelligence that the French fleet was dozens of miles to the west. He therefore set course to the west, and so did the French. The result was that the French fleet moved hundreds of kilometres to the west, and the alliance fleet also moved at least 100 kilometres. From August 5 strong WSW winds blew both fleets back east. Letters of 10 August from Brest noted that the alliance fleet had drifted off somewhat because of contrary winds.

2.5 The Alliance blockades Limerick

On 10 July Athlone was taken by the alliance army. The Lord Justices of Ireland therefore expected that the Jacobites would either be forced to a battle, or to accept a Siege of Galway. The Lord Justices therefore ordered Aylmer (commander of the escorts of the Smyrna fleet) to go from Kinsale to Galway with some ships, but these orders were countermanded by Queen Mary. After escorting the Smyrna fleet to the Channel, Russel sent a squadron of his own back to Kinsale. On 22 July he ordered Captain Coal of the Tiger to sail there with about 10 ships. He was to put himself under the orders of the Lord Justices. He was to be very careful not to be surprised by superior numbers of the enemy. In order to save provisions, he was to give 6 men the allowance of 4 till supplies would reach him (Finch p 148). The Mercury (July page 70) had 5 ships of 50+ guns, two frigates and 2 burners detached to Limerick.

Captain Coal's Squadron to Galway
Ship gunsmen Captain notes:
Tiger 52 Coal a.k.a. Cole From Smyrna fleet
Faulcon 50 Ward From Smyrna fleet
Mermaid
Bu. Hawke 28 115 William Harman Data from Three Decks
Bu. Pelican
Bomb Ketch Salamander 10 35
A briganteen
Alkmaar 50 Van der Poel**
Castricum 52 (Chris)Stoffel Cor. Medagten**
Utrecht**** 50 Cave*** The Prov. Utrecht (50) went to Dunkirk
Kroonvogel 16 D. Huybert**
Mercurius 16 Sissing**
* Finch has Dutch ships Alkmaar, Castricum, Utrecht, Kroonvogel, Mercurius
** The Mercurius p. 71 has captains: Van der Poel, Jacob van der Goes, Medagten with ships of 50, and Commanders Hubert and Sissing with 16.
*** The Schiedam of Jacob van der Goes was in Portsmouth late September, so Finch is probably correct.
**** There were multiple Utrecht's Ph. Schrijver's arrived in Amsterdam on 13 August OHC 14 Aug 1691.

Soon after the 22 July battle of Aughrim the alliance started the siege of Galway on 29 July. This led to talks on 30 July, and an agreement on 31 July, on which day a French vessel of 30 guns sailed from Galway, and two others still remained. The agreement stipulated that the town would be handed over on Sunday 5 August LG 27 July / 6 August 1691. This detail makes it understandable how the French vessel could leave on 31 July, while the alliance squadron under captain Cole / Coal arrived there shortly before the surrender of Galway LG 6 / 16 August 1691. This squadron was a squadron of English and Dutch warships, provision ships and ammunition ships from Kinsale. Ginkel ordered these to continue immediately to the Shannon LG 10/20 August 1691, Galway had not been handed over yet, but the fight for Galway was already finished when Cole arrived.

By this time, the French operation to supply Limerick in spring had still not been entirely completed. It had been almost 2 months ago (on 18-19 May) that a fleet of 24 ships of the line, 4 escorting frigates and 50-60 merchant ships had arrived in Limerick. The ships of the line had returned to France. The merchant ships needed time to unload, and were still in Limerick when they got the news of Aughrim. Perhaps they were already more or less prepared to sail, but they did not dare to sail back earlier. One does not need much imagination to suppose that this merchant fleet and others hastily fled Limerick after the news of Aughrim, so they would not get bottled up in Limerick. One can also suppose this was the fleet that en route to Nantes landed a courier on Belle-Isle, who would bring news of Aughrim to Versailles. (Cf Fall of Limerick page). On 30 July the merchant ships used to supply Limerick in spring, reached Nantes together with their escorts. They brought with them the news that: 'things were done in Ireland' OHC 9 August 1690.

