This is our AAR, using the exceptional war-game Flying Colors, for the Battle of Dominica (Saintes) Part II 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
The ramifications of the shocking death of French Admiral Louis-Philippe Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil and the destruction of his flagship Triomphante, carried over to the second battle of the naval engagement at the Saintes located between Guadeloupe and Dominica. The first skirmish, between Vaudreuil and the Royal Navy’s Admiral Samuel Hood, gave the French a tactical victory but a strategic loss with his and his ship’s untimely explosion. His squadron was forced to re-outfit and promote Captain Charles Charritte to Chef d’Escadre with his flagship being the Duc de Bourgogne (Charritte was Captain of the Bourgogne but to lead his new command he chose a new vessel).
A new battle commenced as the French were still looking to (along with their Spanish allies) launch an invasion into British held Jamaica. Only by defeating the Royal Navy West Indies Fleet and its Admiral George Rodney, would this invasion attempt be secure. Thus the French fleet, under command of François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse, set out to launch an attack against the British at the Saintes.
For the French, their strategy at the outset was straightforward. With the wind, they could bear more ships to the battle more quickly and engage directly with more firepower. The hope was to decimate enough of the British van, led by Admiral Francis Samuel Drake, at which point they could then use the wind gauge to siphon off enough ships to capture or sink the British ‘Blue Squadron’. Rodney, leading the main force, would not be able to bring enough firepower to support or reinforce this line and thus would be forced to retreat. The main French line could also reinforce this attack by leading the 2nd half of the main squadron under de Grasse and the 3rd squadron under Charritte to also engage Drake’s Squadron.
For Rodney, his plan was to have Drake hold up and engage as many French ships as possible and for his and Hood’s squadrons to reinforce his position with more firepower and ships. This would take longer to bear but he believed that his side had better ships and sailors and thus the ability to maximize firepower.
De Grasse’s isolation strategy matched against the brute power and strength of the British Navy initially won out.
The French tore into British masts one after the other. They dismasted two ships, the 4th rate Nonsuch and 3rd rate Torbay after a hellish broadside exchange between the two van squadrons. While the French suffered as well, (the 3rd rate Palmier fell out of line) the French fleet was able to bring more ships to the fight early on and keep a constant barrage, sometimes leveraging two on one fire. British shot was also not as effective and Drake quickly found himself in a bind. His squadron, just as de Grasse had planned, became isolated from the rest of the British fleet.
In an impressive act of leadership Drake, like Hood during the last battle between these two navies, would maneuver his squadron into a floating battery. He did this to protect the Nonsuch and Torbay and for the time being, provide cover for his injured ships. It worked and the French had to make the decision to either break off their full fleet to attack Drake or to break off part of the main and 3rd squadron to attack Drake and Rodney. This would essentially split up their fleet into two main parts.
Rodney continued to come hard but was beating into the wind and his options were thus limited. Would he decide to do everything he could to reinforce Drake and his position by sailing the same line, hoping his superior firepower would break the French into not engaging further? Or, would he continue to beat against the wind, thus delaying support for Drake, but by doing so, would position his fleet to a potentially more advantageous attacking position against lesser French ships further upwind?
He decided to go further into the wind to give him more options to potentially cut off the French, attack them from a better position and bring more ships to bear further up the line. Drake would have to show his mettle and continue to defend and maneuver against the enemy.
The French had more options at their disposal and de Grasse strategized that now was the time to drop the hammer. With Rodney opting to move further into the wind, de Grasse signaled to his ships to break the line at the van of the engagement and encircle said line. He then signaled for the main squadron to follow his lead into the direction of Drake’s floundering squadron. Like Vaudreuil before him, this action would surely put the British into a bind and would decimate their van.
And at that very moment, the moment the French knew they were on the front foot and the moment Rodney saw his fleet’s chances of coming out ahead slimmer with each passing minute, the battle was over.
The wind had changed direction.
Everything that de Grasse had set into motion unraveled and every movement and command Rodney had given became key to victory.
The wind change now had the French fleet in irons. Every sail fluffed momentarily and then died bringing the entire fleet to a halt.
The British sails became full and the French lead squadron at once became vulnerable to overrun. De Grasse’s strategy of cutting off the Royal Navy’s van from the main fleet now found his own lead squadron cut off from his main force with no hope of rescue. Rodney changed direction and began running to the stricken and isolated squadron while de Grasses’s main force turned away.
The French had no choice but to turn and run leaving the Souverain, Palmier, Ardent and Brave captured. The French lost 5 ships (the Hercule was awash and sunk) and the battle for the Caribbean seemed over.
But the Spanish, with a force at Jamaica, would send their own squadron to join what was left of the French fleet for one more battle off the coast of Guadeloupe in what would be the final battle between De Grasse and Rodney.