The order ‘Load and run out if you please’ filled the quarter deck of the Royal Sovereign, flagship of the squadron. The planks vibrated under the Vice Admiral’s shoes, and as the starboard lids opened the Royal Sovereign’s guns squeaked and rumbled towards the sunlight, the bare-backed seamen slipping on sanded decks as they tried to keep time to the shouted commands from their gun captains. The moment of truth approached. Would the English ships reap victory against the French and Spanish squadron? Every second seemed like eternity as the ships closed, committed to their course…
Last night a group of five players gathered for another Sails of Glory game, this time involving eight ships of the line. It was also our largest game to date. Three of players commanded two ships while two players, one who had not played Sails of Gory before, commanded one ship each. Again we opted to use the advanced rules and a selected number of optional rules, though not all. The wind blew from the east and provided some advantage to the Franco-Spanish but during the game it change to blow from the southeast.
The English squadron deployed in line astern held a northerly course and was led by HMS Vanguard a 74 gun 3rd Rate ship of the line. Astern was HMS Defence of similar capability. Next was the squadron’s flag ship HMS Royal Sovereign commanded by Vice-Admiral William Cornwallis. HMS Royal Sovereign was 1st Rater with three gun decks and 100 guns. Though slow, she was well able to deliver a devastating broadside. Finally, HMS Superb completed the squadron. Like the other third Raters she carried 74 guns. Below, the English squadron in line astern, led by HMS Vanguard.
The Franco-Spanish squadron, also of four ships, had the advantage of the wind and held a southwesterly course. Unlike the English they deployed in two divisions. The advanced division was led by the Montagne. This powerful vessel, and flagship of the squadron under Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse, carried some 1000 crew and 118 guns. She was followed by the Generaux, a 74gun 3rd Rater. To the southwest the second division also comprised two ships. In front Le Berwick, captured from the English in 1795, she formed a critical part of the French squadron and also carried 74 guns. To her stern was the Spanish Argonauta, commanded by Capitán José Antonio de Pareja y Mariscal. Her much maligned crew, suspected by some as being raw by both French and English officers, were actually well motivated and amply crewed her 74 guns.
The English plan was relatively simple. Holding a line astern formation they would travel north until finally moving to a slight northeasterly course. The intent was the English ships would in turn progressively pound the Franco-Spanish division of Le Berwick and Argonauta while hopefully bypassing the remaining Franco division. Once their broadside was delivered the English ships would swing to larboard and return on a southerly course. To avoid collisions, in the heat and confusion of battle, much effort was spent coordinating signals so that the turns would be executed in approximately the same location.
As the two squadrons closed the split between the French & Spanish Squadron increased. The Franco-Spanish division moved to cut the front of the English line while the remaining division swung first due west before turning on a southerly course.
Above, the squadrons close for action. The Franco-Spanish division is in the top right, with the Spanish Argonauta in the extreme top right. From top to bottom the ships are Argonauta and Le Berwick of the Franco-Spanish division. Then Generaux, and finally Montagne the 1st Rate flagship. Montagne would soon swing to the south parallel to the English ships. Below, another view of the Montagne.
The Franco-Spanish Division was first to open fire on the HMS Vanguard and HMS Defence. Argonauta and Le Berwick both fired the forward portion of their broadsides. While HMS Defence returned fire HMS Vanguard held her fire aiming to improve her position. She can be seen moving on a north by northeast tack. The French flagship Montagne, bottom right, is well out of range.
Below, as the ships proceed and now viewed from the English rear, the squadrons near. Of note Montagne unleashes her broadside on HMS Royal Sovereign. HMS Royal Sovereign and HMS Superb reply with full broadsides resulting in fires and leaks on the Montagne. By the time Montagne had reloaded her guns, and delt to the fires, she would be well south of the English squadron and would fire only one further broadside for some time. Indeed, soon she would spend much valuable time clawing her way north. The Genereux is still unable to fire.
In the upper left HMS Vanguard, who held her fire previously unleashes a devastating raking broadside on Le Berwick. Top left the Spanish Argonauta has crossed in front of HMS Vanguard but her crews are busy reloading.
Finally, illustrated below, Le Genereux is able to fire and engages, at long range, HMS Royal Sovereign – second from left. While HMS Royal Sovereign can not return, her broadside being reloaded, HMS Defence delivers a broadside. In the various confusing exchanges Genereux was to suffer the loss of two masts, though one was partially repaired.
The situation had now become extremely interesting.
The Franco-Spanish division had by now crossed in front of, or though, the English line. As such they were east and heading south. The French division was southwest. This of course meant that several English ships were able to fire both broadsides, as can be seen above and below. Le Berwick (on left), with Argonauta astern, hold a southly heading while the English ships fire broadsides from both larboard and starboard batteries.
Above, bottom right, Montagne adds her broadside to the melee, engaging HMS Superb at extreme range. The English ships can still be seen in line astern, with HMS Vanguard just coming around to larboard as originally planned. HMS Royal Sovereign is still holding a north by northwest course to avoid a collision with HMS Defence.
Despite the concentrated fire on Le Berwick she was not yet finished. She swings to larboard and onto a southwest tack. As the wind had previously swung to be coming from the southwest this would takes Le Berwick into the wind and a heading towards the Genereux. However, as can be seen below, Le Berwick and Genereux are about to deliver broadsides in the stern of HMS Superb.
The damage on HMS Superb was horrific. Her hull was punctured in several places and fires overtook the ship. Overwhelmed the damage parties could not prevent her loss. Indeed she was the last ship to be engaged and the first to be lost. Then to add to the list, HMS Defence to was claimed, a casualty to cumulative damage.
At this point the fleets began to disengage. HMS Vanguard, barely operational, set a course to the west leaving only HMS Royal Sovereign to the north. She was able to fire a passing broadside at the Spanish Argonauta who, like HMS Vanguard, was a shambles struggling to remain afloat. Genereux was little better. With one mast down and another operating only as a result of temporary repairs she struggled to hold course. Further, another broadside would likely sink her. There effectively remained only the flagships operational. As such both admirals determined to cover the retirement of their remaining wounded squadron. It had been a bloody exchange.