The Battle of Quiberon Bay November 20, 1759

Map Quiberon Bay
Map Quiberon Bay

It was during the Seven Years war between England and France that the Battle of Quiberon bay was fought on November 20, 1759.

The opposing forces were Admiral Sir Edward Hawke with 23 ships of the line versus Marshal de Conflans with 21 ships.

At the time it appeared France was preparing to invade both England and Scotland, with both troops and their ship transports massing around the Loire estuary. The Loire river is the longest in France, rising in the Cevennes to debouch into the Bay of Biscay.

Loire River
Loire River

At the Battle of Lagos on August 19, 1759, the French Mediterranean Fleet had suffered a defeat at the hands of the British Admiral Edward Boscawan thus thwarting French plans to invade both Britain and Scotland.

The French Fleet bottled up at Brest by the Royal Navy blockade was ordered to break out and collect the French transports at the Gulf of Morbihan in Southern Brittany.

The weather was gale force and tended to favour the British, as Admiral Hawke took his ships southward to try and prevent the French breaking out from Brest.

He found the French some 20 miles out to sea, and ordered a general chase.

de Conflans then sought the santicty of Quiberon Bay.

With such wild weather prevailing the French Commander reasoned that Hawke would not follow, and that his 21 ships would be safe, but he had not reckoned on the boldness of his advisary.

Battle of Quiberon Bay
Battle of Quiberon Bay. Nicholas Pocock 1812.
National Maritime Museum.

Now allow me to let the words of Admiral Sir Edward Hawke in his report to Their Lordships at the Admiralty speak for themself.

The Battle of Quiberon Bay Admiral Sir Edward Hawke
The Royal George, off Penris Point, 24 November 1759.

Royal George engraved on walrus ivory.

In my letter of the 17th by express, I desired you would acquaint their Lordships with my having received
intelligence of eighteen sail of the line, and three frigates of the Brest squadron being discovered about
twenty-four leagues to the north-west of Belleisle, steering to the eastward. All the prisoners, however,
agree that on the day we chased them, their squadron consisted, according to the accompanying list, of four
ships of eighty, six of seventy-four, three of seventy, eight of sixty-four, one frigate of thirty-six, one of
thirty-four, and one of sixteen guns, with a small vessel to look out. They sailed from Brest the 14th instant, the same day I sailed from Torbay. Concluding that their first rendezvous would be Quiberon, the instant I received the intelligence I directed my course thither with a pressed sail. At first the wind blowing hard at S. b. E. and S. drove us considerably to the westward. But on the 18th and 19th, though variable, it proved more favourable. In the meantime having been joined by the Maidstone and Coventry frigates, I directed their commanders to keep ahead of the squadron, one on the starboard, and the other on the larboard bow. At half-past eight o'clock on the morning of the 20th, Belleisle, by our reckoning, bearing E. b. N. 1/4 N. about thirteen leagues, the Maidstone made the signal for seeing a fleet. I immediately spread abroad the signal for the line abreast, in order to draw all the ships of the squadron up with me. I had before sent the Magnanime ahead to make the land. At three-quarters past nine she made the signal for seeing an enemy. Observing, on my discovering them, that they made off, I threw out the signal for the seven ships nearest them to chase, and draw into a line of battle ahead of me, and endeavour to stop them till the rest of the squadron should come up, who were also to form as they chased, that no time might be lost in the pursuit.... Monsieur Conflans kept going off under such sail as all his squadron could carry, and at the same time keep together; while we crowded after him with every sail our ships could bear. At half-past two p.m. the fire beginning ahead, I made the signal for engaging. We were then to the south-ward of Belleisle, and the French Admiral headmost, soon after led round the Cardinals, while his rear was in action. About four o'clock the Formidable struck, and a little after, the Thesee and Superbe were sunk. About five, the Heros struck, and came to an anchor, but it blowing hard, no boat could be sent to board her. Night was now come, and being on a part of the coast, among islands and shoals, of which we were totally ignorant, without a pilot, as was the greatest part of the squadron, and blowing hard on a lee shore, I made the signal to anchor, and come-to in fifteen-fathom water.... In the night we heard many guns of distress fired, but, blowing hard, want of knowledge of the coast, and whether they were fired by a friend or an enemy, prevented all means of relief.... As soon as it was broad daylight, in the morning of the 21st, I discovered seven or eight of the enemy's line-of-battle ships at anchor between Point Penris and the river Vilaine, on which I made the signal to weigh in order to work up and attack them. But it blowed so hard from the N.W. that instead of daring to cast the squadron loose, I was obliged to strike topgallant masts. Most of the ships appeared to be aground at low water.... In attacking a flying enemy, it was impossible in the space of a short winter's day that all our ships should be able to get into action, or all those of the enemy brought to it. The commanders and companies of such as did come up with the rear of the French on the 20th behaved with the greatest intrepidity, and gave the strongest proofs of a true British spirit. In the same manner I am satisfied would those have acquitted themselves whose bad-going ships, or the distance they were at in the morning, prevented from getting up. Our loss by the enemy is not considerable. For in the ships which are now with me, I find only one lieutenant and fifty seamen and marines killed, and about two hundred and twenty wounded. When I consider the season of the year, the hard gales on the day of action, a flying enemy, the shortness of the day, and the coast they were on, I can boldly affirm that all that could possibly be done has been done. As to the loss we have sustained, let it be placed to the account of the necessity I was under of runing all risks to break this strong force of the enemy. Had we had but two hours more daylight, the whole had been totally destroyed or taken; for we were almost up with their van when night overtook us....

Battle of Quiberon Bay, the Day after.
Richard Wright, 1760.

This battle removed the threat of the French Fleet and any possible invasion of Britain.


To quote Alfred Thayer Mahan ( The Influence Of Sea Power on History )

"The Battle of the 20th of November 1759 was the Trafalgar of the Seven Years 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.

For instance, the French could not follow up their victory at the Battle of Sainte-Foy ( Battle of Quebec ) in 1760 for want of reinforcements and supplies from France.

So the Battle of Quiberon Bay may be regarded as the Battle that determined the fate of New France and Canada.

Post the Battle of Quiberon Bay, HMAS Quiberon was so named to remember that famous naval victory in 1759.

HMAS Quiberon

Ship Crest


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