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After Action Reports

Battle of Dominica Part I – AAR

This is our AAR, using the exceptional war-game Flying Colors, for the Battle of Dominica (Saintes) Part I between the British Royal Navy and French Navy.  

For info on the historical battle click here: https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-the-Saintes 

In surveying both squadrons from the outset, it became abundantly clear that British Admiral Samuel Hood would turn south to engage the oncoming French squadron led by French Admiral Louis-Philippe Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil who fell quickly onto his rear. What Hood had to decide is how arcing the turn would be to face Vaudreuil’s oncoming line. Hood decided to turn to port (leeward) and made a wider turn south to make Vaudreuil commit more forces into the potential conflict. Hood’s reasoning to make this move was twofold. He wishes to eliminate as much space as possible for the French to operate in and give his reinforcements from the south (specifically 4 ships sent to aid Hood’s squadron) more targets that Vaudreuil would have to take into consideration. Would the French Admiral split his squadron up, thus eliminating command range, (i.e the ability to see his signal flags/orders given)? Does he make one pass and then attempt another whilst the smaller British force falls upon his rear? In Hood’s mind he chose the better ‘ground’ for battle. 

Vaudreuil committed and the battle ensued. Earlier than expected, even for Hood, the British reinforcements arrive giving the French rear targets to fire upon. 

The initial volleys were effective for both sides with the British concentrating on hull damage and the French on rigging damage. The French squadron turned north to meet the Royal Navy and soon after the French 4th rate Jason was awash and slowly sinking. Positioned in the lead on Hood’s line, the Warrior and Monarch took brutal rigging damage. With both reaching into the wind, the damage left them drifting out of line. The awash Jason and drifting British 3rd rates create some obstacles for both squadrons as they maneuvered for the best positioning to continue battering the enemy.   

With the opening moves set, the main focus of this AAR ended up honing in on the next few decisions Vaudreuil made at the juncture of this engagement. The first question for the Admiral, was would he turn his squadron north, essentially limiting the scope of the battle, or south to resolutely engage the British. Due to the several drifting RN ships mentioned above, Hood was  having to reposition his forces to maximize firepower, lessen his more severely damaged ships’ and take into account the oncoming reinforcements who are just starting to come into his command range. This maneuvering takes time. The Marquis, in looking to take advantage of this point in time, could further choose to engage the fight running his line with the weather gauge and turn south. Or by staying in formation and following his lead ships the Destin, Citoyen, and Daupin-Royal north, the Admiral could leave his more favorable wind conditions and probably the battle for another day.

Of course Vaudreuil committed to the fight! (It’s my game.) But at the time, in looking at the damage inflicted so far and the positioning of the enemy squadron under Hood, Vaudreuil sensed a real opportunity to inflict more damage and potentially take Hood’s command out of the Caribbean. He allowed the van of his line to keep moving north with orders to clear the sinking Jason and turn back to meet the main group asap.

The next decision became when to make the turn. On this, for reasons that will become clearer in just a few moments, I fear the Marquis made an error. An opening was created in the RN line behind Hood’s flagship Barfleur and between the 4th rate Yarmouth. It’s enough of a gap to put the 4th rate Ardent and his own flagship Triomphante directly into Hood’s line, thus exposing the British to broadsides bow and stern. The exposure for the French would be lessened as the British pass-through because they are hampered by beating into the wind and as a result the main squadron would be slowed down.

Vaudreuil does not take advantage of this gap and instead turns only after the last RN ship in the line, the Royal Oak, passed by. Raking the Royal Oak’s stern and setting her on fire, the Triomphante passed to stern and immediately the French admiral ordered the squadron to turn due south with the British flotilla now to windward.   

The engagement was continued with the flagship at the head of the French squadron. The fighting was fierce and in total 8 British ships became dismasted with 4 French vessels severely damaged including the aforementioned awash Jason. Hood was able to re-position his squadron as best as possible to inflict maximum damage to the French fleet as they passed but the wall of fire from the French directed at his rigging wrecked his squadron. By further engaging the RN in this battle, the French correctly took advantage of several out of position ships to inflict serious pain into the British. The Hood squadron was in a bad spot as several of their ships drifted towards the French onslaught. 

By happenstance the HMS Monarch found itself directly in the middle of the French line, separating the Triomphante from the rest of the squadron. The French flagship had caught fire and now Vaudreuil was forced into making a final call. With Hood having re-positioned his squadron (with so many dismasted ships this was really a drifting flotilla battery) it was time to land the final blow and lay claim as victors.  

The order went out to immediately grapple and board any dismasted ship within range and to take those vessels as prizes. The British would not go quietly. The Bien Aime’s attempts to grapple Hood’s new flagship the Belliquex, (Hood having earlier transferred from the Barfleur over to an-at-that-time moving vessel) went in vain. The Prince William became grappled with the Brave but fought off the French Marines. However, the Bourgogne and Pluton both grappled and boarded the HMS Magnificent taking her as prize. 

And with that captured vessel, the engagement most likely would have ended in a strategic and morale boosting victory for the French. Even with the Jason lost and the Caton having struck her colors, a prize like the Magnificent, as well as the amount of damage inflicted onto the Royal Navy, was enough to send a clear message that the French Caribbean presence was something England would be forced to reckon with.  

However another chapter was to be written in this engagement. The Triomphante exploded taking her and her crew, as well as the French Chef d’ Escadre, Admiral Louis-Philippe Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil with her. 

What had been a smallish fire on deck quickly spread and with the magazine being set off, the flagship blew to pieces with all hands lost. The damage taken since Vaudreuil’s decision to follow aft of the British squadron had been brutal and the fire not so easily put out. On top of that, without more of an escort, the majority of British cannon/carronade fire had been directed at her and she took more punishment from more broadsides than she would have if she had turned earlier. That momentarily lapse led the Triomphante down a path that she and her crew and her Admiral would never come back from.

The French fleet, in horror, turned and fled the scene. The British could do nothing but watch as the 1st rate, 80 gun flagship burned. 

Hood had rallied his ships as best he could and ended up withstanding a barrage that could have been worse. The loss of a prize to France was stinging however the ability to sustain fire while consolidating his command earned Hood some deserved accolades. The loss of the French flagship took a major piece off the board for command of the Caribbean and that victory alone should give Hood more credit for his efforts here. 

The French, had the Triomphante survived, would have scored a major victory over the Royal Navy. But alas, she did not and while statistically a victory for France (cumulative Victory Point score 30.5 to 24) the loss of such a ship and Admiral is a blow. The invasion for Jamaica, still planned by France, would call for a final battle between French and British forces and not having either the Triomphante or Vaudreuil on the board should be a loss for France before the first shot is fired. 

We’ll soon find out. (The Battle of Dominica Part II coming soon)     

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