The blockade of Limerick probably started c. 9 August. Ginkel heard of the arrival of Cole on 7 August, while he was probably in Athenry, c 15 km from Galway LG 10/20 August 1691. Given some time for the message to reach Cole, and some time to sail about 100 km, it could also be 7, 8 or 10 August. By the time the French discovered they were under blockade they had about 20 merchant ships and 2 privateers ready to sail. Others did manage to sail before the blockade, but some were captured. On the Shannon 3 ships tried to get out. The ship that had St. Ruth's bagage was taken. The two others, with Sarsfield's lady and other persons of quality, turned back to Limerick LG 17 August 1691

A Flushing privateer, the Orange Branch of George Pierre LG 10/20 August 1691 captured and brought to Rye on 18 August a vessel of 6 guns and 6 swivel guns. It was destined to France with letters and passengers from Limerick. In the fight the captain of the privateer was wounded, and from the passengers Lord Abercorne was killed in the fighting. The letters were thrown over board in time OHC 28 August 1691. From a different source: a Vlissingen privateer of 10 guns took a French packet boat going from Limerick to France after a hard fight. On the privateer 6 were wounded, on the packet boat there were 4-5 dead, amongst them a Scottish nobleman. Furthermore there were 2 priests, passengers and silver plate. The Zeeland privateer lacked the manpower to confidently attack a like French ship nearby. The passengers said that there were 14 ships in Limerick willing to transport anybody that wanted to leave Ireland with his goods. Thirty more ships were expected to arrive in order to pick up the French officers and the garrison AC 28 August 1691.

The Resolution took a ship with 2 daughters of the Count of Tyrconnel, some other persons of mark, a considerable amount of jewels and silver and 3,000 pounds in money OHC 28 August 1691. The captain of the Resolution was the Lord Danby, later Marquess of Carmarthen cf. above. So if this was true, this encounter took place far from the Irish coast.

So what's the point of this elaborate description? It is that after the Smyrna fleet came into Kinsale on 13 July, the affairs in Ireland had taken a turn for the worse, leading to a blockade of Limerick on c. 9 August. And yet, nothing was done by the French. By 7 September Captain Cole would still be blockading the Shannon OHC 27 September 1689

2.7 Second encounter with French Supply ships

On 6 August the alliance fleet was 30 leagues from Ushant when it encountered a convoy with fresh provisions. I consisted of several ships, an escort and two fireships. The alliance tried to fool these by showing French flags, but one of the captains was too eager, and so only 3 small ships were captured (Burchett). These were probably the 3-4 supply ships with life sheep and oxen that were later reported as distributed for the sick on the English and Dutch fleet OHC 25 August 1691. Tourville would later speak of a ship with 70 sheep and another very small craft.

The prisoners reported that the French fleet was 76 ships of the line from 50-100 guns and 30 burners. The French fleet was 60 leagues West or West South West of Ouessant, which was rather accurate. For the alliance the conclusion was that Tourville had orders from the king to evade the alliance fleet. This was supposedly done by having scouts on all points of the compass by which it could be approached, and having these run and signal the others when they were approached. The alliance tactic of creating a 20 league arc of vision by scouts around their own fleet was not enough to counter this (Burchett).

On 10 August Russel was 50 leagues WSW of Ouessant, when he sent a message that after failing to find the French 60 Leagues WSW, he was sailing back to Ouessant LG 3/13 August 1691

For Russel the realization that the French were evading him was reason for him to ask permission to return to England with the fleet. The reasoning was that a continued stay near Brest would significantly sicken his men. The French were less affected, because they continuously brought fresh supplies, something Russel could not do near Brest. On 8 August the queen sent orders that Russel should sail to Ireland, but nothing would come of it.

2.8 The fleets meet

On 10 August Russel left his station 60 leagues WSW of Ushant to sail back to Brest (Burchett). Meanwhile the French also set course east, and arrived near Penmarch on 11 August. Probably the source for that the French continued near Belle-Isle, with many officers and men very tired OHC 23 Aug 1691.

On 13 August the French came to the height of Pointe du Raz. That same day the alliance finally saw the French fleet. They counted 110 sail in Broad Sound, probably entering Brest (Burchett). On 15 August a Council of War was held. Because the wind was contrary, and supplies, especially water and beer, were running very low, it decided that the fleet should return to Torbay to recruit and refresh the men, who had been at sea for two months (Burchett).

3 The French end the campaign

3.1 The alliance continues the campaign

So the alliance fleet set course to Torbay in mid August. On 17 August at 5 PM the whole alliance fleet was sighted about 10 km from Plymouth AC 28 Aug 1691. On 20 August a message from Russel at Torbay reached London. The Government reacted by ordering Russel to unboard his sick and to sail again after taking in fresh water and unboarding the sick AC 28 Aug 1691. This was one way that the alliance continued the campaign.

The other way that the alliance continued the campaign was by continuing the blockade of Limerick. There could be little doubt that Limerick would fall if the French allowed this blockade to continue.

3.2 A French East Indies fleet arrives

In mid-August 6 French East Indies ships had entered Port Louis with very rich cargoOHC 30 Aug 1691. From Amsterdam the message was that these ships primarily shipped 1,300,000 pounds of saltpeterOHC 30 Aug 1691.

