Battle of Basque Roads

The Battle of Basque Roads took place on the night of 11 April 1809 off the coast of France.

The Royal Navy, under the command of Admiral Lord Gambier, drove ashore the French fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral Zacharie Allemand.


The Battle of the Basque Roads was fought off the Island of Aix, on the Biscay shore of France. Captain Thomas Cochrane led a British force of 27 ships, including explosion vessels and fireships, in an attack against the French fleet anchored in the Basque Roads in two lines and protected by a boom. The explosion vessels destroyed the boom however only 4 of the fireships tried to engage and Cochrane believed the French fleet should have been completely destroyed.

Whilst the fireships missed their target they still inflicted considerable indirect damage as when the French sighted them taking flame several miles away, they believed they were seeing more explosion-vessels at much closer range. Attempting to escape most of the ships either cut their anchor cables and drifted or hoisted sail, but all but 2 drove ashore.

Throughout the morning of 12 April, Cochrane signalled Lord Gambier to attack the paralyzed French squadron. (Gambier was 14 miles offshore with the blockading fleet; Cochrane had one frigate under his command.) Finally, in desperation, at 13:00 Cochrane allowed his ship to drift toward shore, coming under fire of the land-based fortifications, trying to compel Gambier to send ships to aid Cochrane's frigate. The strategy worked; at 13:30, seven British ships came in, and Cochrane spent the rest of the day capturing and destroying French ships.

Much to Cochrane's displeasure, on 13 April, the other ships returned to Lord Gambier's position offshore, and Cochrane ignored repeated orders from Gambier to also disengage. Cochrane instead destroyed more French vessels before finally obeying Gambier's signals, and the battle ended.

Cochrane accused the British commanding officer, Admiral James Gambier, of being reluctant to press the attack. Gambier demanded a court-martial, and was duly exonerated which ended Cochrane's Naval career during the war.

Plan of the Battle

Ships Present

British Fleet - Cochrane's Squadron

 Impérieuse (38) Lord Thomas Cochrane

UK Aigle (36) George Wolfe

UK Pallas (32) George Francis Seymour

UK Unicorn (32) Lucius Hardyman 

UK Redpole (10) John Joyce

UK Lyra (10) William Bevians

UK Ætna (Bomb) Lt. William Godfrey, NW of Isle d'Aix

UK Indefatigable (44) John Treymayne Rodd, Covering Ætna

UK Foxhound (18) Pitt Barnaby Greene, Covering Ætna

UK Emerald (36) Frederick Lewis Maitland, Diversion force

UK Beagle (18) Francis Newcombe, Diversion force

UK Dotterel (18) Anthony Abdy, Diversion force

UK Conflict (12) Lt. Joseph B. Batt, Diversion force

UK Growler (12) Lt. Richard Crossman, Diversion force

UK Whiting (Rocket) Lt. Henry Wildey, Near the Boyart shoal

UK Nimrod (Rocket) Mstrs. Mate Edward Tapley, Near the Boyart shoal

UK King George (Rocket) Mstrs. Mate Thomas Makeet, Near the Boyart shoal

UK Mediator (Flute) James Wooldridge, Used as Fireship

UK Fireships and 3 Explosion vessels


British Fleet - Gambiers offshore fleet

UK Caledonia (120) Flag - Admiral Lord James Gambier, Cptn. of the Fleet - Sir Harry Neale, Cptn. - William Bedford

UK Caesar (80) Flag - Rear-Admiral Hon. Robert Stopford, Cptn. Charles Richardson

UK Gibraltar (80) Henry Lidgbird Ball

UK Hero(74) James Newman

UK Donegal (74) Pulteney Malcolm

UK Resolution (74) George Burlton

UK Theseus (74) John Poer Beresford

UK Valiant (74) John Bligh

UK Illustrious (74) William Robert Broughton

UK Bellona (74) Stair Douglas

UK Revenge (74) Alexander Robert Ken


British Fleet - Also Present

UK Thunder (Bomb) James Caulfield

UK Insolent (14) Lt. John Row Morris

UK Encounter (12) Lt. James Hugh Talbot

UK Contest (12) Lt. John Gregory

UK Fervent (12) Lt. John Edward Hare

UK Transports

UK 3 Congreve Rocket barges


French Fleet - First Defensive Line

France Pallas (46) ?, Grounded off fort of Barques

France Hortense (46) ?, Grounded Fontenelles

France Indienne (46) Cptn. Guillaume-Marcelin Proteau, Grounded off Pointe Aiguille - Set on fire by crew & exploded


French Fleet - Second Defensive Line

France Calcutta (54) Cptn. Jean-Baptiste Lafon (Shot by Firing Squad), Grounded Palles -  Set on fire & exploded

France Cassard (74) ?

France Régulus (74) Cptn. Lucas, Grounded Charenton

France Océan (118) Flag - Vice-Admiral Zacharie Allemand, Cptn. - ?, Grounded Aix Road

France Ville de Varsovie (80) ?, Grounded Charenton - Burnt

France Foudroyant (80) ?


French Fleet - Third Defensive Line

France Elbe (46) ?, Grounded Fontenelles

France Tourville (74) Cptn. Charles-Nicolas Lacaille (Imprisoned), Grounded off Isle Madame

France Aquilon (74) Cptn. Maingan (Killed in Action), Grounded Charenton - Burnt

France Jemmapes (80) ?, Grounded Charenton

France Patriote (74) ?, Grounded off Isle Madame

France Tonnerre (74) Clément de la Roncière, Grounded Pontra -Set on fire by crew & exploded


French Fleet - Also Present

France Other smaller ships

France Shore Batteries

Plan of the Battle


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