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Battle of Quiberon Bay
The naval Battle of Quiberon Bay took place on 20 November 1759 during the Seven Years' War in Quiberon Bay , off the coast of France near St. Nazaire. The British admiral Edward Hawke with 23 ships of the line caught up with a French fleet with 21 ships of the line under Marshal de Conflans , and after hard fighting, sank, captured, or forced aground most of them, thus giving the Royal Navy one of its greatest victories.
During 1759, the French had made plans to invade England, and had accumulated transports and troops around the Loire River estuary. The August defeat at the Battle of Lagos Bay made the England plans implausible, but Choiseul still contemplated a plan for Scotland, and so the fleet was under orders to escape from the British blockade outside Brest and make their way down to the Loire.
During the first week of November, a westerly gale came up, and after three days, the ships of Hawke's blockade were forced to save themselves and run for Torbay on the south coast of England. In the meantime, a small squadron from the West Indies joined Conflans in Brest, and when an easterly wind came on the 14th, Conflans slipped out. But Hawke was already returning from Torbay, got the reports of Conflans' sailing, and went in pursuit.
Hawke's fleet caught up with Conflans at dawn on the 20th, just as Conflans was about to enter the treacherous waters of Quiberon Bay. Hawke decided to follow them in, essentially relying on the lead of the French ships and their local pilots ; a daring move made even more dangerous by a rising westerly storm.
The shooting began at about 1400, with the British van attacking the French rear just as they were rounding the Les Cardinaux rocks at the entrance to the bay. By 1530, the French Formidable was captured, and Superbe had capsized, with tremendous loss of life. As more of the British fleet came up, Heros , badly damaged already, struck her flag and ran aground, while Thesee lost her duel with Torbay and foundered.
The early nightfall of the season forced the British to break off their attack, and they anchored for the night. Their ships Essex and Resolution ran aground and were lost, but the fleet's presence forced the French to desperate measures; more of their ships also ran aground, including the flagship Soleil Royal , seven squeezed over the bar into the estuary of the Vilaine River (where they stayed for over a year), leaving only eight that escaped to Rochefort.
The power of the French fleet was broken, and would not recover before the war was over; in the words of Alfred Thayer Mahan (The Influence of Sea Power Upon History), "The battle of 20 November 1759 was the Trafalgar of this war, and [...] the English fleets were now free to act against the colonies of France, and later of Spain, on a grander scale than ever before".
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