3.3 The French main battle fleet is laid up

The French first wanted to wait out the end of the naval campaign, before sending aid to LimerickOHC 23 Aug 1691. It's possible that the bad news from Ireland for some time prevented the French fleet from getting laid up. Letters from Nantes on 21 August brought that part of the French fleet had entered Brest, but that is was about to sail again in late SeptemberOHC 30 Aug 1691.

In fact the heavy ships of the French main battle fleet would not set sail again in 1691. In effect this meant that the French main battle fleet had ended its 1691 campaign. France would attempt to save Limerick, but they would use an off-season fleet for this.

4 Results and Analysis

4.1 Results

The results of the late July - August 1691 phase of the campaign can be summarized like this:

4.2 Analysis

The big problem with the French strategy was that it did not take the deteriorating situation in Ireland into account. In fact the evasive action of the French fleet meant that Ireland became isolated. In the seas north-west, north and east of Brest alliance frigates and privateers had little to fear of the French fleet and so these waters kind of became closed to French shipping. On the alliance side all trade routes stayed open.

This strategy preserved the French battle fleet and covered the French coast, but after the disaster at Aughrim, it was no longer suitable. The Campagne du Large ended with the French heavy ships getting laid up while Limerick was under blockade. After that, the 'strategy' was to wait for the alliance heavy ships to get laid up, so help could be sent to Ireland. Of course the alliance was reluctant to do this, and so the French cause in Ireland was doomed. But this is something for the next chapter.

Of course one can counter the argument by noting that the French only had credible information about Aughrim on 9 August, and that is was still very rough at that time. With this news going via Versailles, Tourville would not even have known about it before his fleet entered Brest. Indeed this disculpates Tourville, but it does not lift the blame from Versailles. At the overall strategic level in Versailles the battle of Aughrim should not have come as a surprise. On 7 / 17 June 1691 the Jacobites lost the siege of Ballymore. On 30 June OS / 10 July NS LG 2 July 1691 they lost the siege of Athlone. Which, given the artillery employed on both sides, was a predictable loss. Anybody with a map in his hand could predict that if the alliance army felt strong enough, it would next march to the west. A move that would force the Jacobites to choose between a certain loss of the Shannon line and a battle that might restore the situation. Therefore Versailles could/should have given Tourville orders to fight weeks before he returned to Brest.

After Ireland was lost, there were strong reproaches against Tourville. Sue has a lengthy 25 October note by Tourville to Pontchartrain. In it Tourville explained that his actions were in line with his orders, and somebody made notes in the margin that accused Tourville of not wanting to fight. A rather audacious accusation was that the alliance fleet counted only 64 ships of the line. Anybody could have read in the papers that this was already 85 in early July. This fact alone invalidated the case against Tourville. There probably is one valid accusation in the margin, and that is that (after missing the Smyrna fleet) Tourville cruised WSW in stead of WNW of Ouessant. This is a true, but with the prevailing WSW winds, this was also very dangerous for a weaker fleet.

4.3 Battle as an alternative

A little thought experiment might be useful here: What if Tourville had been authorized to fight, and had fought a rather bloody battle near Brest, or further south? The most likely result would have been a few ships sinking on both sides, a few thousand deaths and most of the French fleet retreating to a French harbour. Note that the area where Tourville cruised after he missed the Smyrna fleet fulfilled one of the demands for fighting a stronger alliance fleet. It was WSW of Ouessant, enabling damaged ships to rescue themselves in French harbours. Cf. the note to Pontchartrain.

In all likelyhood the alliance would have had to retreat to Torbay / Plymouth. Certainly in case of defeat or a draw, but even likely if victorious. Next a convoy with a few thousand men could have been sent to Limerick, and Ireland could have seen a new campaign in 1692.

Looking at the orders for the fleets some aspects should be noted. Russel got reiterated and positive orders to fight, but in all his orders there were specific provisions for him using his judgement. He knew that these orders covered him if he choose to fight, and still covered him if he had good reasons not to do so. On the other side Tourville got orders that forbade him to fight in the circumstances he met. Furthermore the orders left Tourville no room to use his judgement. Tourville knew that these orders could and would be used against him if he lost a battle. This probably explains that he did not take any risk even when he was WSW of Ouessant.

5 Sources

Burchett wrote extensively about the 1691 campaign in Memoirs of transactions at sea by Josiah Burchett, printed 1703.

On the French side Guérin wrote extensively about the Campagne du Large, or at least, he had the map printed. Eugène Sue in his Histoire de la Marine Française has lots of documents and makes a convincing case for Tourville.

On the Dutch side De Jonge does not pay much attention.

Direct sources are the London Gazette, and Dutch newspapers, especially the Oprechte Haerlemse Courant (OHC).