Action of 7 February 1813

The action of 7 February 1813 was a naval battle between two evenly matched frigates from the French Navy and the British Royal Navy, Aréthuse and HMS Amelia. The battle was fought during the night of 7 February 1813 at the Îles de Los, off Guinea. It lasted four hours, causing significant damage and casualties to both opponents, and resulted in a stalemate. The two ships parted and returned to their respective ports of call, both sides claiming victory.

Naval battle between France and Britain
Action of 7 February 1813
Part of the Napoleonic Wars

The fight of the French frigate Aréthuse and Amelia on the shores of Guinea, 7 February 1813, Louis-Philippe Crépin
Date 7 February 1813
Location

20°23′25″S57°44′02″E

Result Indecisive
Belligerents
 United Kingdom  France
Commanders and leaders
Frederick Irby (WIA) Pierre Bouvet
Strength
1 frigate 1 frigate
Casualties and losses
51 killed
90 wounded[1]
20 killed
98 wounded[2]

. . . Action of 7 February 1813 . . .

After the British victory in the Mauritius campaign of 1809–1811, all French possessions in the Indian Ocean were now controlled by the British. France had already lost the use of Cape Town in 1806 after the Battle of Blaauwberg, and of Batavia in 1811 with the British Invasion of Java. Thus, in 1813, the French Navy lacked the advance bases it needed to support the commerce raiding frigate squadron that it had operated in the previous decade. It was therefore decided to send a force to the western coast of Africa to disrupt British shipping closer to the metropole, while still being far enough away to be beyond the reach of the powerful British naval divisions that blockaded the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay. To this end, a frigate division was given to Captain Pierre Bouvet, a skilled frigate commander,[note 1] veteran of the Mauritius campaign and leader of the French forces during the second half of the Battle of Grand Port. The squadron comprised the 40-gun frigate Aréthuse, under Bouvet himself, and Rubis, under Commander Louis-François Ollivier.[3][4] Another two-frigate squadron, made up of Elbe and Hortense, was to perform the same mission with a two-week interval.[5]

Captain Pierre Bouvet, who commanded the French squadron, his flag on Aréthuse.

On 25 November 1812,[3] Bouvet’s division departed from Nantes, sneaked through the British blockade, and established a station to the north-east of the Azores, near the group of five rocks called “Vigie des Cinq Grosses-Têtes”[6] (44°17’N, 21°45’W[7]). The frigates then continued to cruise off Madeira and Cape Verde.[3][6] During January, due to continual gales[8] and preliminary symptoms of a fever epidemic,[6] Bouvet decided to sail south with two prizes, the British cutter[8]Hawk,[9] and the other the Portuguese slave ship Serra,[8] to anchor at the Îles de Los, off Sierra Leone.[6] On 27 January, the frigates and their prizes came in view of the islands when the 16-gun HMS Daring, under Lieutenant William Pascoe, appeared. Mistaking the French frigates for British cruisers, Daring launched a boat towards Rubis, which altered her course to intercept; as the frigate approached, the boat realised her error and attempted to flee, to no avail.[8] Questioning his prisoners, Ollivier learnt the identity of his opponent, and gave chase. Hopelessly outmanned and outgunned, Pascoe threw his brig on the coast, on the north-western point of Tamara,[6] and scuttled her by fire.[6][10]Darings magazines detonated at 5 in the evening, and the French frigates dropped anchor one hour later.[10]

Frederick Paul Irby, in 1822. He commanded Amelia during the action.

Ashore, the French collected fruit, resupplied their fresh water, and gathered intelligence on the British deployment: the station of Sierra Leone comprised two frigates and several corvettes, but only HMS Amelia was anchored in the bay at the time.[10] After six days of repairs and resupply, Aréthuse and Rubis were ready for a six-month cruise; to unburden himself of his prisoners and prizes, Bouvet returned Serra to the Portuguese, and on 29 January,[11] the British were released on parole and sent to Sierra Leone on Hawk. Bouvet departed on 4 February.[12][note 2] Meanwhile, on 29 January, Lieutenant Pascoe had arrived at Freetown, with some of his men, and informed Amelia of the presence of what he believed to be three French frigates at Tamara.[11]Hawk arrived the same evening with the prisoners on parole, confirming Pascoe’s account;[9] she was then equipped with a boat from Amelia and sent for a reconnaissance of the French squadron. Having volunteered, Pascoe returned with—this time—an accurate description of the French division, including the names of the frigates and their prize.[9] On 3 February, at 10:30, Amelia departed her anchorage and took the direction of the Îles de Los to intercept the French squadron.[9]

At the Îles de Los, Aréthuse had, upon departure, maneuvered to catch the wind and struck the bottom, breaking her rudder and forcing the squadron to drop anchor on the spot.[6] That very night, a violent storm broke out, and both frigates broke their cables. Aréthuse managed to avoid running aground using a makeshift rudder, and in the morning found herself twelve miles to the north-west of Tamara; Bouvet dropped anchor as soon as he found the bottom to repair his rudder.[6] Meanwhile, Rubis had been cast aground on the shore of Tamara.[13] At ten, she fired distress shots and signals; Aréthuse launched her longboat to assist, but could not maneuver herself without her rudder;[14] the launch carried two additional pumps to Rubis, but returned with the news that she was unsalvageable and that her crew was transferring on Serra.[11] The following night, the hull of the stranded Rubis broke under the stress of the waves.[15] Commander Ollivier scuttled her by fire[3] and embarked his crew on Serra.[13][16] On 5 January, around 20:00, Amelia sighted a strange sail making night signals which, the next morning, turned out to be Princess-Charlotte, a government schooner from Sierra Leone.[9]Amelia got sight of the French squadron half an hour later, and dispatched Princess-Charlotte to Sierra Leone to instruct any incoming British warship to come to her aid at once. She then observed what was deemed to be a prize being unloaded into one of the frigates, but was in fact Rubis transferring her crew to Serra, and the second frigate in the distance.[9]

. . . Action of 7 February 1813 . . .

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. . . Action of 7 February 1813 . . .