Battle of Quiberon Bay
The 20th of November 1759 AD
The British victory at Quiberon Bay in the Seven Years’ War was as substantial and significant in its day as that at Trafalgar half a century later, and could be regarded as the result of even more daring than Nelson showed in the latter encounter.
Admiral Sir Edward Hawke had for months been blockading the French fleet under the Comte de Conflans in the port of Brest, by this action rendering the enemy’s plans to invade England and Scotland impossible to carry through. In November 1759 storms forced most of Hawke’s fleet back to Torbay to shelter, leaving only a small force in place in the Bay of Biscay. When Conflans realised this flotilla was seemingly at his mercy he attacked, only to find Hawke returning at the opportune moment.
Conflans with 21 ships of the line against 23 for Hawke made for the security of Quiberon Bay and its shoals and rocks, made more perilous by the strong winds. Hawke gave chase, risking the full sail that enabled his vanguard to catch the French rear. Conflans had to leave the bay to support his beleaguered ships. When the day was done six French vessels – including Soleil Royal, the flagship of Conflans - had been lost, against two British, both wrecked on a shoal.
Defeat for the French had major military ramifications: any hopes of invasion died at Quiberon; and French shipping to Canada was made extremely vulnerable, giving Britain further advantage in the theatre where the army's Wolfe had already been as successful as the navy's Hawke. Economic damage followed for France, which with trade crippled soon defaulted on loans, with inevitable consequences for her war effort.
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